François Monti. Gin in London: the return of urban distilleries
Big Ben or Buckingham Palace? Choose distilleries instead! On the occasion of the opening of Hayman’s new facilities, we will propose you three in the centre of the capital.
There are two natural environments to set up a distillery: in the countryside, where the raw material is located, and in the city, where the customers are located. The gin industry being historically focused on processing – a neutral alcohol is bought to be redistilled with aromatic substances – it was first in urban areas that the first distillers settled. It is said that around 1730, London had nearly 1500’distilleries’ – quotation marks are really required. By the end of the next century, they had almost all disappeared. Why is that? Among other things because of a stronger sanitary control, stricter laws which favoured the big operations as well as the urban expansion which pushed them towards the outside, making the space more and more rare in town whereas the distilleries had to expand or die.
The recent development of artisanal distilleries has completely reversed the trend. Twenty years ago, only Beefeater maintained central facilities. Today, according to The Spirit Business (https://www.thedrinksbusiness.com/2017/11/london-now-home-to-fifth-of-englands-gin-distilleries/), London hosts 24 distilleries. Most are small: it is precisely because they do not need much space that they can settle in the city. They are thus more accessible there for visitors who, gin being fashionable in the United Kingdom, hurry to their doors, and not only at the weekend. We understand of course that you cannot spend your entire stay admiring copper stills. Here are three recommendations.
Hayman’s – A historical return
Few families occupy such a prominent place in the history of gin. We are now in the fifth generation. The fourth, represented by Christopher Hayman, is about to celebrate 50 years of work in the shadow of a still. The family is a direct descendant of James Burroughs, the inventor of Beefeater! After losing control of this’modest’ family distillery, Christopher created Hayman’s in 2003. Initially settled outside London, his main desire was to return to where his ancestors had made so much talk of them. This has been done since the end of 2017: the complete line, especially known for Old Tom, is now distilled in the capital. Equipped for the occasion with a new image, the brand hopes to make its excellent London Dry Gin better known. She shouldn’t have too much to worry about.
Portobello Road – The pub that distills
Jake Burger is one of the icons of the London bar scene and his establishment, the Portobello Star, a reference. Not known for doing things halfway, the launch in 2011 of its Portobello Road gin was quite an event. Fruit of experimentation carried out on a small copper still of hardly thirty liters, the production of gin is today assured, for a question of volume, by Thames Distillery. Rather than this company, which produces for a number of brands, what we suggest you visit is rather The Distillery, the gastronomic pub / bed & breakfast / laboratory of Burger and its associates, opened just over a year ago. Unique opportunity to sleep above a micro-distillery after a passage probably very wet in the basement Ginstitue, where you will have the opportunity to compose, from artisanal distillates, your own gin.
Sipsmith – The Original
According to the brand, it is the first “of its kind” distillery to open in London since 1820. First installed in a garage, Fairfax Hall and Sam Galsworthy, assisted by Master Distiller Jared Brown, released in 2009 an exceptional classic gin, distilled on Prudence, a copper still with a capacity of 300 liters. Brown presents his formula as “the work of a lifetime”. In addition to a vodka, Sipsmith offers many other references, including a Sloe Gin and experimental gins in limited series. Due to its success, the distillery has moved to (somewhat) larger facilities where three relatively modest stills continue their artisanal work. Suntory’s takeover of the brand has so far had no negative impact on methods and quality.
Don’t drink and drive. Enjoy responsibly.