A major player in the ‘Ginaissance’, Portobello Road Gin has grown from being created on a whim to opening a brand new four-storey modern day ‘gin palace’ that sees it bringing production in-house for the first time. Tom Coates brand director explains the thinking behind this bold move and the part that premium on-trade has played in the success of the brand.
Ingenuity has been one of the watchwords of Portobello Road Gin, but their new venture is their boldest move yet.
What’s the story behind Portobello Road Gin?
Portobello Road Gin is the creation of a passionate group of bar owners, Ged Feltham, Paul Lane and Jake Burger.
Having opened several successful bars and restaurants in Leeds, in 2008 they decided to open their first London bar, The Portobello Star which of course shares its moniker with the road it is located upon.
The Portobello Star actually opened on the same day that Lehman Brothers collapsed, but luckily it hasn’t proved to be a bad omen!
Being a group of gin geeks, we had a growing collection of interesting artefacts relating back to the spirit world, so thought that the best thing to do with them would be to display them. So we ripped out the upstairs flat in The Portobello Star and built a museum called The Ginstitute where gin lovers can not just learn the fascinating history of gin but also make their own unique gin recipe.
Portobello Road Gin was born as we knew we wanted a gin that could call The Ginstitute home.
For nine months, the founders Ged Feltham and Jake Burger experimented and obsessed about creating the perfect balanced blend of craft gin. The character slowly developed and finally, in 2011, Portobello Road No 171 Gin was born.
Now – almost 5 years later – our brand is on sale in thousands of bars and stores such as Waitrose and Selfridges and is available in numerous countries which is an incredible achievement and something we are all immensely proud of.
The brand was born on something of a whim, so it’s incredible that we have quickly established the gin as a favourite amongst connoisseur consumers, bartenders and gin fans across the globe.
We’ve also won some fantastic accolades – Portobello Road Gin was the only London Dry Gin in the premium category to win the top ranking ‘Master’ accolade in the Global Gin Masters 2015.
What is the secret of its success?
Portobello Road Gin is still run by a small group of directors but we’re all incredibly passionate about our brand, the product and our loyal customers. It’s this unwavering passion that motivates us to work long hours and to keep on innovating. We’ve released a few limited edition blends which allow us to experiment with new and interesting botanicals and flavours in addition to our signature 171 blend.
For example, we were the first spirits brand to create a gin using British asparagus which was the first of our annual limited edition Director’s Cut gins and was created by founder Paul Lane. We’ll be announcing details of our second Director’s Cut very soon which will be an extra special edition by Ged Feltham to celebrate our fifth anniversary.
Plus, we’re offering a premium product at an accessible price (RRP £25).
How important is the premium on-trade to that success?
It’s been pivotal. Approximately 50% of the brand’s growth has come from the premium on-trade sector.
Each of the directors started their careers working in and owning bars, so we’re lucky to have a large network of peers across the UK and beyond who all really loved the brand and really got behind it when it first launched – advocating the gin to customers and proudly displaying it on their back bars.
This helped build up momentum which quickly led to some fantastic retail opportunities.
How much business do you do with on-trade, compared with off-trade?
It’s pretty much an even split at the moment. During the first few years it was predominantly on-trade. Off-trade it mainly retailed in specialist spirit stores. Following a listing in Harvey Nichols and then Selfridges it was quickly picked up by Waitrose and now Tesco along with many other independent wine and spirit merchants.
Are there any particular champions of the brand within the on-trade/ bars/ people that you work with?
We regularly work with acclaimed bartenders and bars in the UK and our other markets.
We are particularly proud of our work with Firmdale group, which includes the Ham Yard and Soho Hotel in London and have an exciting collaboration coming up with the latter this winter – so watch this space.
We have also worked on several projects with the Savoy including inviting them to The Ginstitue to blend their very own gin. We also embarked on a similar project with El Gato Negro in Manchester.
I’d have to say though that one of the highlights has to be collaborating with Brett Graham, owner and head chef at The Ledbury, London to create a unique gin recipe that included Green Olive, Clementine, Dandelion and Lovage. This was part of our continuing ‘Local Heroes’ project which allows us to get creative and celebrate a particular market where we have a presence, by partnering with a ‘local hero’ that encapsulates the spirit of the brand.
We’re in the process of planning a ‘Local Heroes’ edition for the Italian market that we’re really excited about – this is due to be released this September just in time for Italian Gin Day.
Why do you think that gin has had such a boom in the last 10 years?
Gin has always been an immensely popular spirit in the UK. Although the spirit was invented in The Netherlands, we Brits have adopted it as our own national spirit.
Gin first became popular in the 17th century with the infamous gin-craze that gripped the nation. This era of drunken debauchery was of course portrayed in William Hogarth’s famous ‘Gin Lane’ painting. This negative perception of gin did hinder the spirit’s growth until around the 1900s.
Over the past decade, there has been a huge surge in demand for high-quality cocktails and premium spirits which has resulted in gin’s prominent return aka ‘The Ginaissance’.
It’s easy to see why it has become so popular. It’s such a versatile spirit with endless flavour profiles and, together with tonic, it’s the perfect combination.
How much bigger can the London gin boom get?
The market is still showing signs of growth, but it is now extremely competitive and some brands may soon begin to give way as it becomes more saturated. However, as we’ve seen with the craft beer market, I think smaller distillers will continue to snatch market share from the larger brands.
What areas are there still ripe for exploitation?
Now that would be telling… you’ll have to watch this space!
What is the thinking behind The Distillery?
It was really just a natural development for the brand. We had outgrown The Ginstitute space so had our ear to the ground for new sites. When the perfect space came on the market we knew we had to go for it.
We were determined to bring our gin production in house as we grew and this new site allows us to do just that while also embarking on new exciting projects within the venue.
The Ginstitute will have its new home there, there will be a Spanish style ‘Gintonica’ restaurant (inspired by the popularity of Gin & Tonics in Spain), a gin shop, blending rooms, private dining and even boutique guest rooms.
Of course, it will also be the new site where we produce Portobello Road Gin. Some have called it a modern-day ‘gin palace’ for London.
What does success look like?
We’re immensely proud of what we have achieved so far through The Ginstitue in terms of educating and inspiring gin drinks and we want to continue this through ‘The Distillery’.
And ultimately, to become the finest address in gin.