In the midst of that general stress that always seems to gather just before Christmas as a strange parallel to the holiday anticipation, it was a great pleasure to see this bottle slip through the letterbox. The Portobello Road Distillery Special Reserve 101, to give it its full name, is an interesting bundle of ideas smoothed out and executed as a celebration of Portobello Road Distillery’s first decade, and an object lesson in what they’ve learnt.

The concept behind the bottle is that, while strictly adhering to the regulations that define what spirits can be called “London Dry Gin”, this anniversary edition tweaks, subverts or otherwise toys with the drinker’s expectations of the style. The distillers have switched from their usual wheat base spirit to a potato-derived one. Where aging the gin in wood is disallowed as it would add colour or flavour, nothing is said about the preceding base spirit, so onto some oak it goes. The botanicals are both larger in quantity and infused for longer. A narrower section of the distillate is kept than for their standard gin. Finally and – for me – most unexpectedly, they’ve taken the stipulation that only spirit and water can be added post-distillation rather laterally, going with the famously mineralised Vichy Catalan water to cut it down to 50.5% abv (your “101 proof” in the USA, hence the name). Given how critical water composition is in brewing, I really wanted to see what would carry through here.

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It must have been five years ago that I became aware of Vecchia Romagna, when a bottle of their Etichetta Nera (Black Label) found its way to our flat. As much as I love and respect Cognac and Armagnac, I’m conscious that good brandy can come from parts of the world other than France, so a storied Italian brand falling into my lap like so was very welcome. The Etichetta Nera is and was a very decent pick, especially given the price. Enjoyably full as a sipper, with tropical fruit and spice notes, it was an excellent go-to for cocktails as well. That it came in a striking three-faced bottle didn’t hurt, and guests noticing that in the cocktail bar hastened an already swift rate of depletion.

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So, here we are, December rolling into the last fortnight before Christmas rears its be-tinselled head. We (Miriam and I) thought we’d knock together a quick series of videos with pointers of nice things to drinks, from mocktails to whiskies. This is a little landing page to give all those crucially important links, so you can find whatever it is we’ve been elucidating/wittering about. All those precious details after the fold…

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Mysterious pre-dinner drink….

A slightly close, damp, autumn evening in west London isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of scene-setting in a Bond film, but, well, when you’ve been summoned to enjoy a five-course meal, who’s going to quibble?

Though the summons was not entirely lacking in mystery (I knew the who, the what, the where, the when and probably even the why), there was still a certain amount about the evening that we weren’t being let in on. What I did know was that The Distillery, Portobello Road Gin’s heart of operations and an excellent boozer, was hosting a “James Bond Experience” and I was invited to see what I thought of it. The promise was of a decadent evening enjoying five courses, with matching drinks, and all tied in to Bond’s (and Fleming’s) predilections and finest moments. Beyond that, lips were sealed.

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