When you picture a distillery, it’s not hard to imagine a huge warehouse full of bubbling vats, hisses of steam and gleaming copper stills with undulating curves.
So it comes as somewhat of a surprise to find my visit to Porter’s Gin starting out in front of the elegant, unassuming door to Orchid Bar in Aberdeen.
Inside I am greeted with a Porter’s G&T and a quick chat about the history of the gin – a story of passionate bartenders, maverick ideas and a machine seemingly cobbled together with spare parts from a friendly biology professor’s lab.
This was the first of the rotary evaporators or ‘rotavaps’ (basically a cold-distillation machine) acquired by Orchid in order to experiment with different distillates for use in cocktails, and a great success they were too – even resulting in the production of a deep-fried Mars Bar distillate.
Cut to several years, three new rotavaps, relentless experimentation and a couple of dollops of serendipity later and, from an enthusiastic collaboration with G&J distillers, Porter’s Gin was born – named in honour of Andrew Porter, the biology professor who helped them out from the beginning.
The gin has already seen great successes across the globe – especially in the on-trade, with the founders’ bartending pedigree being a crucial selling-point – and this week sees the launch of Porter’s new Tropical Old Tom Gin.
In the basement of Orchid I am greeted by three identical and deceptively simple-looking gadgets, quietly purring away on a counter-top. These are the rotavaps – precise machines that work on the principle that liquids boil at lower temperatures under lower pressures.
The upshot is that delicate and fresh-flavoured botanicals can be ‘boiled’ without being cooked as a result. One of Porter’s key ingredients is Buddha’s Hand – a monstrous citrus fruit that is the answer to the question “What if a squid could mate with a lemon?” – and a quick side-by side comparison of conventionally-distilled versus rotavap-distilled Buddha’s Hand reveals just how much of a difference this low-temperature process can make.
The former is insipid and flat with a vague aroma of overcooked popcorn whereas the rotavap distillate practically fizzes in the nostrils like freshly-poured old-fashioned lemonade.
For their latest release – the Tropical Old Tom – the Porter’s guys have used this same technique to bring passion fruit, white tea and guava to the traditional gin botanicals.
The merest hint of sweetness – the hallmark of an ‘Old Tom’-style gin – is added to the mix which balances the sharpness and freshness that cold- distilling retains so well.
Make no mistake, though; a fruity, syrupy, low-strength liqueur this most definitely is not. The gin is punchy and vibrant on the nose, with the same mouth-watering tropical tang you get from a seriously good Marlborough sauvignon and a tickle of pink peppercorn at the end. Stir with the driest of dry vermouths to yield a succulent, citrusy martini – or simply pour over a small mountain of ice and top with tonic and a quarter of ripe passion
Both Porter’s Gin and Tropical Old Tom are available from the Porter’s Gin website. You can also book a visit to the micro-distillery at Orchid bar – which includes a cocktail masterclass – through Eventbrite here.