If The Italian Coast Is Overcrowded This Summer, Try The Gin

Food & Drink

A peek at your Instagram in the summer likely showed snapshots of Italy — candy-colored homes stacked atop seaside cliffs, tables of aperol spritzes, and other imagery of the dolce vita. “Today in Italy, we have this boom in terms of tourism that is unbelievable,” Carlo Messina, CEO of Italy’s biggest bank Intesa SanPaolo.

One gin brand is trying to capture the essence of the Italian coast by capturing botanicals like bergamot, lavender, and rosemary in a bottle of gin — ingredients found lining the scenic streets and azure shores of the Italian Riviera. Instead of a standard tall bottle, Portofino Dry Gin opted for a short, blue-hued bottle more reminiscent of a vintage perfume bottle. For home drinkers, it’s a liquid nod to Liguria.

“The idea of Portofino Dry Gin was born from the desire to convey the effortless beauty and glamorous history of Portofino,” says Chris Egger, co-founder of the brand and a Portofino native. “We’re passionate about this magical place, and we wanted a gin that celebrated the people, landscapes, and nostalgia of the Dolce Vita era.”

That feeling comes through in the spirit; expressive, floral, sunsoaked and kissed with citrus. It’s suave and sippable on its own, but shines in Negronis and other spirit-forward gin drinks.

The brand was founded in 2019 by Egger and Ruggero Raymo as an ode to the Italian Riviera and Portofino. The gin brand went on to launch in the United States two years later.

While the gin category is historically linked to London, the spirits category has strong Italian ties. “The history of gin is strongly tied to Italy,” says Egger. “In fact, gin’s oldest iteration is thought to come from our country.” In the 11th century, Salerno monks would mix juniper berries with spirits to add flavor and cut the harshness.

So brands like Portofino are looking to revive those roots, creating a gin with a highly Italian lean. All botanicals, including rosemary, marjoram, rose, and iris, are handpicked from the hills above Portofino, where Raymo’s family has lived for generations. Raymo and Egger note that the microclimate in the region allows botanicals to bloom year-round, allowing for a constant source of ingredients.

Of course, gins like these work well in Italy’s strong cocktail heritage — think drinks like Negronis, Sbagliatos, and Aperol Spritzes that are Italian in name and nature and are a strong part of Italian culture.

Portofino Dry Gin is distilled at Distilleria Quaglia, a local Piedmont producer of vermouths, grappa, and amari. The finished product is bottled in a short, square bottle with painted Portofino houses dotting the bottle. “The square shape of our bottle is inspired by vintage perfume containers and its color represents the turquoise-blue crystal waters of the Ligurian coast,” says Egger. Three bottles placed together — a good excuse to order another — will puzzle together a panorama of pastel houses.

“We wanted the design of our bottle and the name of our gin to be easily recognizable, both for someone who has already visited Portofino and for those who dream of traveling there one day,” says Egger. “We find this distinctiveness certainly helps generate curiosity from someone discovering our gin for the first time.”

And it certainly seems to — creative makers are selling lamps and string lights made from empty Portofino bottles. For those looking to further bring the Ligurian Riviera home, Portofino Dry Gin sells straw and linen travel bags with My Style Bags, shimmering cocktail glasses with Marioluca Giusti, and swimsuits with MC2.

Gin is an excellent way to explore an area. Consider how you make the spirit — you take local botanicals, fruits, herbs, and spices, process them with water (also often sourced from the same land that birthed the botanicals), and turn it into a spirit that sips with a surprising sense of place.

There are new world gins that shine a light on California botanicals, foraged Canadian nettles and spruce tips, or odder ingredients — pickle gins, coconut gins, and gins flavored with Shiraz. There are bramble-driven gins from England and Japanese gins made with sakura blossoms. As such, gin sales have boomed — the US gin market is expected to grow to $13.72 billion in 2023.

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