Those who know me well are quite aware that I must bleed gin. Indeed, those who don’t me at all probably know just two things about me, I like cake and I like gin. I make no apologies for the fact that I am rather partial to a long glass of Mothers Ruin crashing with ice and a thimbleful of tonic. So it was with giddy glee I was treated to an afternoon at the City of London Distillery fine tuning my own botanicals and perfecting my own personally blended bottle of Stroud Green Larder gin.
The City of London Distillery is a bar and distillery in the heart of the city, down a cobbled alleyway, a mere ice cube’s throw from St Pauls. It has been open for just over a year but in that time has rocketed in popularity and no wonder. It boasts a fantastically stocked bar with a plethora of gins to satisfy even the most snobby of connoisseurs. Two huge stills loom over the proceedings, backlighted to gain maximum impact and are the real selling point of your martini fuelled evening. For these ladies are not there for effect but are the backbone behind the bar’s bespoke COLD gin. It’s a lovely gin, sparkling with citrus notes and if you order a gin and tonic it comes with a large wedge of pink grapefruit squashed into the glass for good measure.
But I was taken there last week to have a go at their latest venture, which offers us average joes an opportunity of designing and producing our own bespoke bottle. Forget your bland supermarket brands and middle England favourites, by sniffing, mixing and tasting each botanical before it is added into the still you can ensure you can know and choose exactly what is going into your martini. Guaranteed, you will not be returning to a bog-standard Gordon’s after you’ve sampled your own gin.
Last year I treated my husband to a tour around the Sipsmith distillery, which since it is located in a tiny garage in Hammersmith, took about 5 seconds. Not true, actually, it was one of my London highlights of last year. We had a brilliant evening learning about the history of gin and exactly how it is distilled from the giant copper sills wedged into their garage. The sheer fact that they can keep up with the worldwide demand of Sipsmith all from this pocket sized location was both fascinating and incredulous.
So for my birthday I was treated to a different gin experience, this time at the City of London Distillery (COLD) Bar. We were heartily greeted when we got there and introduced to the baby stills, each named after the seven dwarves and encouraged to pick one. After a very clever joke from my husband about how I should be Grumpy I contrarily chose Happy. We were soon introduced to all the different botanicals in the distillery’s exhaustive supply of both the known and unknown, including cinnamon, ginger, lemon, sweet orange, bitter orange, orris root, rowan berries and licorice.
It was explained that although we should include the three essential ingredients of gin, which are juniper, angelica root and coriander seeds, we could go our own way and throw in exactly what we wanted, although less is more.
We spent a good half hour picking and tweaking our chosen suspects, ending up with only a tablespoon or so of the finished blend. I am still not over my cardamom obsession and chose to focus on that particular infusion, supported by elder berries, cassia bark and bitter orange. My gin was not going to be the type to take it lying down; I wanted an aromatic gut punch.
Our botanicals were poured into the still and little Happy was left to his own devices. In no time at all, 80% proof gin was pouring forth from his spout into a very scientific beaker. It was a lot like chemistry at school but I can’t recall back then dipping my finger into a trickle of sulphuric acid in an impatient bid to see if my experiment had worked. It was soon realised that the cardamom flavour I had so desperately wanted was present in abundance which was incredibly exciting and also intoxicating.
Once Happy had reaped all he could from my sacrificial offering, my beaker of botanical wonder was run through with cleansing water to bring down the alcohol content to just 40%. The resulting gin was decanted and we were left to seal our stoppers with a glossy red wax. Perhaps this activity should not have been unsupervised as although the instructions were clear and simple we still managed to mess it up. Naming no names, aside from the fact my husband and I were the only ones present that afternoon and it wasn’t me, one of the wax seals was considered so appallingly bad that photos were taken to add to their website under ‘disaster’.
But it was no matter if our presentation left something to be desired as luckily there was enough gin left over for us all to have a gin and tonic made up of our very own gin. It may not have been the classiest gin ever made and the cardamom was greeted with lots of concerned nods that the flavour would mellow and mature over the next week, it was by far the best damn gin and tonic I have ever tasted.
City of London Distillery & Bar
22-24 Bride Lane
London EC4 8DT