Porter’s Gin is the brainchild of bartending stalwarts Ben Iravani and Alex Lawrence, as well as their friend Josh Rennie. The gin was conceived in a bar, by a bar and for a bar, so it comes as no surprise that it’s a sturdy, cocktail-ready workhorse with a great burst of juniper.
Though not released until the 5th December 2015, Porter’s Gin has been a concept since 2009, when Iravani opened late-night cocktail bar Orchid in Aberdeen. The success of the bar was obviously great news for its owner, but it also prevented him from pursuing another ambition – the creation of a product, something tangible.
Enter barman Danil Nevsky, a bright and brash young man with a flair for cocktails. He and Iravani discussed making a gin, though as they had no distilling license they were considering cold compounding. This was never really much more than a conversation, but it planted an idea in Iravani’s mind, so by the time Nevsky moved on and Lawrence joined the fold, he was susceptible to any talk pertaining to gin.
Lawrence was insistent, from the beginning, on distilling his own spirits for cocktails and it just so happened that Orchid investors Andrew Porter and Keith Charlton, who work in bio-science at the University of Aberdeen, had the wherewithal to make a still… They helped Iravani and Lawrence source the parts necessary to build their own rotary evaporator – a somewhat patched-up beast that did exactly what it was meant to do.
It was in creating distillates that the idea of making a gin was re-awoken. Iravani began visiting distillery after distillery, working out the intricacies of the distilling sides of industry. Convinced that a well-made gin could translate into s viable business idea, Iravani contacted his friend Rennie, who was back in the UK following five years in China and seeking a new project. Rennie quickly picked up the distilling ropes and also gained a new obsession with using unusual botanicals.
The trio worked up a distillate library using their rotavap and from here toyed around with recipes until they had some strong ideas for Porter’s Gin. Once the botanical lineup was shortlisted, they sought expertise to help them perfect and extend the recipe to one that could be produced on a bigger scale. This help came in the form of Greenall’s Gin maker G&J Distillers, who worked with them to finalise the recipe and who – to this day – produce the gin’s base.
G&J’s Technical Development Manager Louise Hayes worked with the Porter’s Gin founders since the off, helping them to speed up the process as they worked on that final recipe. This still took 18 months of hard work, though, as quality was never going to be sacrificed for speed.
The gin that is produced at G&J features juniper, coriander seed, angelica, liquorice, almond, lemon peel, orange peel and cinnamon amongst its line up. The distillation run is overseen by Distiller Dermot Hegarty. Once this is made, it’s sent up to Porter’s Gin’s new micro-distillery in Aberdeen (just a few doors down from its basement origins) and blended with a pink peppercorn, cassia and Buddha’s hand distillate created on their rotavap (which, incidentally, is no longer the cobbled together machine of yesteryear, but a Buchi).
Using Buddha’s hand as a distillate was a bold choice – it’s a rare Asian member of the citrus family and particularly hard to obtain. The idea to use an essence of it, rather than the actual fruit, was toyed with but never properly considered as the team wished to stay as close to the traditional methods of gin making as possible. Their insistence on sticking to this botanical, despite its near-impossible procurement, was down to the unique flavour it presented. In their minds, nothing else could do the job. Eventually, they decided to talk to Chinese farmers directly, though it took over 10 samples before they found the version they use now.
The Aberdeen distillates are made using a bought in NGS – an incredibly common practice amongst craft producers that near enough guarantees a high quality blank canvas for gin creators to start working on. Makers can often be touchy on this subject, but Porter’s Gin are (quite rightly) as proud as punch with what they’ve achieved, telling us that “what we specialise in is flavour creation and distilling botanicals, not production of spirit from grain. When we work with others to supply us with neutral grain spirits or to utilise their large copper still, we see it as tools to assist with our recipe creation.”
This is undoubtedly a complicated method of gin making – producing a base gin in Warrington, then shipping it up to Aberdeen to be completed and bottled adds cost onto the creative process, but Porter’s Gin places great onus on reaping the very highest quality liquid from each botanical, so they needed to be treated differently. As they say on their blog: “why distil juniper and coriander in a cold method, when it tastes punchier distilled at a higher temperature? And why distil the beautifully refreshing Buddha’s hand in a copper still if it ruins the freshness of the flavour?” We agree and while it may sound like a convoluted way to make a gin – they are not alone in harnessing dual distilling techniques, Dodd’s Gin and Conniption Gin both use copper and glass apparatus in their making amongst a few others.
Porter’s Gin to taste…
Juniper instantly leaps up out of the bottle, filling the nose with a deep, rich berry to compliment a teasing citrus. Cassia, cinnamon and pink peppercorns, too, present themselves, adding a warmth to the overall smell.
To taste, the cassia, cinnamon and pink peppercorns rush the tongue, filling the mouth with a sweet and gentle spice and the chest with fire. Pink peppercorns are a light spice and bring a certain brightness when distilled – the overall spirit has a spark to it, even when the abundance of sweet botanicals come forth. The citrus medley comes through in the middle – it’s hard to place (after all, how many times have you happened upon Buddha’s hand?), but reminiscent of a just-ripe mandarin. A bold juniper is present throughout but really pushes through to the finish and holds on the tongue long after the drink is finished – it’s a cooling, sweet edition of the berry and undoubtedly delicious.
Porter’s Gin is fairly classic to taste, though the spices used take the gin in a bright and lively direction. It’s smooth too, for 41.5%, and makes for a divine G&T – especially with a fleshy, citrus garnish. (We’d opt for classic tonic and a wedge of grapefruit or if you’re feeling fancy… a dehydrated peach sliver.) In terms of cocktails, this would be at home in something like a Red Snapper and would also make a fantastic Martini, so strong it its juniper stance.
Porter’s Gin’s bottle is slick. Designed by Nevis with custom drawn elements from Suzanne Scott of Whimsical Lush, it features vintage illustrations of botanicals in an earthy green, with copper embossing and a trim, black border filling out the cream label. Stuck onto a clear cut glass, the overall look is old-meets-new, thus representing the classic-with-a-twist liquid inside. Scott’s overall idea when designing this bottle was to create something that would stand out amongst – and above – others and would tell the story of the gin – something that would reflect the great pains gone to during the creation process.
We love it – it’s neat, slightly quaint and inviting, one to store near the front of the gin shelf so that you can grab it when you need to impress someone quick and spill a fact or two about Buddha’s hand and vacuum distilling.
The brand’s aims are simple: they don’t necessarily want Porter’s Gin to be the best selling gin in the world, they want it to be a widely recognised bartenders tool, to be used by top cocktail makers globally. Happy with their product, the next aim is to get the drink is as many bars as possible and to get bartender’s championing their product, by engaging with them via all means, including competitions.
Porter’s Gin is a truly fantastic liquid and holds up in many a cocktail – we’ve spoke about it’s use in bars a lot but it’s also one that earns a place in any gin cabinet. It’s a gin that would appeal to anyone who likes juniper forward gin, especially as it offers something new while remaining classically styled. Seek it out. Try it. Spread the message. This one is worth folks so don’t miss out.
For more information about Porter’s Gin, visit their website: www.portersgin.co.uk
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