It may only be six years old, but The London Distillery Company (TLDC) is set to open the doors on its third distillery in the coming months. The upheaval started in the latter half of 2015, when founder Darren Rook was informed that all the businesses in the former Victorian dairy where their first distillery was situated had to move out.
As a result, the distillery, which was transplanted to Bermondsey in September 2015, was shut for eight months. Production in Bermondsey has been in full swing for over a year now, however, and the company clearly isn’t content with simply having one site to its name… as it's opening a second site in a railway arch at the new Battersea Power Station development.
'The Bermondsey site will focus on making single malt, which has always been our raison d’etre, along with rye and rum,' explains Rook. 'The aim is to move gin production into Battersea in the next six months.
'We’ll actually be able to do tours between the two sites, using the river boat taxi service, which directly connects them.'
There are grand plans for both sites, with Rook telling Imbibe that the intention is to redevelop Bermondsey to install a cocktail bar, capitalising on passing tourist trade; while Battersea will be an all-singing, all-dancing distillery, offering (deep breath) the distillery itself, a retail space, a hidden whisky bar, print workshop and… a microbrewery called Robot Baby.
'We’re using fresh, organic citrus peel to make our gins, and would like to create a closed-loop system, so we’re looking into whether we can make lemonades and tonics with them,' Rook says.
That’s not all for the Battersea site, Rook also has plans for a fully kitted lab with mini stills on a bench, centrifuge, and equipment to provide analysis of spirits that he plans to make available to other companies: 'It’s really expensive to send samples up to Scotland to be analysed.'
TLDC is hoping to raise money through investment and crowdfunding, so keep an ear out for further details in the coming months.
Despite all the upheaval and grand planning, TLDC hasn’t stopped in its product development. Following original product Dodd’s Gin, last summer the company released Kew Organic Gin, which it had developed in conjunction with the Royal Botanic Gardens. The partnership has grown with the release of two further products: Kew Orangery, a triple sec-like product that doesn’t meet the required sugar levels to be called a liqueur, and is therefore medium-dry; and Kew Explorer’s, a navy-strength gin that launched around Imbibe Live.
Dodd’s has also seen expansion with Dodd’s Old Tom, a surprisingly zingy variant with decent body, and less sweetness than other Old Toms. 'If you go through old old tom recipes there was less sugar. I really don’t like putting sugar in if you don’t have to,' Rook explains. 'We kept the juniper, angelica, fresh lime and used lots of liquorice to bulk up the body. We had a crisis of confidence before launching – we liked it, but then you crack out another six or seven old toms, and it doesn’t really sit in the category.'
But wait! There’s more in the pipeline… with an alcohol-free Kew variant coming out, not to mention a rum and unaged rye (called Spring Heeled Jack) set to be launched in October.
As for the truly English single malt - which will eventually be aged in English oak barrels that have previously held TLDC’s rye whisky - it’s unlikely we’ll see any in the next few years, unfortunately. 'We’ve done the counter-intuitive thing,' Rook says.
'Where most new distillers find wood that will age spirit quickly, so they can start selling quickly, we’re buying casks that can age for 10, 12, 18 years. We’re currently buying barrels from Buffalo Trace, while we wait for the virgin English oak barrels that currently hold the rye to mature. The rye is essentially sacrificial for the single malt. The only problem is cash flow.
'We filled most of the rye casks two-and-a-half years ago, so it will officially be whisky in another six months, but I don’t know when that will be released. It needs to be right.'
As well as using English oak casks, TLDC is also using an interesting variant of barley for its single malt. 'We’re using Plumage Archer, which is really old – it was created in 1914, and counted for 80% of all brewing and distilling in the 1960s. It’s the great-great-grandmother of pretty much all the major barley strains that are used in brewing and distilling today.'
When TLDC decided to use Plumage Archer, there was only one place growing it: 'The Prince of Wales’ Duchy Estate was growing it just to keep it alive. They gave us seven tons. Now others including Cotswolds Distillery have started using it.'
With so much going on, we suspect that we’ll be hearing a lot more from TLDC in the near future.