Following a tumultuous period and the dismissal of its founder, The London Distillery Company is finding its feet with a new management team and the release of the capital’s first whiskey in over 100 years
Much has happened in The London Distillery Company’s (TLDC) brief five-year history. When Imbibe interviewed the company’s former CEO and founder Darren Rook back in July last year, there were grand plans afoot, with a raft of new products and a shiny new distillery at Battersea Power Station in the offing.
This was coupled with ideas for a cocktail bar at TLDC’s existing distillery in Bermondsey, as well as retail space, a print workshop, a hidden whiskey bar and a microbrewery at the new site. To top it off, there was going to be a river boat taxi service to ferry tour groups between the two.
These did not materialise. Instead, Rook was dismissed over ‘tax concerns’, effectively putting a kibosh on his extensive expansion plans. A new management team was drafted last October, with Killian O’Sullivan at the helm and Matthew McGivern as head of distillery and operation, both William Grant alumni.
TLDC’s distillery remains at the Bermondsey site, and O’Sullivan and the new team have spent much of the last year putting in place processes to ensure ‘that kind of scenario’ could never arise again.
‘There are no plans to build any of that kind of stuff that was mentioned previously – it was economically unviable,’ he told Imbibe. ‘We are focusing on what a distillery should be doing, which is producing great products and innovating, rather than trying to get into spaces where none of us have any expertise.’
Having quietly rolled out an organic horseradish vodka under its Kew brand earlier in the year, TLDC is making a greater splash with its current launch, which claims to be the first whiskey to be successfully distilled in London for over a century.
In fact, the company has just pipped the East London Liquor Company to this title, as the latter was crowdfunding earlier in the year in advance of plans to roll out the first bottles of its London Rye before the year's end.
TLDC's Rye Whiskey LV-1767, of which only 251 bottles are being released, has been twice distilled and aged for four years in English oak barrels. Described as an attractive dark, oaky, burnt toffee liquid, the handcrafted whiskey ‘pays tribute to London’s whiskey production of yesteryear’, namely Lea Valley Distillery, which ceased production in the early 1900s.
‘We could have released the rye last year, but we weren’t happy that it was correct, whereas, right now, it’s amazing,’ said O’Sullivan. ‘There’ll be further releases of both rye and single malt, but we won’t be releasing the single malts until we’re absolutely happy with them and they can stand up against the best of them.’
Next year, the company will also be entering the burgeoning non-alcoholic spirits category with a non-alcoholic gin, as part of its Kew Organic gin range. And, while the TLDC has been through some tumultuous times, sales of its products have proven resilient to crosswinds and are on track to double this year, with strong exports to China and Europe.
‘We’re producing it all in a very small still – just 140 litres – so it’s being kept very busy,’ O’Sullivan explained.
To meet demand, the company is once again looking to move and expand its operations, which will be at least partly crowdfunded. No location has currently been mooted, but the team is keen to remain London-based, ‘given our name and what we’ve been producing’.
‘We will have tours, but there are no plans to build a barber shop, a coffee shop, a member’s club or any of that kind of thing,’ O’Sullivan said emphatically. ‘No, [The London Distilling Company], first and foremost, is a distilling business.’
The Rye Whiskey LV-1767 (54.3% abv) is available for RRP £251/70cl from The London Distillery Company, Fortnum & Mason and other select retailers and whisky specialists.