I like gin. So for my last birthday Will bought us tickets to a gin making experience at The Ginstitute in Notting Hill. Our session was on a Saturday at 12pm and I committed an error of sleeping in and not eating anything beforehand. Don’t make the same mistake because you’ll be spending the next 3 hours drinking a lot!
As soon as we arrive we’re made a gin and tonic, which I sipped as slowly as possible. I’m not known for my ability to hold my drink, so I’m willing my empty stomach to not betray me and hoping I don’t end up on the floor before we’ve even started. So far, so good.
History of gin
Our session begins and we’re taken upstairs to a mock gin palace. It’s a small, candlelit room, with dark wood panelled walls featuring a custom Ginstitute mirror. They also happen to have a large collection of vintage gin bottles on display. Like a mini museum. It’s here our instructor Jake hands us all a Tom Collins and takes us through the history of gin. From the origins as medicine, to stories about the gin craze years. He also shows us Gin Lane—a fantastic print by William Hogarth, illustrating a community of poverty and squalor supposedly caused by drinking gin.
Botanicals and blending
At the end of the history lesson, we head upstairs to the Still room with another gin and tonic. Here we learn more about botanicals by passing around dried and distilled fruits, flowers and spices to smell and taste. Most gins contain four base ingredients: juniper berries, coriander seed, orris root and angelica. Any extra ingredients make up the rest of the flavour profile, leading us into the blending part of the session.
After noting down which flavours I liked, I listed off my desired botanicals. The four base ones, plus lemon peel, pink grapefruit, liquorice root, cassia bark and nutmeg. Whilst Will had a particular flavour in mind (dark and smoky), I’m sort of just improvising. Whilst measuring out quantities for me, Jake says I’ve almost recreated Portobello Road Gin. I’m just one citrus botanical off. It would have been nice to end up with something a bit different, but at least it was going to taste good.
Jake bottles and labels my gin, giving it his signature of approval. As everyone gets to name their bottle, I chose ‘Exactly what it says on the gin’. Because who doesn’t love a good pun?
One for the road
To end the session, we go back downstairs to the Portobello Star for a final gin martini together. We’re also given a goodie bag containing a bottle of original Portobello Road gin and 1724 tonic water.
The session at The Ginstitute was really fun. I learnt some interesting things about gin process and history, and went home with 1.4 litres of gin and a posh bottle of tonic water. I also handled 4 gin based drinks and found out that a Tom Collins is super delicious. The blending part of the session wasn’t what I expected, as I assumed it would be a bit more hands on. But in hindsight, I see that it just wouldn’t be practical or as fun if we were pouring quantities of distilled botanicals ourselves. And we’d probably end up with a bottle of something disgusting!
I highly recommend booking a place if you’re a gin enthusiast. Tickets cost £110 per person and come via the post on a beautiful gold foiled gift certificate. And as I mentioned at the beginning, eat something before you go!