For centuries London was a prodigious producer of gin – Nicholson’s operated their huge facility at Three Mills, Bromley by Bow until bombing caused their production to cease in 1941, and Gordons and Tanqueray continued to be made in Islington until the early 1980s. Of the big distillers, only Beefeater remains – their gin is still made on an industrial scale at a facility down in Kennington.
Up until last year, however, there had been no small-scale production of gin in the capital for decades. That’s all changed since the City of London Distillery & Bar opened its doors last November, and last night I was lucky enough to visit this temple to gin-making, which you’ll find on the narrow Brides Lane in the heart of the City.
Descend the stairs into this intimate bar with its low ceilings and the first thing that you’ll discover is their gleaming distillery, its shiny copper vessels looking like they’ve just been born out of the pages of some cyber-punk novel. These are tended by master distiller Jamie Baxter, who has years of experience in the field – his equipment here is capable of producing just over 200 bottles of their London dry gin per batch. They use a whole range of what are called ‘botanicals’ (a posh way of referring to a complex mixture of juniper berries, herbs, spices and fruit peel) to flavour their base grain spirit, which is then mixed with purified water to bring it down to 40% proof – a typical strength for a classic London dry gin.
The associated bar (which must have the largest collection of different gin brands anywhere in the country on display behind the counter) is owned by Lewis and Nate, collectively known as the London Bar Consultants, who have been one of the main forces behind London’s rediscovery of the art of cocktail-making over the last few years. As well as popping down to sample their range of gins, martinis and the like (which of course includes the very drinkable gin that they make on the premises) you can also participate in distillery tours where you’ll discover the intricacies of the gin-making process, masterclasses on gin tasting (there are three traditional types of gin and new styles being devised all the time) and also have a crack at making your own!