When Imbibe spoke to East London Liquor Company (ELLC) founder Alex Wolpert the morning after his urban distillery launched its crowdfunding campaign, he was, in his own words, ‘utterly bowled over’. The company had already surpassed its £750,000 target by 112%, which will allow it to ramp up its whisky production from a few thousand bottles to 100,000 bottles a year.
The crowdfunding will also be used to drive sales domestically and overseas, and enter emerging markets, such as China. The company already exports to 20 countries, including Japan, Germany and Australia, and has ambitious plans to be raking in £9.8m a year in sales revenue by 2022.
Last year, ELLC installed its third still and built a brew house in its distillery so it can go from ‘grain to glass’ under one roof. Having begun distilling its whisky back in 2014 when the company was founded, it plans to release the first bottles of what will be its signature London Rye towards the latter part of the year. The launch, according to Wolpert, will mark the first whisky to be produced in London for over a century.
‘It’s really lovely to bring production back to this part of the country,’ he said. ‘We’re not trying to take on Scotch distilleries – they do something wonderful and very different – but no one can remember what London whisky tastes like, so we’ve got carte blanche to set the precedent here.’
Brewing and distilling with rye, says Wolpert, will give ‘lots of spice’ to the flavour profile, and the team has been experimenting with ageing in ex-bourbon casks, as well as red and white wine casks and new French oak.
‘We’ve spent three years being incredibly experimental, trying different barrels, yeasts, mash stills and brewing techniques,’ he explained. ‘Now we’re in a position to really scale up what has worked.’
Wolpert, who once ran Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen and managed the Barworks group, has maintained a strong focus on the on-trade, which accounts for 80% of ELLC’s sales. Given his background, he says his spirits are always developed with bartenders in mind.
‘Take our gins for example, there’s one made for gin and tonics that’s really citrusy, and our two slightly higher-strength gins are defined as being oily and herbaceous for Negronis and very dry and spicy for Martinis,’ he said. ‘As soon as we have our whisky in bottles we’ll be spending a lot of time with our clients, giving them a taste and working with them on developing it.’
Crowdfunding was the obvious route for the company, which prides itself as being honestly priced, allowing its loyal group of customers to gain a stake in it. Other perks offered up as part of the campaign include dinner for 20 friends, limited-edition barrel-aged gin and ‘boozy trips’ to overseas distilleries.