A gin experience

See original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine August 2016

Cocktails are a must at a party, especially in summertime. Since gin is the hippest spirit out there at the moment, this month Enjoy the Algarve follows a gin workshop in Vilamoura. Turns out there’s way more to gin than just buying the supermarket’s own brand, adding some tonic and a slice of lemon.

“Know why James Bond wants his drinks shaken, not stirred?,” Salmora’s bar manager Bruno Rocha (32) asks. “It’s because he has to keep an eye on his enemies. Shaking a drink dilutes it, making it more watery. Normally you don’t want that, but 007 needs to keep his wits about him and thus can’t get too drunk.” Bruno quickly demonstrates the proper way of ‘relaxing a glass’, cooling it by stirring in loads of ice cubes, making sure to drain every drop of water afterwards to avoid diluting. But before we get to the point of making cocktails, it’s tasting time. Because Salmora offers 28 different sorts of gin and they all taste different.

Joining me is Lauren Venters (29) from Portugal Rocks. Born in the UK, Lauren has lived in the Algarve for 20 years and uses her extensive local knowledge to organise all sorts of festive activities. As Portugal Rocks’ general manager, she can arrange everything from VIP champagne cruises to bar crawls and from Thai cooking classes to corporate teambuilding events. Would she also be the go-to person if I wanted a butler in the buff for my next birthday party? “Definitely!” she enthuses. “I’m always doing different things and love what I do, so it doesn’t feel like a job.” Especially when it comes to this workshop: “Being British, I’ve loved gin from a very early age,” Lauren grins. Perfect! It already feels like a girls’ night out and we haven’t even started yet.

Instead of the usual ten, Lauren and I decide to stick with seven different gins, a vain attempt to keep our heads clear in case we need to get back to work afterwards. “One time there was a group of guys who did the gin experience after a round of golf. They’d spent quite some time at the 19th hole already and were pretty wasted after their ten tasters plus cocktail,” laughs the charming Bruno while he pours us a tiny amount of Hendrick’s, Salmora Live Kitchen & Bar’s house gin. There’s no way one could have a gin workshop without Hendrick’s: they came up with the idea of serving G&T in those big fishbowl-like glasses, a revolutionary move in gin-land.

Unlike wine, with gin you shouldn’t swirl the liquid in your glass before smelling; doing so will only release the alcohol fumes. Nosing is done both from the bottom and from the top of the glass ‘so you experience the different aromas’. I almost smirk, thinking there’s no way it’ll smell any different from the other side of the rim – (Bruno probably just wants us look like idiots), but give it a try anyway. Perplexed, I sniff at least four times more. Indeed, inhale the Hendrick’s with your nose pressed towards the bottom rim of the glass and you smell citric notes; move a couple of centimetres up and you get rose petals. This stuff is cool.

Tasting should be done by keeping the gin in the front of your mouth for a while so you get the taste as well as the aftertaste. (Not by downing it as Lauren accidentally does). Hendricks is quickly followed by Copperhead, made by a Belgian alchemist looking for the elixir of life. Instead, he discovered gin. Gin history is filled with interesting stories; another guy, Martin Miller, was fed up by the bad quality and sloppy way England’s national drink was served and decided to make his own. In search for the purest water, he went all the way to Iceland, where Martin Miller’s gin is still distilled and bottled. His quest makes sense; Bruno explains that gin is all about the water. “Better not make it with Portuguese tap water then,” I joke. Bruno literally recoils in horror at my remark. That’s a no then.

Apart from water, juniper berries are also quite important. “You need at least 21% of juniper berries to call it gin,” explains Bruno, who is a walking gin encyclopaedia. Born and raised in the Algarve, he used to work as a bartender and continued this part-time job when studying Marketing and Publicity in London (UK). His talent behind the bar was quickly recognised, and when Bruno got offered a job as bar manager, he decided to follow his passion. It’s only two years ago, when the whole gin craze came up, that he truly got into the colourless spirit. Now, he knows about everything there is. “I love it, I’m a real gin fan, so it’s interesting to learn more,” he explains.

