THE team of Aberdeen-based bartenders behind Porter’s Gin have reached a major milestone on their journey as spirit producers.
Ben Iravani, managing director of Monkey Bars – the firm behind Orchid and Ninety-Nine Bar and Kitchen – is preparing to take his craft gin project to the next level by moving production out of his bars and into a micro-distillery in the granite city.
From this month Iravani and his team will use the new facility to produce the key flavours that make up Porter’s Gin before the liquid is transported south to G&J Distillers in Warrington.
Claimed to be the first gin distilled in the city for a century, Porter’s Gin is a project that has been bubbling on and off again at Orchid for half a decade but, after launching in January of this year, the gin now has its own home – and it’s been a long time coming.
The Porter’s Gin project first got underway when Iravani was joined at Orchid by mixologist Danil Nevsky, two years after the cocktail bar opened its doors.
“We chatted endlessly about drinks and cocktails, and fatefully started something we called ‘the gin project’,” said Iravani.
“We didn’t have any distillation equipment, nor did we have a licence to distil, which left us with the Dickensian-sounding option of making ‘bathtub gin’ by cold compounding in the cellars of Orchid.
“After a lot of discussion, the gin project was put on hold.”
Nevsky, a bartender whom Iravani said made “ridiculously delicious” cocktails during his time at Orchid, moved to Amsterdam cocktail bar Tales and Spirits and the gin project was placed firmly on the back-burner.
The arrival of bartender Alex Lawrence at Orchid was the shot in the arm that has propelled the project on, taking it from pipe-dream status to finished product.
“From the outset Alex was intent on distilling his own spirits to use in cocktails,” said Iravani.
With an enthusiastic mixologist back on-board, the next step for Iravani was seeking out the right equipment, but the Orchid team was lucky in this area.
The distillation equipment Iravani and Lawrence required was a rotary evaporator (aka, rotovap), a piece of cold-distillation equipment most often found in science laboratories.
Luckily for Iravani and Lawrence, two of the bar’s investors, professor Andrew Porter and Dr Keith Charlton, both worked in bioscience at the University of Aberdeen and were able to help out.
With equipment acquired, the pair were able to get down to the business of making their own liquids both for use in Orchid cocktails and with a view to launching a gin in the future.
“I began to dedicate my time to studying distillation and flavour extraction, specifically using the rotovap,” said Iravani.
“I became fascinated by the flavour profile and fragrance industry and spent my spare time reading food-science journals and discovering how the big flavour and fragrance houses create their products.”
The rotovap may have got the gin project underway, but Iravani still had two venues to look after and Lawrence’s cocktail career picked up pace, with competitions taking him across the country and overseas – including a trip to Columbia after topping La Hechicera rum’s Wanderlust competition.
Iravani and Lawrence couldn’t do it all, but a fortuitous bit of timing saw entrepreneur Josh Rennie return to the UK after five years working in China and he expressed an interest in the new project.
“Josh quickly turned into a distiller/botanical researcher, and was turning up at Orchid daily with bags of weird herbs, plants, fruits and spices,” said Iravani.
“We spent a lot of time distilling these at different temperatures and pressures to see how they would react and what kind of flavour extraction we [would] achieve with each distillate.
“Before long, we’d created a distillate ‘library’ of hundreds of different botanicals.”
As the project progressed, Iravani and co discovered that while the rotovap was the right tool for producing their experimental botanicals, cold distillation is not the optimum method of extracting flavour from many of the classic gin botanicals.
“It was at this point that we decided to utilise a combination of modern and traditional distillation techniques,” said Iravani.
To get the combination right Iravani and Rennie hit the road, visiting gin distilleries across the country before deciding to partner with Warrington-based G&J Distillers.
With a final product and a production line set up, Porter’s Gin was able to launch.
Now with a bespoke micro-distillery in place Iravani is looking ahead, with distillery tours available through Orchid on the horizon.
“We look forward to seeing where the future goes,” said Iravani.