If asked to think of spirits made in London, there's a fair chance that gin will come to mind. There's a good reason for this – our city has a lengthy and notable history of distilling and consuming the botanically-focussed spirit, and even lends its name to a common gin style.
Not so with whisky. There has not been anything that could realistically be described as a whisky distillery in London for a century. By most accounts, the last London distillery to produce malt whisky was the Lea Valley Distillery in Stratford, about which relatively little is known. The only comprehensive source of information on the distillery comes from Alfred Barnard's 1887 book 'The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom', in which he provides a detailed description of the distillery buildings, although an interesting article from 2003 on the Celtic Malts website supplements this with a bit more information from local directories and Ordnance Survey maps. It appears that the Lea Valley Distillery had closed by 1910, and no malt whisky has been made in London since.
Until now, that is.
The London Distillery Company was founded last year and is gearing up to start whisky production next month from the site of a former Victorian dairy in Battersea (a building shared with a bar, a food outlet, and an arts and events space). As an independent (or 'artisanal', according to their publicity) distillery, they're able to take a non-traditional approach to producing spirits, which we discussed with founder Darren Rook when we visited last month.
Darren told us that the distillery plans to produce “interesting” single malt whiskies in small batches, aimed in part at the growing market of younger, “geekier” whisky drinkers. He explained that London's hard water will be advantageous to making the interesting styles of whisky that he's targeting – the water will initially come from the commercial Thames Water supply, but there's also some potential in a nearby underground natural spring.
British whisky must be aged in wood for a minimum of three years before it can be sold, so the London Distillery Company's first whisky will not be ready until late 2015. In the interim, the distillery is producing other non-whisky spirits. That brings us back to gin – they have produced an 'experimental' range of four gins, under the banner of 'TESTBED1' (a reference to the adjacent arts space), using an unusual selection of botanicals including lovage root, lavender and bilberry. We tried some – it's pretty good.
For updates on the London Distillery Company's progress (and pictures of the ongoing renovations to their premises), check out their Facebook page.