Wine & Food

    The Ginstitute in Portobello Road

    Britain’s best gin experiences

    17 May 2018

    With more than 500 gin distilleries dotted around the country, mother’s ruin is firmly our spirit of the moment. Even the most unassuming of corners of Great Britain are now home to drink-in distilleries, hotels and bars. Here’s a guide to the best of them…


    The bar at the East London Liquor Company

    East London Liquor Company

    The East London Liquor Company, in Bow Wharf, has revived sprit production in the East End for the first time in a century with their gin, vodka, rum and whisky. There is not only a distillery bar and bottle shop, but also a new restaurant, all stylishly housed in an old glue factory. The neat rows of ingredients and whirring sounds give a Willy Wonka atmosphere of experimentation, and there are 11 different tastings to get stuck into.


    On a street by Highgate Cemetery is a discreet cauldron of activity, the Sacred microdistillery. From here former headhunter Ian Hart and his partner Hilary Whitney make nine wonderful gins and a range of vermouths and liqueurs. The gin and tonics at their bijou bar are worth the journey in themselves, but the pièce de résistance is watching the gin bubbling its way through the glass bottles next to the table while you work through the menu.


    West Londoners need not miss out thanks to the four-floored Ginsitute, on the corner of Portobello and Talbot Road, where Portobello Gin is made. Alongside a bar, restaurant and masterclasses, Ginstitute offers a lively blending session in which you can make your own gin. They will keep your recipe on file so that you can reorder your creation if it’s a triumph. After a full evening of eating and drinking you can then totter off to bed in one of their four new bedrooms.

    The Connaught

    Although this bar is often voted one of the best in the world, it tends to be overlooked by Londoners. This is a great shame: it’s a soothing den of dark metal, velvet and candlelight that always makes a drink feel like an occasion. The cocktail trolley gliding through the room adds a frisson of anticipation before the mixologist takes you through the extensive martini variations. Fortunately all of the build-up to your first sip won’t leave you disappointed. If you’re keen to learn a few tricks yourself, the hotel’s tutorials are also worth booking ahead for. Drinks and canapés keep coming while the mixologist shows you how to rustle up your own bitters and syrups, carve ice and mix a martini properly.

    Harvey Nichols

    It may be far from a newcomer, but Harvey Nichols still does sterling work in tracking down the latest gins and bartenders’ ingredients. The abundance of tonics and ingredients in the food hall mean that it’s a one-stop shop for stocking up the drinks cabinet. If there’s a new gin with any buzz around it, it’s bound to make an appearance here, and suppliers often come in with samples.

    Further afield

    Where Plymouth Gin is created

    Plymouth Distillery

    The seafront Plymouth Distillery harks back to the very beginning of British gin. Production began here in 1793. The dinky distillery was formerly a Dominican priory – hence the little monk on the bottles – and it also lays claim to sheltering the Pilgrim Fathers on their last night before sailing off to the New World. The building is full of atmospheric corners, including the vaulted Refectory Bar where you can enjoy a cocktail or two after your gin tour.

    Verzon House

    The enterprising Chase family initially made crisps at their Herefordshire farm before branching into spirits using their potatoes and apples. Now you can stay at Verzon House, their country hotel down the road, which offers free lifts to the distillery tour and shop. The cosy hotel bar makes unusual, moreish cocktails using their own gins and liqueurs, and on Friday nights they host jolly masterclasses.


    Scotland is of course famous for its whisky, but these days it is a buzzing gin hub as well. One of the most aromatic and unusual is Caorunn, distilled in the Cairngorms National Park, using local botanicals including rowan berry, bog myrtle, heather and dandelion. On weekdays you can walk around the picturesque distillery with a guided tour and tutored tasting session from the very enthusiastic staff.

    Gin Haus

    A former pub in the rural Carmarthenshire town of Llandeilo has been recently reinvented as a temple to gin. Its husband and wife owners have amassed nearly 400 gins from 46 countries on Gin Haus’ creaking shelves, making it one of the best selections in Britain. You can easily lose half-an-hour in here just marvelling at what they’ve managed to find.

    Bombay Sapphire

    Laverstoke Mill is Bombay Sapphire’s showstopping new distillery built over the River Test in Hampshire. The highlight is Thomas Heatherwick’s dramatic botanical glasshouses that sink into the river bed, but the bar, cafe and shop have plenty of treats in store as well. There are several themed tours, including ones focusing on the botanicals or the history, as well as the seriously in-depth five-hour long ‘ultimate experience’ that covers it all.

    Olivia Williams is the author of Gin Glorious Gin: How Mother’s Ruin Became the Spirit of London