Gin has deep, centuries-long roots in the United Kingdom. It exports far more gin than any other country and is the world’s fourth-largest gin consumer per capita. So, it could reasonably be considered the unofficial British spirit. Now, they’re poised to branch out. New for 2018, two distilleries are independently debuting the first London-distilled whiskies in more than 100 years.
Like fashion trends, social media memes, and man buns, the popularity of individual spirits ebbs and flows. Gin is very much in vogue in the English capital right now. In the same way craft breweries continue to pop up throughout the U.S. faster than anyone can count, new distilleries are cropping up around the United Kingdom. There’s a strong focus on sidestepping the “traditional” gin spirit for new and innovative flavor profiles that allow cocktail connoisseurs to step beyond the ordinary gin and tonic.
Catering to that popularity, two London distilleries — the East London Liquor Company (ELLC) and the aptly named The London Distillery Company (TLDC) — have distilled craft gin over the last few years. However, both have also been secretly developing whisky behind the scenes. Because whisky production is a far lengthier process (gin can be distilled and sold almost immediately), neither distiller has been able to debut their finished whiskies until now.
East London Liquor Company, in particular, is taking full advantage of not having to comply with the strict laws surrounding traditional Scotch whisky development. While it’s likely to ruffle the feathers of purists, this has allowed ELLC to tweak every step of their process including char levels and the type of casks used to age the spirit. The company’s debut product, simply titled London Rye, is a blend of 58 percent extra pale malted barley and 42 percent rye. It benefits from both column and pot distillation before maturing for more than two years in ex-bourbon and new French oak casks. Finishing is handled in ex-Pedro Ximénez sherry casks. According to ELLC, the nose is an intricate blend of “toffee, coffee, tobacco, dark chocolate, leather, fresh ginger, sarsaparilla, and fruit candies.”
Likewise, The London Distillery Company released a 100 percent rye whiskey — double-distilled and aged for four years in new English oak barrels. The aptly named Rye Whiskey LV-1767 Edition boasts a bold 54.3 percent alcohol by volume. Only 251 bottles of the limited edition spirit were released in October, and all sold out almost immediately. The company is now struggling hard to keep up with demand.
Both spirits are sold in specialty shops around the United Kingdom. Whether you can actually find any, however, is another matter entirely.