Since the Gin Act of 1751 virtually outlawed small distilleries, a new batch of craft distillers has finally arrived on London’s gin landscape some 200 years later. . .
When Sipsmith launched in 2009, we were the first copper-pot distillery to open in London in almost 200 years. Why the long gap? Well, London has had, shall we say, a complicated history with gin.
Following the debauchery of the 18th century, which saw thousands of tiny distilleries and gin shops pop up across London to meet the public demand for plentiful drink at low costs, the government stepped into the fray. In 1751, the Gin Act effectively shuttered all small distilleries by requiring that stills contain a minimum of 1,800 litres. The new regulations, and changes in drinking patterns, meant that only the largest distilleries could survive, and the ones that did eventually made their way out of London. By the end of the 20th century, only Beefeater still produced gin within the M25.
Now, Sipsmith is part of a community of new distillers that are appearing across the city. Instead of large-scale producers making gin on an industrial scale, London has seen a rise in a new species of gin manufacturer: the small-scale, craft, artisanal distillery.
Sacred Spirits is one to watch: the tiny distillery, based in Highgate in North London, is so small that it’s actually housed in founder Ian Hart’s living room! He produces a dry London gin that is at once a classic homage to the form while also a new twist on the spirit. As Hart uses botanicals like nutmeg and Boswellia sacra frankincense, his gin is bright and unique. Sacred is also currently the only vacuum distillery in London.
Jamie Baxter, who previously dabbled in gin distilling with Chase, launched the City of London Distillery in 2012. The first new distillery in the City of London for the last 200 years, the small-scale distillery, which is located down a flight of stairs near Fleet Street, uses two stills and produces roughly 200 bottles per batch. COLD’s gin is notably clean and pure, and is full of pink grapefruit notes.
The London Distillery, located in Battersea, is one of the more exciting microdistilleries currently operating out of London. The company has a long history: first dreamed up by entrepreneur Ralph Dodd in 1807, the distillery wasn’t fully realised until 2011, when Darren Rook and Andrew MacLeod Smith took the helm. Though it’s best known as London’s first new whisky distillery in over 100 years, The London Distillery also produces an exceptional gin. Named in honor of Dodd, the gin is produced using both a copper alembic and cold vacuum still. It uses fresh lime peel, bay laurel, cardamom, red raspberry leaf, and London honey, among other botanicals.
As boutique distilling becomes more and more prominent, we can only expect to see a new generation of gin producers arrive on the scene. Fact is, it’s an exciting time to be a gin drinker in London: the most exciting time in 200 years!
Header Images © Alastair Wiper and El Bibliomata