January 6, 2014 – London was once a major distilling center, though primarily focused on gin and rum production. Over the years, spirits companies moved their production out of London to more rural areas of the UK, and that heritage gradually disappeared. Now, the London Distillery Company is producing whisky in what may be the UK’s smaller distillery — just 1,200 square feet. The distillery uses the UK’s smaller licensed commercial whisky still, with just 650 litres of capacity, and required special approval from HM Revenue & Customs to begin operations.
Darren Rook’s venture has been producing gin for the last year, but only received its final licenses to distill whisky several weeks ago. Rook considered other locations for his distillery, but in an interview with Mark Gillespie for the next episode of WhiskyCast, he cited London’s own distilling tradition and the desire to create a unique identity for his whiskies:
“We could have went to Scotland, but the craft distilling movement that’s coming over here…you can see it growing slowly and gradually with the smaller-scale stills, people being a little bit more artisanal…to take that out of London and put it on a farm or take it to Scotland and kind of duplicate what the Scotch industry is already doing…for me it would have felt wrong. There was the need to move the industry here in the UK forward.”
In fact, going forward means going back to the past for Rook. His distillery’s initial work is focusing on older strains of barley and yeast used in London’s whisky distilleries a century ago and experimenting with them using modern distilling techniques. The barley is being hand-malted in a traditional style using one of the few remaining floor maltings in England, and Rook is working with longtime distillers John McDougall and Dr. Jim Swan to test different varieties to come up with a final recipe.
“We’ll do fermentation trials where we move the barley and the yeast forward together over the decades, so we’ll have the barley and the yeast from 1905, jump to 1910, 1920’s, 1930’s…you kind of see the distilling industry stop around the Second World War, and then it picked back up again in the 1940’s and 50’s. We’ll creep everything forward from that and hopefully, we’ll get an artisan view of how whisky over the last century has changed.”
Rook plans to focus on gin production to cover the costs of making whisky, and pledges that he will not sell any whisky until it is ready. “It might be that you don’t see something for 12, 15 years,” he said.
Links: London Distillery Company