Cold comfort: London’s new distillery

Mark Ludmon meets the team behind London’s new distillery and gin bar

The number of microdistilleries in the US has soared over the past 10 years, and this movement is also taking off in the UK, pioneered by the likes of Sipsmith and Sacred in London and Chase in Herefordshire. The latest addition is the City of London Distillery, or COLD, which started producing its first gin and vodka last month – the first working distillery to open within the City for over 200 years.

The master distiller is Jamie Baxter, who set up and ran Chase Distillery for four years, creating award-winning gins and vodkas. He has teamed up with hotelier Jonathan Clark, who was looking for a new use for a basement venue he owns in Bride Lane, off Fleet Street, which has been through various incarnations including a comedy club. The result is a spacious 130-capacity bar with the unique proposition of having a working distillery in one corner.

Two beautiful copper stills have been installed, one to turn the bought-in base spirit into a smooth vodka and the other to turn the vodka into gin through infusion with botanicals. It can produce about 180 to 200 bottles of gin per batch and around 250 bottles of vodka, each labelled with a batch number. “This gives us a huge amount of flexibility to play around with recipes,” Jamie points out. The kit is housed behind glass over an inch thick so bar customers can see the stills up close in perfect safety.

They have initially created three products which are served in the bar but will be launched into the wider market through a distributor. City of London Dry Gin is strong on juniper and citrus fruits, with an ABV of 40 per cent, ideal for a gin and tonic, while The Square Mile Gin, with a higher ABV, has more botanicals but still heavy on juniper, suited to a Martini. There is also COLD Vodka, and more products will be added in the future.

The bar has become a destination for gin aficionados, not just because of the stills but also as there are more than 120 different gins behind the bar – with more added all the time. For the “Ultimate Serve” of a G&T, there are seven different tonics and a choice of garnishes, with the further option of an English-style highball glass or a Spanish-style goblet.

“We will suggest a particular tonic that goes well with a particular brand but, if they want something else, they can have that instead,” Jamie explains. “It’s the same with garnishes. If they’re paying, we’re not going to force anything on them. Training of staff is critical for us, especially as people may be daunted by 120 gins to choose from.” There are also gin flights with themes such as Scottish and American gins.

They have brought in London Bar Consultants, Nate Brown and Lewis Hayes, to set up the bar, train staff and develop a cocktail list. The menu features “timeless gin classics” such as a Negroni, Clover Club, French 75, Singapore Sling and Corpse Reviver No 2 as well as vintage drinks such as a Martinez, Gin Daisy, Gin Fizz and The Last Word. But, with an extensive range of other spirits behind the bar, it offers other classics from a Manhattan and Margarita to a Daiquiri and Sidecar.

Alongside a select wine list, the beers are Curious Brew, Curious IPA and Curious Porter from Chapel Down Winery in Kent. The food menu consists of sharing platters of meats and cheeses as well as good-quality snacks sourced from artisanal suppliers such as pork pies and bread. Side dishes have a suitable twist, such as olives marinated in gin and mayonnaise and chutney made with gin.

The distillery and bar have also been launched as a visitor attraction – The Gin Experience – with hourly tours and tailored events for groups and corporates. Jamie runs masterclasses in gin, covering the history and different styles from genever and Old Tom to London Dry. With batches of only 200, COLD can create bespoke one-off gins for use as corporate gifts, working with companies to select botanicals and even design labels. While the bar opens from 4pm Monday to Saturday, the distillery is open from midday for tours. “It’s all about educating both consumers and the trade in what gin is all about,” Jamie adds.

City of London Distillery, 22-24 Bride Lane, London EC4Y 8DT Tel: 020 7936 3636

Originally published in the January 2013 edition of Bar magazine.

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