The Portobello Pour…
Chatting with Tom Coates, the Brand Director of Portobello Road Gin No.171, an award-winning spirit borne out of The Ginstitute, London’s second smallest museum
Article by Adrian Peel
If you knew then what you know now… would you still do it?
Yes. No regrets!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I was advised to read a book called Every Bastard Says No by Geoff Ross and Justine Troy. So perhaps that, or the advice in the book!
Please tell me more about the brand. I understand it was founded five years ago and that this year you will be opening a distillery on Portobello Road?
Yes it was. When we were opening The Portobello Star on Portobello Road, there was a flat above the bar that we lived in. However, being a group of gin geeks, we had a growing collection of interesting artefacts relating back to the spirit world, so we thought the best thing to do would be to display them.
So we ripped out the upstairs flat and built a museum (at the time it was London’s smallest museum) and then Portobello Road No. 171 Gin was born, as we realised we needed a gin that could call The Ginstitute home. For nine months the founders experimented and obsessed about creating the perfect blend of craft gin.
We’re incredibly excited to continue our expansion, opening a new distillery complete with a gin hotel, museum and restaurants later this year. We’re very fortunate that we’ve been able to secure a site on Portobello Road where it all started, staying true to our roots.
Please tell me how the founders, Ged Feltham, Jake Burger and Paul Lane, came to produce their gin at The Ginstitute. Who suggested naming it after the road you lived on?
Initially it was Ged’s idea. Jake created the recipe and now spends his time as Portobello Road Gin’s and The Ginstitute’s lead gin instructor. Paul started working with Ged at the age of 20 after a chance encounter and a bottle of Jager. You could say the rest is history…
How and when did you end up on board and what is your role within the company? Have you always been a gin connoisseur?
I have always been a gin drinker since I first started bartending. All of my favourite cocktails are gin-based but that doesn’t mean I drink it exclusively. I am partial to a glass of wine or two from time to time and the odd tequila.
Having a firm background in bars and some sales experience from a distribution company, I took on the role of sales rep for the brand when we launched. Due to its quick success we were able to align with a distributor and my role shifted to brand ambassador. With continued passion and commitment to the brand’s growth, I was then rewarded with a place on the board.
Please tell me more about ‘The Distillery.’ How many years have you been planning it and what will it offer the public? What will be on display in the museum there?
It wasn’t really a case of planning. We had outgrown the Ginstitute space so had our ear to the ground and the perfect space came on the market. We knew we had to go for it.
Some of the pieces in the gin museum include many old and rare bottles, as well as Jerry Thomas’s business card. He’s the gentleman who wrote the first published cocktail book, The Bon Vivant’s Companion, in 1862.
You have a special limited edition gin, The Director’s Cut, coming out in November?
Yes. Despite our expansion plans, we are still a very small team of passionate craft gin enthusiasts and that will always remain at the heart of everything we do. Every year we do a ‘Director’s Cut’ – a special limited edition blend of gin with unique character and ingredients hand sourced by the team.
We recently created the first ever London Dry Gin made with British asparagus. We’re very excited about our new blend for 2016 to celebrate the opening of The Distillery and also to mark our five-year anniversary. We’re developing something very special and we can’t wait to reveal more details soon.
It seems now is a very good time to be in the gin business. Why do you think that is?
Gin has always been an immensely popular spirit in the UK with it almost becoming its adopted motherland, stemming from its debauched association with the gin craze that gripped the nation in the 17th Century.
Although the negative perception of the spirit did hinder its growth until around the 1900s, the recent surge in demand for high-quality cocktails and premium spirits has seen its prominence return.
It’s such a versatile spirit with endless flavour profiles and I think that’s why it has enjoyed a ‘ginaissance’ in recent years. Our Ginstitute course, the only place in the UK where you can blend your own gin, is booked up for months at a time and that’s something we’re incredibly humbled by.
What does Portobello offer that makes it stand out from the pack?
We started in a tiny flat above a pub on Portobello Road and we developed a unique blend of nine botanicals that tastes like no other gin on the market. When people drink Portobello Road Gin, they know they are drinking a small part of British heritage with a character and a story behind it that is authentic and true to its name.
It’s also the first gin made by experienced bartenders – guys who are incredibly passionate about the craft of making drinks for people to enjoy. We’re obsessive when it comes to flavours…
I see it is currently sold internationally, as well as in Waitrose, Selfridges, Tesco and Harvey Nichols. Where else would you like to see it sold?
Everywhere! It would be great to see a taste of British heritage and style in bars and shops across the world – from Japan to Brazil. We’ve recently launched in Italy and some states in the US, like New York, and Portobello Road Gin is going down really well with drinkers in both locations. We sold out within two weeks when we launched in Spain which was incredible.
Please tell me some of the awards you’ve won.
The 2015 New York International Spirits Competition London Distillery of the Year, the 2015 Global Gin Masters (London Dry Gin Premium category) – Master, the 2014 San Francisco Spirit Awards – Gold, the 2013 International Spirits Challenge – Gold and hopefully many more!
What for you is the recipe for the perfect gin & tonic?
We have what we call the Portobello Pour. It’s a simple but effective twist of pink grapefruit, a perfect alternative to lime. Trust me, you won’t drink it any other way once you’ve tried it.
Simply fill a tall glass with ice, add a measure of Portobello Road Gin and pour the tonic (we like 1724 or Fever-Tree) slowly and high to maintain its fizz. Slice a thin peel of pink grapefruit and twist over the top of the glass to release oils from the skin.
The citric bitterness of grapefruit brings to life Portobello Road’s use of Spanish lemon and bitter orange peel and balances the gin’s strong spicy botanicals, liquorice, nutmeg and cassia bark that give it a long finish and depth of flavour.
Do you consider yourself lucky?
Yes certainly lucky, but it’s a lot of hard work too. You’re never not working.