Fred Tongue visits The City of London Gin Distillery, a company returning the art of distilling and manufacturing to the heart of London.
Almost all manufacturing left the City of London decades ago, but as I walk along the old cobbled streets, the soot still staining the brickwork hints at an industrial past. Tucked away down a side street near Blackfriars, and set below ground, the ancient capital’s manufacturing heritage lives on in The City of London Gin Distillery.
London has long had an affinity with gin. In the early eighteenth century a ‘Gin Craze’ took hold, with Londoners even brewing it in their homes. Local water wasn’t safe to drink and the city benefited from the spices and fruits that arrived in the port from all over the world. To control rising drunkenness, the government passed Gin Acts, which required distillers to hold licenses to produce gin, and the spirit became too expensive for ordinary people.
That marked the end of the Gin Craze, and production in London plummeted. Now, however, The City of London Gin Distillery is bringing gin production back to the Square Mile.
The firm stays true to the traditional processes, producing batches in copper pots that are hand assembled in the basement. The location is one of the firm’s strong points, as well as one of its biggest hindrances. “Transport of material into our place and alcohol out is difficult,” said Alfie Amayo, brand manager at The City of London Gin Distillery.
“It was a real issue when we were bottling on site, it was difficult. But, the City of London grew through passion; we are manufacturing, we are small and we love what we do.”
The micro-distillery market is becoming increasingly congested, with new producers and products popping up almost every week. However, The City of London Gin Distillery not only has a strong, original brand, but is firmly focused on creating a great product to back up the brand. The firm recently bought a new, larger still to increase production.
For now, it sits unused waiting for the master distillers to get the recipe just right for increased production levels. Until the product is uncompromisingly correct, the firm insists on using the smaller stills, despite the allure of more output and profit.
Amayo is proud to tell me that the distillery is the only company that still manufacturers anything in the City of London, and he is well aware of the prestige that holds. Sales in Japan and Asia are picking up, and he believes it is due to the fact that it holds such a unique position in the market. “The crest of the City of London on our bottle is something that is tough to come by. We are the only manufacturing company in the City of London, and support from the community has been overwhelming.”
As the last manufacturer in the Square Mile, Amayo told me that he is “proud to be a standard bearer and to hold that flag.”