In a little lab in New York this summer, Andrew MacLeod Smith – the distiller at the new London Distillery Company – began experimenting with botanicals. From lovage root to bergamot and lavender, the recent Heriot-Watt graduate worked away at individually distilling and then marrying these flavours. The result: four versions of gin.
This is the first adventure for The London Distillery Company (TLDC), which has been set up by Darren Rook (aka: the Whisky Guy). The distillery has not been built yet (hence part of the reason why Andrew ventured to New York for his initial work) but it will soon begin focusing on whisky making (which I wrote about here). Knowing how long it takes to make and mature whisky, the team decided to experiment with gin to get the ball rolling on production.
While I don’t tend to write about other drinks here on Miss Whisky, it seemed logical to go and try the inaugural offerings from TLDC since they will one day be moving into whisky.
The launch took place at the distillery’s headquarters near Battersea. The space is full of creative types that make it perfect for experimenting – from Street Kitchen (a gourmet fast-food outlet) to the funky Doodle Bar, where the first drinks of the night were served. The toilets are housed in a metal-roofed block and sit beside an ever-busy ping pong table, while large oval pink paper lights illuminate the cement warehouse. An additional art space, called TESTBED1, is where the gin gains its name from.
It is a logical place to set up a business that will be inherently creative and fits in well with Andrew’s career path, which has evolved from a structured place (the oil industry where he was an engineer) to the more creative side.
Before doing his MsC in brewing and distilling, he lived in New York where he studied and then worked in film production. He simultaneously worked in the bar trade and that’s where he realised his real calling would be in the alcohol business.
“I just fell in love with whisky,” he told the crowd at the launch.
Having lived in the States, he saw the craft distilling revolution that was starting to take off.
“I absolutely wanted to be a part of it,” he added.
So, when he got the call from Darren about the possible job he said it was, for him, a “no brainer” to take it.
Over the summer, he began playing around with distilling organic botanicals using a small glass still under the tutelage of Jason Grizzanti, the consulting master distiller at the New York Distilling Company and co-owner of Black Dirt Distillery in Warwick, New York.
“Some of them were pretty horrible. Some were pretty pungent but some were really beautiful,” he said.
I had the chance to try four “Testbed” gins, all of which were very different. Where in the first I found notes of sugared grapefruit and a sticky, jammy sweetness with hints of licorice, in the second I got much greater herbal flavours coming through. The latter, on first sniff, reminded me instantly of the smell in the air in the autumn, when it’s a bit cool (I wrote ‘Grey Cup time’ – which Canadians will understand) along with the sweet, fresh notes of celery frying in butter. Weird, but good. Darren had us speak out about what we all found in the gins, and others tasted ‘tangy Tizer’, ‘PVA glue’ and ‘an evening picnic in East Sussex’! The third gin, meanwhile, was heavy on the lavender notes and quite oily, while the fourth was the most balanced, hinting at celery, lemon and metallic bitterness.
“The gins come off as more like a whisky. They have more depth of flavour than standard gins,” said Darren.
It was clear during the event that both Darren and Andrew are going to be passionately pushing the London Distillery Company forward. It was fantastic to see it in its infancy. I can only imagine great things to come for them both.
The four Testbed gins will be available as a pack in 10cl bottles from Master of Malt. Thanks to Rob Lawson for additional photos.