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London's First Whisky Distillery For Over 100 Years Barrels Up Its First Samples

posted 12 Dec 2013, 08:15 by Mpelembe   [ updated 12 Dec 2013, 08:16 ]

The first distillery in London to get a license for producing single malt whisky in over 100 years fills up its first casks

 LONDON, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM (DEC EMBER 12, 2013) (REUTERS) - As the sun rose over a cloudy London, the first drops of what would become the city's first distilled whisky in 110 years poured from a still in Battersea on Thursday (December 12).

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The London Distillery Company are the first to be granted a license in London to produce single malt whisky since Lea Valley in Stratford closed its distillery doors back in the early 1900s.

Overlooking the creation of the spirit is head distiller, Andrew MacLeod Smith, who works with a 650 litre copper pot still nicknamed 'Matilda',

Explaining why it's taken over a century since London last produced whisky, MacLeod Smith said "London obviously has a very rich brewing heritage but in terms of distilleries everything subsided when licensing laws became a bit more rigid down here. The guys up north in Scotland were a little bit more fortunate because they were stuck out in the hills so the taxman couldn't find them and when they finally regulated the industry again and started handing out licenses, all these distillers came out of the woodwork and said 'yeah, we'll take one.' So they already had the industry set up."

The distillery, which was co-founded by Darren Rook, has been sourcing and using local ingredients that were used in the whisky production in London over a hundred years ago to make the whisky have a distinctive taste. They include barley sourced from Warminster Maltings, Wiltshire and yeast from Surebrew in Surrey.

Rook explains "We're looking at heritage so there'll be a lot more flavour profile there basically. You've got more historic "umptiousness" that I think some of the older spirits that I have tried - they're not hugely aged but they're from pre-Second World War - they have more oiliness, more thickness, more vanilla and fruit, pears and apples, and they sit a very different way from a single malt is perceived today in some ways."

But it's not just the ingredients and distilling process which dictate the flavour of a whisky, claims MacLeod Smith, saying "The composition of the spirit is sort of determined by the environment that you create it in and this in itself used to be an old dairy, a Victorian dairy so who knows what weird and wonderful bacteria and yeast are living in these walls? So that will give us a distinct spirit - something that can't be replicated anywhere else."

He then added "There's sort of an element of the unknown - that black magic almost, the alchemy is sort of up to the gods. So we prepare for it and then we delve in and then once we get going which is what we've started here today, we'll spend some time getting acquainted with Matilda and the other pieces of equipment."

The liquid coming out of the still at The London Distillery Company is unable to be called 'whisky' yet as UK law dictates that a minimum of three years have to pass for it to be able to be official. After three years it can be sold and will eventually get its orangey-brown colour, as Rook explains. "Whisky, the world whisky comes from 'Eau de Vie' - the water of life - so it was that idea of the running of water. So it will come off clear and then when you put it in a cask and it sits and the wood acts like a sponge. So the spirit absorbs in, it sucks out some of the colour and sucks out some of the flavour so it's the contraction, expansion and contraction of the wood drawing flavour and colour in and out of the spirit so in time the spirit will change colour," he said.

So when can shops expect to see a whisky produced in London? "Probably it's around 2017. 2016 it will be officially spirit but we want to give it enough time that we feel happy with it. It might be that it goes 12 years or 10, but it will definitely be whisky in 2016. I can't tell you the name, if that makes sense - you know, branding and all that - but we've got 3 years so you'll just have to wait to be surprised," said Rook.

The distillery has the capability of filling 100 casks, and the first casks are currently being filled with whisky, which Rook and McLeod Smith hope will give the Scottish and Irish a run for their money.