Written by Alicia Akins, local writer, first-time gin drinker, and recovering expat learning to make DC home. See more of her writing over at her blog.
Gin and I aren’t friends. We aren’t enemies either. We just hadn’t had the chance to get to know each other. I’d heard varying reports about her: some thought she was better one-on-one, others that she was better in groups, so I looked forward to forming my own opinion one evening by getting to know her better.
Portobello Gin, a relatively young London-based gin brand started in 2011, held a tasting at Columbia Room, an understated but cozy venue tucked away down Blagden Alley near the Convention Center. They were celebrating their recent entry to the US market last October and introducing their gin to a handful of DC bars that week.
One of the cofounders opened the evening sharing an entertaining tale of gin’s history and the origins of the Portobello brand: a coterie of bartenders began toying with the idea of a museum of alcohol, a vision which came to fruition in the founding of the Ginstitute located on Portobello Road, from which the brand takes its name. A glass of gin and tonic and a glass of straight gin adorned each of our place settings. The gin and tonic made good company during the history lesson and was, I thought, an augur of good things to come.
One of the highlights of the presentation was getting to see, handle, and smell all of the botanicals and herbs. Each ingredient was passed around in small rameskins and we were encouraged to take a pinch, crush them between our fingers and palms, and appreciate each one on its own merits. My favorite were the angelica root (a little sweet) and cassia bark (a touch spicy), but the oris root reminded me of smelling salts.
When he revealed that they’d brought samples of gin with no other botanicals but juniper, there was an audible gasp in the room that I was unsure meant I was in for a treat or a disaster. I’d find out soon enough.
On her own, gin is kind of a bitch. She seems harmless at a glance but goes down with the fury of a thousand fire ants fighting for survival, hanging for dear life to every surface while venom bombing your insides. She was, I felt, unnecessarily confrontational. But what do I know, I don’t know gin as well as others do. After swallowing I had to look away to hide the look of displeasure on my face since a quick scan of the room proved I was the only one wearing it.
With friends, she was so much more pleasant. We were given Portobello’s Pechuga director’s cut blend. It smelled incredible but after tasting it I concluded I’d still prefer it as an eau de parfum. The “Blighty mojito,” substituting gin and tonic for rum and soda, was a satisfying finish to the evening.