Emily Says . . . . ‘Portobello’

Portobello Road

In her fifteenth feature under ‘Emily Says . . .’, the voice to the Manchester bar scene in Emily Puckering heads for a walk down Portobello Road;

So it turns out I haven’t exactly stuck to my previous promise of leaning away from the gin; it’s just too bloody difficult! So here’s another quick little blog about another one of my favourite gins: Portobello Road.

Portobello Road has dominated the gin scene for quite some time now, and it was five years ago when it all began at no. 171 Portobello Road; the address of Portobello Star, a cocktail bar in Notting Hill. Conveniently, the bar contained a Ginstitute on the second floor that specialised in all things gin. Taking full advantage of this, bartender Jake Burger and proprietor Ged Feltham spent nine months experimenting with different botanicals and flavours until they whipped up the perfect recipe.

Nine botanicals make Portobello Road what it is, and that includes juniper berries, coriander seeds, angelica root, orris root, lemon and orange peel, liquorice root, cassia bark and nutmeg. With the base being an English wheat neutral spirit, Portobello Road is truly a classic London dry gin, alongside its ABV of 42%.

With it being created by a bartender, one would generally have high hopes for Portobello, and I can guarantee it isn’t one that disappoints. On the nose, an elegant and floral aroma is instantly apparent with delicate notes of citrus; clearly from the orange and lemon peel added in the distillation.

As one would expect from a London dry gin, the first taste is initially very juniper heavy. Subtle spices are also present, as would be predicted from a London dry, but the citrus notes take centre stage in the overall tasting experience. The floral notes are left in the nose, which I personally think is a beautiful little addition without giving the gin too much of an overwhelming drinking experience: little is more, remember!

The perfect serve for Portobello Road London dry gin is simply over ice with an Indian tonic (or London Essence Grapefruit and Rosemary tonic if you fancy) and a twist of grapefruit zest.

Keep your eyes peeled for the Portobello Road Navy Strength gin, with a punchy ABV of 57.1%, this little addition is definitely the one for those stronger gin lovers.

Photo Credit: Portobello Road

Fever Tree With The Ultimate Gin And Tonic Tour

Fever Tree

Gin and tonic. One of the most easily recognisable drinks in the world, and very easy to replicate. Made at home, at your favourite bar, by your mum, gran, bartender or waiter, there’s nothing you could do wrong with the creation of a gin and tonic.

Or is there?

Fever Tree, a brand that has made head-way in the tonic category, have organised an enlightening tour of three cities here in the UK. Bristol, Glasgow and my own home town of Manchester are the settings for what they have dubbed as ‘The Ultimate Gin and Tonic Tour’, and aim to divulge into the depths of the tonic category, and how we came to know what will be in your hand for most of the evening; the G&T.

Craig Harper talks you through the world of tonic
Craig Harper talks you through the world of tonic

The tours are consumer focused, bringing the gin lovers, novices and haters together for an informal chat in some fantastic locations, and yours truly had the opportunity to sneak peek at what would be involved, with a session hosted by Craig Harper, the face of Fever Tree and gin legend within the category, with help from David Barber, the northern representative for Fever Tree and ex Caorunn gin brand ambassador, and Jamie Jones, who in 2013 was crowned Global Gin Connoisseur by G’Vine.

If you’re looking to hit the Manchester trail, The Rosylee Tearooms in Stevenson Square brings together your first tonic and gin combination; Tanqueray with the classic Fever Tree Indian Tonic. Whilst being given the chance to pour your own bottle of tonic over your gin to your liking, Craig walks through what tonic actually is, and how the likes of malaria, World Wars and fluorescent lights have impacted our views on tonic water and what we perceive it as. Don’t let those three words fool you though as Craig explains how we come to the more well-known brands seen today, and ultimately Fever Tree itself, with interesting demos on an original gin and tonic recipe, and the bottles used before the capped varieties we are used to these days.

Cane and Grain in Manchester’s Northern Quarter offers a speakeasy styled bar that is perfect for another gin and tonic, this time being Portobello Road. Jamie gives some fantastic insight into the brand itself, the category of gin and the timeline that has given us some highs and lows, including the famed ‘Gin Lane’ and the rise of the latest ‘gin craze’. Comparisons between tonic waters, especially the Indian styles and lighter versions, are also explored, an experiment rarely done at home I can imagine, and gives a different view on the styles available, with Craig explaining why the market for tonic waters is growing as the palates of consumers is changing.

Fever Tree Elderflower and Bloom
Fever Tree Elderflower and Bloom

Lastly, Mr Cooper’s House and Garden takes the gin category to the ‘New Western’, and gives Jamie a chance to explain the new craze that has given us the likes of Bloom, Monkey 47, Tanqueray 10 and Gin Mare. It also though, highlights the need for the perfect garnish and how gaining the right ingredient can make all the difference to your gin and tonic experience. Blending the likes of Bloom with Fever Tree Elderflower tonic offers a lighter experience than the Indian tonic would do, giving the botanicals within Bloom (chamomile, honeysuckle and pomelo are within amongst others) a fighting chance to tantalize, instead of being cut down to size and perhaps not giving the full impression you would expect. Or how about Gin Mare, that comes garnished with a sprig of thyme? Perfectly compliments the basil and rosemary for example, and accentuates the thyme botanical within the gin itself.