Fascinating, at least to Lauren and me, is that the various gins all look exactly the same, yet taste completely different. Even weirder is that you can change its entire flavour by adding just a squeeze of lime peel or blending in a drop of extract. “That’s also a good way to make a nice cocktail if you haven’t got a premium gin: just add two drops of Angostura bitter,” advises Bruno. Good to know, as some of these premium bottles set you back 50 euros for half a litre – the price difference between supermarket’s own brand and premium ones has to do with the amount of times the gin has been distilled. Bruno has more tips for the beginning mixologist: “Bulldog is one of the easiest to play with as it’s a balanced and aromatic gin; although it tastes neutral, it’s a mix of 12 ingredients with different flavours, so it’ll work well with almost anything.”

Like wine, gin can be divided into different categories; ranging from extra dry and dry to fruity and herbal. The Tanqueray No 10 is Bruno’s favourite since it’s made with fresh botanicals instead of dried ones. “You just feel the freshness.” We also taste a complex Monkey 47 (made with 47 different ingredients from the German Schwarzwald), a sweet-smelling Adamus (produced in Portugal in a limited series of only 4448 bottles, all with a cork top) and a fruity Brockmans, which tastes of mango and passionfruit. “It’s a sexy gin,” declares Bruno with a smile.

I’m glad I’ve taken notes during the tasting as now it’s up to us to create our own cocktail. We join Bruno behind the bar, where slices of lemon, lime, orange and blood orange are neatly stacked next to peppers, Angelica roots and cardamom. There’s not a single tacky umbrella in sight. Loading our glasses full of ice cubes, we twirl them around to chill the glass. At least, Lauren does. She’s good behind the bar (I guess I’m better in front of it). Bruno shows how it’s done again, steering the long spoon with your ring finger. His hand moves seemingly effortless in a continuous rhythm; I’m not quite as smooth (anymore)…

Still, I manage to pour 50ml Martin Miller’s in without spilling any and then select a Fever-tree Mediterranean tonic (yes, tonic also comes in different flavours, and yes, we tasted them all too). Pouring the tonic over the spoon in order to not lose the bubbles, I’m wondering what to add. “It all depends on what flavours you like. But don’t make a soup and put in loads of ingredients. Keep it simple,” Bruno advises. “Gin is really straightforward. My best tip is to use fresh ingredients.” This shows in what’s on offer in Salmora; the bar doesn’t use any syrup for their cocktails. “It’s gin, not sangria!” Instead, there’s fresh fruit and herbs. Some seasonal ones as plum and mandarins come in the form of a homemade jam, whereas others just aren’t available when not in season. “Watermelon, for example. In winter, it’s hard to get good watermelons. Instead of using bad quality ones, I rather just don’t make that cocktail,” explains Bruno.

Using what looks like a gigantic pair of tweezers, I stir a slice of apple around my glass (I think I’ll need to make at least 284 G&Ts before I’m about half as smooth as Bruno) and add a cinnamon stick which Bruno sets fire to. Lauren goes for a combination of Tanqueray 10, 1724 tonic water, a slice of cucumber and some mint, while Bruno mixes a tropical cocktail out of Brockmans and blood orange. Satisfied, we take our G&Ts outside in the sun. “Gin is a bit of a statement drink; people show off their wealth by flaunting their big glasses,” Bruno admits. It fits in well with the scene of Vilamoura Marina then. Full of ice cubes, the G&Ts stay cold until the last drop, even in the sunny Algarve. Here’s to a long and hot summer, cheers!


When to go?

All year round, starting from 4pm. Obviously Salmora is busier in summer months and weekends.

It’s also possible to combine the gin experience with a dinner either after or before the workshop. Make sure to take a designated driver or, better, arrange for somebody to pick you up afterwards.

Want to go? Book this activity via Portugal Rocks


For whom?

People who want to learn how to make cool cocktails. No matter if you’re an enthusiastic spirit-lover or an experienced barkeeper. It certainly helps if you like gin though.

Basically, it’s for everyone who wants to know about what they’re drinking and why certain flavours go well together. Especially recommended if you want to impress your friends with gin-tasting knowledge and cocktail-making moves.

Participants have to be over 18 years old. The minimum amount of people for the gin experience is 2, whereas the maximum is 10.


See original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine August 2016

Posted in Food, This month we try.