The City of London Distillery opened in November 2012 and is the first working distillery to open within the City for over 200 years. As well as producing their own gin and vodka, it's a visitor attraction and, of course, a bar.
Tucked away behind Fleet Street in the historic Bride Lane, COLD is in an area steeped with distilling history. There were around 1,700 distilleries in London in the eighteenth century and it was the drink of the masses as it was cheap and readily available. William Hogarth created two artworks in 1751 - Gin Lane and Beer Street - to show the dire social consequences of excessive gin drinking on the lower classes and the comparative mildly intoxicating effects of drinking beer instead.
COLD's owner, Jonathan Clark, wanted to create a venue where the story of gin could be told and with Jamie Baxter as Master Distiller his plan is working. I visited in November 2012, before the distilling had even started to find out more.
Simply put, Gin is alcohol flavored with juniper. You have to make vodka first and distil to 96% ABV (alcohol by volume).
There are several gin distilleries in England. They buy in the alcohol and then distil it to make it even better.
At COLD the distillery is stunning to see. They were a challenge to install in a basement but are safely behind bomb proof glass. I was lucky enough to get a preview visit before distilling started so I could see the stills up close. They are made of copper which is essential as copper is a catalyst to help remove some rough sulphides. The copper will change to a bright red, then dull, and need lots of cleaning in the future. Some distilleries offer bottled gin in exchange for this cleaning work so let's see if that offer ever happens here. These copper stills and the rest of the small distillery were hand-built in Germany and look wonderful as well as being a clever technical build. They should last for 50 years.
Distilling does not make alcohol, fermenting makes alcohol. Distilling separates parts of a liquid through condensation and evaporation. It also purifies too.
After distillation, the base alcohol becomes slightly better than when bought in and that's vodka. It is then diluted to 50% ABV and it goes into the gin still.
Over two hours the alcohol content falls from 85% to 65% ABV and then it is distilled again.
The first product will be bottled at 40% ABV and a batch will make around 200 bottles. The bottling will be done by hand and you can watch that happening too from the bar.
Whatever they make they will always sell at the bar so it could be fun to revisit here as they plan to try lots of experimental flavors.
I tried a tutored gin tasting with a 'Gin Flight' that's a permanent fixture on the bar menu. I tried gin through the ages including Genever and Old Tom styles of gin, and I discovered the Spanish are the biggest consumers of gin in the world.
There's a lot of space in this basement bar and I think it's going to have to grow into its character as they get to know their clientele. What they do have in place are excellent staff who can create exciting cocktails from the 90 different gins on offer every day.
I found the music a bizarre concoction of Jimi Hendrix, Queen and The Who but the bar was quiet when I visited and this may have been the preferred choices of staff at the time.
Address: 24 Bride Lane, London EC4Y 8DT
Tel: 020 7936 3636
Use Journey Planner to plan your route by public transport.
Opening Times: Open every day from midday until late with Distillery Tours, Masterclasses and the chance to make your own gin all on offer as well as drinking in the bar.
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