22-24 Bride Lane,
+44 (0)20 7936 3636
Weekdays midday until late
We return to the City of London Distillery off Fleet Street, London, to see the bar up and running. (Click herefor a video of our first visit when we filmed the stills arriving.)
The basement site now boasts something unique, not just in the Square Mile but in the whole city - a bar with a working set of stills and the ability to produce batches of several hundred bottles of gin at a time (other bars do boast smaller stills though these tend to be more decorative and not 'production' capable). Behind a glass wall the polished steel and shiny, copper stills, made by German still-maker Christian Carl, with large mechanical levers and intricate little dials, look like something out of Jules Vern.
At this stage they are just fine tuning the stills, running water only through them as they await clearance from Her Majesty's customs officers that they are OK to rectify spirit (about four weeks away, we're told). With that will come City of London Gin, a London Dry Gin made to a traditional recipe - juniper, coriander seed, angelica and liquorice with fresh, not dried, citrus - and the only spirit made in the City.
The bar itself is already up and running, concentrating on gin with a gin-biased menu of classic cocktails - though other spirits are available and there are even a few beers. Cocktails are well-made and well-balanced, we're relieved to say - a bar with a distillery that can't make drinks would be tragic.
The real attraction at this stage in the venue's life is the opportunity to meet Jamie Baxter, the master distiller who created Chase vodka, who is in residence for the forseeable future as the stills get up to speed. Jamie's passion for distilling and gin is infectious. Catch him at the right time and you'll be talking gin in no time and he'll probably demonstrate how the stills work. They're also running more formal masterclasses and will be offering drinkers and companies the chance to produce gin to their own specification, in batches of around 200 bottles. The possibility of 'after hours' gin distillation is an intriguing bit of entertainment for drinks geeks and gin aficionados.
Located on a back street that bears a striking resemblence to Hogarth's Gin Lane (which is also represented on a vintage 'arcade' game inside the bar - note, the house always wins) the former comedy club is otherwise pretty spartan. The large one-room space has little character or warmth, the lighting is unsympathetic, and it will take a lot of people to make it feel busy, though with the dual focal points of bar and stills has some unique potential for development.