Ruggero Raymo, co-founder of Portofino Dry Gin, on cocktails, credibility and the Mediterranean coast

His spirit has become a breakout star in the busy premium gin category. But how did the entrepreneur bottle Portofino’s singular charms?

Of all the spots on the Italian Riviera, Portofino certainly looks the most edible. A cascade of colourful houses, draped over a little cove in Liguria, the town seems crafted entirely from crema pasticceria or perhaps the finest Italian marmalade: a pretty, dazzling swirl of lemon yellows, sun-blushed oranges and juicy pinks. 

For entrepreneur Ruggero Raymo, however, the place that had long been so important to his family wasn’t just good enough to eat — it was good enough to drink, too. And so when he and his friends found themselves falling in love with the world of gin, they thought they’d try to bottle some of Portofino’s singular charms once and for all. 

The resulting spirit, which has become a breakout star in the busy premium gin category, is a fitting evocation of the town, with its heady, elegant swirl of tangerine, lavender, marjoram, sweet fennel and cardamom transporting its acolytes to warm, gentler climes.

I have always loved food and drink. My father was an excellent cook and a wine lover, and his dream was to retire to Tuscany and have his own winery. At the same time, I grew up with tales from my mother about the many legendary events that my grandfather, Klaus Pudel, was hosting in Portofino. 

To this day you can find the “Klaus” cocktail on the menu of a few of the bars in Portofino. It’s similar to a Bellini and is a wonderful tribute to him. I guess you could say that drinks were always part of my family — I just decided to embark on a different spirit journey.

To me, Portofino means home, family and friendship. All my best memories are from Portofino. But I had the chance to live in London for many years and that’s where my passion for gin really emerged. I started to visit distilleries, understanding the processes, and really learning about the category. 

With my business partners, who are also my childhood friends, we always spoke about having our own spirits brand dedicated to Portofino — to its effortless beauty and glamorous history. 

I would say that our gin takes you on an unforgettable journey along the Mediterranean Coast. Portofino Dry Gin’s initial notes are fresh lemon and crisp juniper that transport you to the hills of Portofino. These give way to a universe of Mediterranean flavours, from the wild rosemary and lavender perfumes of the coastal scrub, to the sweet and delicate notes of marjoram and sage that evoke the taste of traditional Ligurian cuisine.

My tastes in gin cocktails are very classical. I love to be able to really taste the flavours of the gin in a gin and tonic. Our signature serve , and my personal favourite, is the Portofino & Toni: 1/3 Portofino Dry Gin, 2/3 Fever Tree Mediterranean Tonic, a twist of lemon peel and a sprig of Rosemary or Lavender.

Despite all that happened recently, we have managed to build a multi-award winning, international premium gin brand starting in Portofino, but expanding to 33 international markets, in only three years. 

And we managed to build a successful brand in an industry which none of the founders had previous professional experience in. Though this could have been seen as a disadvantage, I believe it gave us the humbleness and fresh approach needed to succeed.

The gin category is extremely competitive. At the beginning, we were often told “we are not interested in another gin” — until we started winning quite a few blind tasting awards and building our credibility. Then everything changed. 

When I worked at AC Milan, my boss always used to say: “Never lose faith. Out of 100 proposals you send out, you might receive 99 no’s. But the one deal you do close will be worth the other 99.”

One of my business icons is Dwayne Johnson, better known as The Rock. His career has been incredible. He went from failing in the NFL to becoming a WWE wrestler, then the world’s highest paid actor and entertainer, and now a successful businessman and spirits brand owner. I wonder what will be next. 

My personal motto is something my father always told me as a kid. It’s an old Italian saying: “You wanted the bicycle — now pedal!”

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