London is home to many gin distilleries but only one is located in the City: the well-named City of London Distillery (COLD for short).
Opened in December 2012 the distillery has a range of 5 different gins: London Dry, Old Tom, Sloe Gin, as well as the special Christopher Wren Gin and Square Mile Gin. Since October 2015, they’re all bottled into bottles shaped after the dome of the City’s landmark: St Paul’s Cathedral. (Since I visited the distillery a few months before, the bottles you can see on my pictures are in the old shape). The general production reaches about 20’000 bottles a year.
I visited the distillery in May last year when I booked a 2 hour Gin Lab Experience to learn about the making of the spirit and distill my own gin. In a happy turn of circumstances I was the only registered participant that day which meant I had a private course just for me!
Before the class started I was offered an introductory G&T made with City of London Dry Gin at the distillery’s bar. While I like G&T’s I’m always a little wary of the type of gin the bartender is going to use as I am not much of a fan of juniper. I was however pleasantly surprised with the grapefruit taste of COLD’s Dry Gin. When I mentioned it to the guide he explained that the gin was indeed distilled with fresh pink grapefruit peels, hence the taste. He then told me about the history of gin throughout the ages, the creation of City of London Distillery and about the processes and techniques they use to produce their own gin with the two copper pot stills I could see from my seat at the bar.
Then it was time for me to make my own gin! The guide led me to a table covered with samples of botanicals: the mandatory juniper, coriander seeds and angelica seeds but also cinnamon, cassia bark, rose petals, lemon/orange/grapefruit peels, and many more. After asking me for my usual taste in gin he guided me towards the ingredients I might like to use. After some back and forth I finally settled for cassia bark, cardamom seeds, elderflower and bitter orange peels. The guide advised me on the quantities I should use for each ingredient. I carefully followed his instructions, weighed each ingredient and wrote down the quantities on my recipe sheet. The nice thing with COLD is that, if you’re happy with your own gin and would like to have some more, they will make new bottles for you using your recipe which they will save in their database. Pretty cool, right?
Once all my ingredients were precisely measured, we went to the Gin Lab. There we poured my botanicals into some neutral grain spirit and distilled the mix for about an hour, tasting it every now and then to assess its flavour. Between tastings the guide lead me to the distillery’s copper pot stills where the master distiller was tasting the gin being distilled. I got to taste it as well. It was pretty strong, a bit liquory, with pleasant notes of grapefruit. I also got to chose the label I would stick on my bottle and, of course, the name of my gin. I wasn’t very inspired so I went for a simple, not super original, play on the words gin and Geneva (my hometown) : Gineva.
After we made the cut with my own gin, i.e. stopped the distillation process, it was time to bottle it in a 70cl bottle and seal the cork with red wax. And voilà! My Gineva gin was ready to take home! But before that I went back to the distillery’s bar and enjoyed a G&T made with a sample of my own gin that was saved especially for that before bottling. Let me tell you: there’s nothing like the taste of a work well done!