Essentially, Fever Tree are looking to break down the gin and tonic, explaining the origins, the flavours and aromas, whilst giving insight into the many gins available, and the perfect Fever Tree and garnish to accompany. Why would you want to miss out?!

Grab your tickets here!

© David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Night Of Living Ventures In The Suburbs

Hale Bar and Grill

Guest writer Keeley Watts experienced once of my spirit evenings a few weeks back. Take a look at what she thought of the expressions I had on offer;

Most drink related events in the North West tend to take place in Manchester City Centre. This is great for me as I live there so can just wander out but I know friends who live in the suburbs really struggle to get to some of them. Quick to recognise this was The Drinks Enthusiast who joined forces with Hale Grill for a spirit tasting with a difference.

We started with a chat about what spirits we liked and disliked. Lucky for me I had tried all the spirits Dave brought to the tasting but it was lovely to listen to others in the group who had never been to an event like this.

Dave started with Grey Goose vodka and the fascinating story of Sidney Frank. Frank was responsible for the promotion and development of Jagermeister in the States which, was huge, and decided he wanted to hit the market currently enjoying Absolut vodka. He was originally beaten by Belvedere being recognised as a premium brand. Not deterred he upped his game and decided to search for a brand in France rather than the more traditional vodka producing countries of Russia and Poland. He found an excellent base in winter wheat which gives the vodka a smooth and light taste ideal for sipping.
The product has ‘slow legs’ in the glass showing no sugar has been added. On the nose are notes of butter and almond with this buttery taste coming through on the palate. It is sweet and smooth; so unlike any other vodka I have tried.

Up next was a personal favourite of mine, Portobello Road gin. Now I like gin, this isn’t a secret. But then it comes to a sipping gin I prefer something smooth and slightly sweet with no spikiness. That is exactly what you get from Portobello Road which was brought to us by Jake Burger, Gerard Feltham and Paul Andrew Lane. Juniper is quite heavy on the nose as is lemon anise and liquorice. The liquorice is prominent on the palate too which is likely to be thanks to the cassia bark, coriander and nutmeg used in the distilling process.

A whiskey followed with Monkey Shoulder. I’m not a fan, the flavours just don’t work for me but if you are thinking of trying whiskey for the first time, this is definitely one to start with. It is a blend of whiskeys from Speyside and other none whiskey drinkers in the room described it as incredibly drinkable. Dave had a few converts on the night!

Last but most definitely not least was Old J spiced rum. Formulated by Tom Hurst in 2009 who tried 60 varieties to find the perfect blend, this rum is delicious. Butterscotch and slight honey aromas on the nose yet toffee, vanilla and lime are prevalent on the palate with a gentle spice kick.

Hale Grill has launched their new summer cocktail and invited us to try one of two cocktails featured. I chose the honeyed rum daiquiri which blends honey, lime and Old J spiced rum. A classic this is slightly sweet with the lovely toffee flavours coming through from the rum. I also got to try the apple, mint and raspberry cosmopolitan as other guests ordered this on the evening. Stoli raspberry, Cointreau, mint and apple juice gives a fresh twist to the classic cosmopolitan whilst the mint provides a lovely freshness.

A thoroughly enjoyable evening and a feast for the senses, it was really interesting to hear what beginners thought of the spirits neat. All are readily available at your favourite bar in the City but this just goes to show that you don’t need to venture too far to get your fix.

Spirits and Cocktail Masterclass at The Hale Grill

Hale Bar and Grill

Guest writer Rowan Molyneux attended one of my spirit based events last week, taking advantage of learning about some of the venues most favourite spirits to offer;

On a grey Tuesday afternoon, I hopped on a train heading out of Piccadilly towards a part of Greater Manchester I’d never explored before. Well, technically Greater Manchester, though being just on the outskirts, Hale feels far more like Cheshire, darling.

My trusted wingman Ruby and I were off to The Hale Grill, part of the Blackhouse family, for ‘The Spirit of Hale’: an evening of tasting spirits and mixing cocktails. It’s a hard job, but someone’s got to do it..! Rocking up at the venue, it immediately struck me as somewhere I’d love to bring the in-laws. Classic, good quality décor, a warm welcome, and a relaxed atmosphere; yet all of these paled in comparison to the Portobello Road gin and Fever-Tree tonic which was handed to us on arrival, garnished with an elegant curve of lemon zest. These guys know how to do things right. Already a fervent Fever-Tree convert (I have been known to wax lyrical to my long-suffering friends about the importance of good tonic water), Portobello Road gin was new to me, but I soon discovered how its soft citrus sweetness worked perfectly in this simple drink.

