A Master Class in Mother’s Ruin

Courtesy of The Distillery

A boozy course at one of London’s leading distilleries gives gin enthusiasts the opportunity to create their own recipes.

You can create a fully customized perfume, you can personalize your linen stationery, and now at London’s Ginstitute—one piece of the multifloor shrine to the spirit that is the Distillery, a project opened December 2016 from Portobello Road Gin directors Jake Burger, Tom Coates, Paul Lane, and Ged Feltham—you can even make your own bespoke gin.

The well-lubricated, three-hour master class, led by Portobello Road–trained distillers starts with a history of the spirit in what might be the world’s sexiest “museum”: a diminutive, low-lit, subterranean space with curvy red booths, display cases with booze-related artifacts (including barman Jerry Thomas’s circa-1882 business card), and a bar fashioned from a salvaged Victorian bank counter and glazed mahogany. While guests sip a Tom Collins, instructors offer a primer on the spirit, including its roots as a medical salve, its rise to prominence in the 1800s, and how a renewed reverence for old-school libations like the Negroni and Martinez helped resuscitate the desire for gin in today’s vodka-dominant world.

Courtesy of The Distillery

A second room, dominated by two copper stills, hosts the blending equipment and a range of ever-changing botanicals both expected and bizarre. One day the shelves might contain juniper, angelica root, and cassia bark; another, pomelo and Lapsang souchong, white peppercorn and celery seed. With a second cocktail (this time, a Gin & Tonic) in hand, guests get familiar with their botanicals, nosing and tasting them before blending them to create their own signature recipes. In an efficient twist on traditional gin-making methodology, the Ginstitute creates distillates of each ingredient for guests to mix, rather than macerate or steam-infuse each recipe individually.

At the end of the day, each unique recipe is stored in the Ginstitute database, and amateur blenders go home with a bottle of their own making, plus one of Portobello Road’s own No. 171. But before they do, there’s time for one last drink at bar GinTonica, where the signature quaff is enlivened by a few more playful ingredients (plum bitters, grapefruit marmalade, hibiscus liqueur) that just might plant the seed for your next customized batch.

The Ginstitute is located at 186 Portobello Road in London. Three-hour master classes are $135. Sign up at the-distillery.london.