Aberdeen's Porter’s Gin opens its doors to the public and releases much anticipated ‘Tropical Old Tom’

Cocktail blogger Mixolosopher visits the first gin distillery in Aberdeen for over 100 years and gets to sample their latest creation.

Published 24th Nov 2018
Updated 21 st Sep 2023

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.

Porter's Gin

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.

Old Tom, New Tricks

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.

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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.

Porter's Gin

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.

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Iain Meldrum (aka Mixolosopher) has over a decade of experience at the top of the drinks industry as both a bartender and trainer. He is passionate about all things alcoholic - though in a responsible and philosophical way, of course.
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