Before long, we were invited upstairs to the private dining room, where nibbles were served: chicken satay skewers, extravagantly tentacled calamari, little fishcakes and remarkably tasty spring rolls. This glorious array would have rather derailed most groups, but we had our eyes on the prize – a tantalising array of bottles lined up at the front of the room. We were told that we were going to sample four spirits, each available at the bar downstairs.

A Drinks Enthusiast-led tasting session, Dave poured us all a generous slug of Grey Goose vodka, and gave us a brief history of the brand. Only widely available in the UK since 2001, this French vodka was the brainchild of Sidney Frank, who wanted to create a premium vodka, sippable and luxurious. Frank decided on France as the origin of his vodka, touring distilleries and wineries – it’s alright for some, eh? – and thoroughly immersing himself in the alcohol culture which has such a long and excellent pedigree. Grey Goose uses soft winter wheat, which gives it a smooth, creamy quality. Those of us who are familiar with drinking cheap supermarket voddy (oh, those heady student days!) will be delighted to know that Grey Goose does not have the harsh burn which many of us are familiar with, instead lending a delicious warmth. Members of our group with particularly well-trained palates identified a hint of fresh green apple, accompanied by a suggestion of almonds and butter. Though I’m no sommelier, I put all of my palate training to the test, and thought I got a faint sense of dried apricots hidden away in there. All in all, a delightful vodka, and one I hadn’t experienced before.

For our second spirit, we took a trip back to our earlier g&t, this time sampling the Portobello Road No 171 London Dry gin without the Fever-Tree tonic. In addition to the pre-requisite juniper, Portobello Road featured lemon peel, bitter orange, orris root, liquorice, angelica root, nutmeg, cassia bark, and coriander seeds. A pleasantly citrus-forward gin, the liquorice adds depth but is not intrusive, and the coriander rounds it all off with a slightly peppery finish.

Next up was Monkey Shoulder, a blended whisky. The unusual name comes from an injury (thankfully, now confined to history) frequently suffered by workers shovelling grain all day, whose repetitive lifting motion would lead to a one-sided stoop. Charming! The whisky itself was smooth and light, intended as a gateway to the whisky world. Sweet in a typical Speyside fashion and very accessible, this whisky launched in 2005 and has been converting non-believers ever since. I’ve been assured that it absolutely sparkles in a cocktail.

The last of the spirits, we came to a particular favourite of mine: Admiral Vernon’s Old J Spiced Rum. Technically a rum-based spirit, as it only weighs in at 35%, it is nevertheless outstanding in its category. So full of vanilla, toffee, honey and cinnamon, this sweetness is balanced by the ever-present lime. A historical character, Admiral Vernon enforced a reduction in the strength of the rum ration received by his crew. When the men complained, he implemented the addition of lime and spices, to create a deliciously palatable drink which more than made up for the loss of ABV. Perfect with all of your standard rum mixers – rum and coke, rum and ginger, rum and Ting, rum and milk! – this remarkably versatile spirit works with them all. Their newly launched overproof version, Tiki Fire, 75.5%, rocked my world the other week at the Northern Restaurant and Bar show. Keep your eyes peeled for it in bars around town.

Four spirits sampled, and lots of fascinating info absorbed! But the night was not over yet. We trotted downstairs to the bar, where we were presented with a choice of two cocktails: An Apple, Mint, and Raspberry Stoli Cosmopolitan, or an Old J Spiced Rum and Honey Daquiri. Well, Ruby and I decided that the only sensible thing to do was order one of each and share. The Cosmo was beautifully delicate and freshened by the mint, while the Daquiri was remarkably piquant, its potentially heavy sweetness lifted by a whole load of lime. Some of our group even decided to step behind the bar and mix their own cocktails under the expert eye of the bartender; a highlight of the night, and an experience which The Hale Grill actually offers to the public in their Cocktail Master Classes.

Ruby and I also decided to explore the cocktail menu a little further; well, it would have been rude not to! I ordered a Black Forest Martini which was possibly the most decadent cocktail I’ve ever had – the cream float layered over a sea of deep purple fruit liqueurs was insane – and Ruby decided on the Sloe Gin Crush. How can you say no to a combo that involves sloe gin, elderflower and passionfruit? Both were elegantly presented and tasted fantastic. If these cocktails are tempting you, get a new skill under your belt by learning to make them yourself! You can book in on a Cocktail Master Class in a private area of the restaurant and practice making your choice of classic cocktails in a lighthearted environment, under the expert tutelage of professional bartenders.

The Hale Grill are currently in the process of revamping their cocktail menu for the summer months, bringing in some light, refreshing, seasonal treats, and for those of you who fancy something hoppy, they have a frequently rotating beer menu, featuring some of my old favourites – Thornbridge Wild Swan, anyone? They also have an extensive wine selection for you grape fiends.

Thanks to Kerry of The Hale Grill for her hospitality, and to Dave for talking us through a great selection of spirits. A fantastic evening, and one sunny afternoon I’ll definitely be making the short train ride back out to Hale to sample their new summery cocktails. Cheers!