Gin, once the scourge of 18th-century society, and flavoured with turpentine along with juniper, has been having a revival for some time now, its makeover driven by high-end brands making small batches.
Over the past five years, several new and independent distilleries have opened in London and the home counties, each with its own bespoke recipe.
From the renowned Beefeater London Gin to London’s newest distillery, the East London Liquor Company, each has its own take on the traditional recipe (leaving out the turpentine) and proving that not all gins taste the same.
The famous blue-bottled Bombay Sapphire has opened up a new distillery in what was a derelict paper mill, on the banks of the River Test between Basingstoke and Andover. But this is not your run-of-the-mill (sorry) distillery: the company employed Thomas Heatherwick no less (he of Olympic cauldron, new Routemaster bus and London’s garden bridge by Thomas Heatherwick fame) to transform the old mill into a modern masterpiece.
Heatherwick’s relationship with Bombay Sapphire began when his studio was awarded the Bombay Sapphire Prize, an international award for innovation in glass.
Though well known for his imaginative projects he had never been linked to a big brand. But when he visited the Laverstoke Mill site with project architect Eliot Postma, he had a vision of developing it into a state-of-the-art distillery.
Taking his inspiration from Paxton’s temperate house at Kew Gardens and Crystal Palace, Heatherwick has cleverly constructed two greenhouses that look like bell jars and where the ten exotic botanicals used in the gin are grown.
The taller glasshouse has a Mediterranean environment and grows bitter almond, angelica root, lemon peel, coriander seeds, juniper and orris root; the smaller one is humid and grows liquorice, cubeb berries, granos de paradise and cassia bark. Leftover heat is recycled from the distillation process to create the warm glasshouse conditions.
On a tour of the building, standing inside the glasshouses is like being inside a Heath Robinson invention; functional, madcap and rather beautiful. Walking through the Dakin still house you see where the spirit is infused with botanicals and the impressive 30-feet-high copper vapour infusion stills.
The tour includes a multi-sensory exploration room, where you choose which flavours you prefer. I chose the cassia bark with liquorice and lemon. At the end of the visit the Island Bar makes you a cocktail (on the house) based on these flavours. Unfortunately mine was not very nice; I would have preferred a straightforward gin and tonic.
Book your visit (admission is £15 and you can wander around the Laverstock Mill complex). You can also book a mixology masterclass on top.
See the launch of the mill and Heatherwick talk about his design:
Possibly the most famous London distillery is Beefeater London Dry Gin, which has been made in London since 1820 and was the only distillery not to move away from London during the 1900s.
It was the first big gin distillery to welcome visitors, opening up its Kennington Distillery in 2014, and it has a dedicated museum, Home of Gin, on site.
In 2009 Sipsmith was granted the first new license in London to make gin in a small copper still for 200 years. Having outgrown its original site in Shepherds Bush it has moved to Chiswick, where it has three stills named Prudence, Patience and Constance.
Their tour includes information on all Sipsmith products, a look around the distillery, a G&T and a tutored tasting.
This distillery, also known as COLD, is situated just off Fleet Street at the foot of the steps to St Bride’s Church. It opened in 2012 and has a speakeasy–style retro cocktail bar overlooking the copper stills, which are called Jennifer and Clarissa.
The Distillery has daily tours and weekly masterclasses but the Gin Lab is the fun bit. For £125 you can concoct your own gin, from choosing the ingredients to sealing the finished bottle with wax.
This distillery, housed in a warehouse in Battersea, produces Dodd’s Gin. Along with the distillery the warehouse comprises of a gallery, a boxing gym and table tennis tables. Tours of the distillery (and its traditional copper still, Christina) are by appointment only and cost £15.
This is the newest distillery in London and is located in one of Bow’s most well-known historical sites, the old glue factory in Bow Wharf. It produces three gins and a vodka, and imports a bespoke rum. Book the Distillery Tour or the Gin Lovers’ Tour.