The makers of Portobello Road Gin – a popular British gin – got their start a few years ago tucked away on the top two floors of the Portobello Star, a 19th-century public house on London's famous Portobello Road.
Within three years, they'd outgrown the place and started a frantic search for new digs. "We never dreamt a site would become available on our namesake road, let alone a four-floor building," says Ged Feltham, founder of Portobello Road Gin. "We actually did a pitch for the site as a training exercise. They had 100 offers for the building and it was a shock when we got it, as we're still a relatively young brand," says Feltham, who works closely with the gin's creators, Jake Burger and Tom Coates. "That was when we realized the huge potential this building has to offer."
In December, the Distillery threw open its doors, offering three luxury-hotel suites (dubbed the gin inn), two bars, a museum and the Ginstitute's courses (sessions held by Burger and Coates for budding gin connoisseurs – or "ginterns" who can make their own bespoke gin from botanicals ranging from juniper berries, coriander seeds, orris root and licorice root).
It's a hip, but genteel, establishment soaked in gin culture. Its museum gives a history of London's introduction to gin in the late 1600s, after King William III ascended to the throne and introduced Brits to the juniper-derived spirit (invented in the Netherlands). Plus, the three suites offer guests the opportunity to rest their weary heads after a day of concocting, tasting and talking gin.
"Sadly, many people's first experience with gin is at university, where perhaps they imbibed a bit too much of a poor-quality gin – and perhaps it came up as quickly as it went down," Feltham says.
"For many of those consumers, learning to love gin again can be daunting. Tequila seems to have the same reputation. But … with both spirits, if you learn to enjoy the delicate nuances of the spirit and perhaps even be able to decipher the unique botanicals in each different brand. It's a unique spirit and no two gins taste the same."
On the world stage, the gin inn is one-of-a-kind, too. And The Distillery is at the forefront of a trend to design alcohol-branded hotels catering to discerning spirit drinkers, oenophiles and beer lovers. Hotels have long been located next to wineries in prime locales, but it's rare to offer guests the chance to bed down in a distillery, or in the case of Scottish craft brewer BrewDog, to wake up inside a brewery.
This week, the British media reported that BrewDog plans to build a $6-million (U.S.) 50-room hotel, called DogHouse, attached to their new 100,000-square-foot brewery in Columbus, Ohio.
It's taking the beer theme to frothy extremes, offering beer geeks "the ultimate beer-themed immersive experience," with rooms overlooking sections of the new sour-beer facility, and a craft-beer spa complete with hop face masks, malted-barley massages, and "Hoppy Feet," pedicures. Mini-fridges in the showers will be stocked with craft beer and the menu will include beer-infused breakfasts, lunches and dinners. The hotel hopes to open in late 2018.
Beer seems to be a U.S. state-crossing hotel theme. In the foodie destination of Escondido, Calif., guests of the Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens will soon be able to spend the night in the Stone Hotel, a 99-room boutique establishment in the heart of San Diego County, home to more than 110 local breweries.
Adjacent to the brewery, the new hotel will feature beer on taps at three in-house bars and a 10,000-square-foot roof garden where suds lovers can unwind after a long day of craft-beer touring.
Chosen one of the "Best Beer Towns in America" recently by Men's Journal, the area is a burgeoning tourism draw for visitors from around the world.
Stone Hotel owner/operator Robert Cartwright was recently quoted saying the new rooms will be about 50-per-cent larger than typical hotel rooms to accommodate the two-plus guests expected per room. Will it be playing 99 Bottles of Beer in the lobby as a cheeky nod to the number of suites? Not likely. The establishment, Cartwright made clear, is aimed at discerning millennials and other travellers looking for a unique experience. (Also highly unlikely that beer pong will be allowed on the ping-pong tables.)
It might be an option, however, at the laid-back Dogfish Inn, whose 16 rooms are dedicated to its home brew in Lewes, Del. Ideal for families and dogs (seven rooms are designated pooch-friendly), the two-year-old inn is no-fuss and describes itself as "off-centre." Its toilet seats say "Well, Hello Sailor!" and the rooms are filled with beer-centric amenities and screen prints of beer labels. The Dogfish Head Brewery isn't on-site (it's about 29 kilometres away), but the hotel offers transportation. Alas, the mini-fridges aren't stocked with beer. It wants its guests to venture forth into the harbour community, where pubs, live music, and grub abound.
The Distillery's Feltham says the Portobello Road concept is simply about combining creature comfort, common sense (who wants to go home after a day immersed in the fine art of gin making?), and the nurturing the camaraderie of gin lovers who can talk for hours about the classic GT, the Negroni, or gimlet.
Feltham says The Distillery is "the embodiment of their definition of the dream gin hotel and experience."
Who knows, perhaps George Clooney and Rande Gerber will take note. Their Casamigos tequila, made in the Mexican state of Jalisco, is steadily gaining in popularity with tequila lovers who might toast a hotel branded around the favourite beverage.