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Ben Iravani - Porter’s Gin

Written by Gin Foundry

Porter’s Gin is a juniper-rich, cocktail-ready mixing gin, conceived by bar tending veterans Ben Iravani and Alex Lawrence, alongside their friend Josh Rennie. Almost a year since its launch, we caught up with Ben to see how the gin’s being received.

For those who don’t know you yet - how did you get into drinks and what’s your role within Porter’s?

It all started with a part-time job bar tending whilst I was at university. I worked in bars throughout my five years at university and I became so interested in the drinks industry that I often found myself writing down cocktail recipes in lecture theatres instead of paying attention to the class at hand! I entered a few cocktail competitions and fully immersed myself in the bartender scene. Whenever I travelled, I would make sure I visited the top bars and restaurants in the area, always taking notes and generating ideas for creating new drinks and improving customer experience.  What was supposed to be a job to supplement my degree had turned totally in the other direction.

After graduating with a masters in mechanical engineering, I decided to swerve the conventional career path and follow my passion for the bar industry. Just after my 23rd birthday, in 2009, I opened a cocktail bar called Orchid in my home town of Aberdeen. Following on from the success of the bar, we partnered up with a Japanese restaurant called Yatai in 2012 , and then took over another bar, 99 Bar and Kitchen in 2013.

At what point did the idea of a Gin start to form?

In 2012, along comes a chap to work in Orchid called Danil NevskyDan was about as brash as they come, and equally enigmatic, but his drinks were ridiculously delicious and his passion for progressing our bar was second to none. We chatted endlessly about drinks and cocktails, and fatefully started something we called ‘The Gin Project’. We didn’t have any distillation equipment, nor did we have a licence to distill, 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 and Dan then went to Amsterdam to join one of the world’s best cocktail bars (and one of my personal favourites) – Tales and Spirits.

The real catalyst for Porter’s Gin, came when an intensely driven young bartender, Alex Lawrence, joined Orchid. Alex wanted a rotary evaporator to allow us to start distilling within the bar for creating innovative ingredients to use in cocktails. Fortunately, we had two investors who happened to be biomedical scientists, and they helped source a rotary evaporator for us. It was at this point that the gin project was re-ignited and we began distilling every day, learning, tasting and developing the recipe for Porter’s Gin.

A good friend of mine, and fellow drinks enthusiast, Josh Rennie had recently returned from five years in China. Josh quickly turned into a distiller / botanical researcher, and was turning up at Orchid daily with bags of unusual herbs, plants, fruits and spices which he had procured from various sources. 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 achieve with each distillate.

The three of us came together and worked very closely over the next year and half, tasting, creating and developing the recipe for Porter’s Gin.  It was a long process, but we are proud of what we have created.

It’s very nearly the anniversary of Porter’s Gin’s launch. What challenges has the first year thrown up?

I can’t believe that it has only been a year since we launched!  It’s been an absolutely crazy, fun and intense year for everyone involved. It has been a seriously steep learning curve, and we are enjoying every minute of it!

After selling out our initial bottling run of 3000 bottles within the first month of launch, we had to move quickly to scale up our distillation, and at the same time expand our reach into new parts of the UK and overseas. Right now, the Gin scene is really booming, and there are so many opportunities for us to take advantage of that we have to be really selective about what we do.

And what’s the most exciting thing to have happened?

The most exciting thing for me personally, is when I walk into a bar and see someone order a Porter’s Gin.  That gets me every time! But in terms of an event, our collaboration with Dandelyan at London Cocktail Week 2016 has to be one of the coolest projects to date. The drinks that the team put out were on another level, and it was surreal to have partnered up with a world class venue like Dandelyan only 10 months on from launching Porter’s Gin.

The other major milestone came when we won a gold medal at the IWSC. We were already confident that we had created an amazing Gin, but it’s both humbling and surreal to have that recognition from an independent international platform like the IWSC.

You run a bar in the city - what’s Aberdeen like as a food and drink destination?

Aberdeen has a really vibrant scene for food and drink.  We have some of the world’s best producers on our doorstep and there are some very talented bartenders and chefs who are pushing the Aberdeen scene forward and bringing delicious menu’s to the city. I love the bartending community in Aberdeen; it’s a very supportive and close knit group which means that everyone is pulling in the same direction to put Aberdeen on the map.

Do you feel like there is a Gin fatigue creeping into the industry or is there still quite far to go before saturation?

I think the market will mature, and in turn the way in which customers pick their gins will change, but I think that the Gin scene as a whole still has a lot more to bring to the table. On a global level, there are still some very big markets out there that are predicting a rise in Gin, so I’m definitely still excited for the future!

Why did you opt for a dual-distillation technique? It’s a pretty complicated way of making Gin but obviously creates some fantastic results.

You’re right, we did make it quite complicated for ourselves, but as you also mentioned the most important thing is the resulting taste of the gin we have created.  Originally, we planned to distill all of our botanicals within the bar, in the rotary evaporator.  However, as we learned more about distillation and the flavours extracted from the different methods, it became evident that we weren’t going to get the flavour profile that we wanted by just using the one technique. We wanted to make a gin that was bold enough to stand up in mixed drinks, but that had this unique, light mid-palate. We hit a cross roads and made the decision that the priority was the final taste of our gin and with that ‘flavour first’ mentality we went off to find our pot still.

You use a very unique botanical - Buddha’s hand. How did you come across it and what benefits does it lend to the gin?

After around five months of distilling different botanicals, we started to hone in on exactly what flavour profile we wanted from our gin. At the time, we were playing around with almond to bring a mouth feel and a round, creamy note to the gin, but we also knew that we wanted to add a unique citrus element. After considerable research into citrus fruits, we came across the Buddhas hand fruit. We ordered 1kg of dried buddhas hand from a Chinese medicine supplier and as soon as we distilled it, we knew we had found something special! The fruit adds a unique, zesty note, almost like a citrus-sherbet taste, which really comes to life when you lengthen our gin.