East London Liquor Company
East London Liquor Company have carved out a space amongst the British Craft distilling and quickly established a solid platform for growth. We took a look at their story so far…
East London Liquor Company began as a project in late 2012. Founder Alex Wolpert dedicated almost an entire year to finding the perfect location to house the distillery’s impressive set up, knowing that finding the right space would be paramount to its long-term growth.
Before founding The East London Liquor Company, Wolpert had been working across various projects in the drinks industry. In his early years, he worked in the restaurant at Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen, then moved on to acclaimed gastropub the Wenlock & Essez in Angel before taking over the Barworks and Diner Group drinks training and purchasing operation. Having spent seven years launching and managing operations for an extensive portion of the group’s venues, Wolpert’s attention became fixed on opening a distillery in London where he could pursue his passion for small batch spirits.
Incidentally, Barworks is one of a small number of stakeholders who are sharing expertise, resources and investment to help continue to make Alex’s vision a long-term reality.
In 2013 Wolpert found an old pub situated on the site of the old glue factory in Bow Wharf, near Victoria Park (look out for the dead horse reference on the bottle label) and enlisted an expert team to help transform it into a working distillery. For those of a historical disposition, it’s just a few miles from the site of the Lea Valley Distillery; one of the last places Whiskey was distilled in England (over 100 years ago) before the modern craft revival.
Converting the space, knocking down walls and transforming cellars into something fit to house ageing barrels of whisky, as well as functional enough to use as storage space for the bar was no mean feat – and this was only the start – the gin itself needed to be created!
To create the gin, Wolpert enlisted the aid of Jamie Baxter, a distilling consultant who’s renowned for his experience in opening distilleries and spirit development (other projects of Baxter’s include Chase Gin, City of London Distillery and Burleigh’s Gin).
While waiting for the arrival of the stills they had commissioned from manufacturers, Arnold Holstein, they decided to begin the development of the East London Liquor Company’s Gin offering. Baxter began the product development on small alembic stills at his company’s base in Leicester, focusing on three distinct directions for their gins.
Over a year after construction had all begun, in May 2014, East London Liquor Company finally took delivery of their custom-made copper stills and patiently waited for Customs & Excise to rubber stamp their application. By July, the first batch of ELLC Gin was being made onsite.
At the time of writing (Jan 2016), there are three gins in the ELLC core range. Their flagship gin is indented to have a more traditional profile, suitable to be used as a “house” gin for many bars with the two others being more adventurous in both flavour and botanical structure. All three gins are made on their 450lt still, using a one shot method now overseen by head distiller Tom Hills. They don’t macerate the botanicals prior to distilling, so once the still is loaded with ingredients and their 100% British wheat base, it’s gently heated up and the process is underway. Each batch makes around 500 – 600 bottles.
There’s a strong note of cardamom on the nose, which is less prominent once tasted. ELLC London Dry Gin is smooth to taste, with lemon and grapefruit peel providing fresh citrus upfront. The coriander seed adds touch of spice, while cubeb berries and cardamom anchor the gin.
It’s a relatively safe interpretation on classic gin profiles with the juniper omnipresent throughout and ideal for those who like a straight up no nonsense gin. We tend to favour serving it with a thin slice of lime in a Gin & Tonic and found that across a range of cocktails, it makes for a versatile offering that’s particularly tasty in a Red Snapper.
While we’re not raving it about it from a flavour perspective (again, it’s deliberately intended as a more simple offering), its classic nature and ludicrously affordable price tag (£20) makes it an easy choice instead of using one of the larger names. We’d even go as far as saying that if we owned a bar in London, this would probably be our house gin. It’s a proper, trusty gin than can act as a solid workhorse to fix up any gin cabinet. And no, horse / glue factory pun not intended…
ELLC Batch 1 Gin ramps up the ABV to 45% and uses cubeb berries and Darjeeling Tea in particular to compliment the juniper. There’s a lovely nutty and dry aroma to the gin, with a touch of citrus. To taste, bright spice and a vibrant grapefruit ping, before a piney juniper and earthy angelica take over. Tasted neat, there’s also a distinct peppery floral finish from the cubeb too.
The subtle floral elements and the zing of pink grapefruit make for a delicious combination. ELLC Batch 1 is a lively gin, full of character and hard not to like. The tea, while multifaceted in what it brings to the flavour profile, never quite takes centre stage but adds an enviable depth. Go for a grapefruit peel in a Gin & Tonic, and definitely consider this if you like sipping on a Dry Martini too.
ELLC Batch 2 is slightly stronger (47% ABV) and is made using: juniper berries, coriander seeds, cassia bark, angelica root, thyme, winter savoury, fennel seeds, orris root, lavender, lemon peel, sage and bay leaf. Just by reading the botanical line up, you’ll be able to imagine that it’s going to be quite a herbal gin and to taste, it definitely delivers a savoury hit.
Thyme is evident throughout, so too are the fennel seeds. The lavender adds floral intrigue to the nose and makes for a genuinely complex gin. There’s once again a huge depth to the liquid with bay leaf, sage and winter savoury bringing herbal yet woody characteristics to surround the juniper. The finish is warming but not too spiced.
As a gin, ELLC Batch 2 will leave many both surprised by its herbal nature, yet equally captivated by its rich intensity. Its uncompromising but memorable profile is why we think it stands out and makes it a distinct offering when it comes to finding a specific gin for an occasion. We’d err on the side of a lemon peel for a Gin & Tonic garnishing and recommend those who love a full on verdant gin (like Gin Mare) to try it, as they’d certainly enjoy it.
Their premium duo aside, it’s worth taking the time to note that East London Liquor Company London Dry Gin proves that it is possible to make a small batch “pouring” gin at an affordable RRP of around £20. Considering they have to battle the considerable overheads smaller producers have to contend with (given their batch sizes are several thousand litres smaller than established brands) and that they fill and seal each bottle in-house – it’s an impressive achievement. It may seem strange to place such an emphasis on price point, but it makes a huge difference as almost no other producer on the size of stills and set up they operate on (perhaps with the exception of Hayman’s) – comes close to that RRP. The value for money for their entry level gin is truly exceptional.
For those looking to visit the distillery itself, the site has a beautiful bar open to all. Tall ceilings, exposed brickwork, an industrial feel and some carefully thought out seating make it a worthy pilgrimage on a Friday or Saturday night.
The light bouncing off the gleaming copper stills, visible through glass behind the bar is also mesmeric. Fair warning however – you have to know where you’re going as it’s literally in a Bow Wharf car park, so you’re unlikely to just stumble across it. Also, given there’s almost no other cocktail offering in the vicinity – make it the destination, not a “pit stop”.
For those looking for a day trip, it’s definitely worth the visit too. ELLC offer up tutored tasting experiences too. The semi-attached shop is also worth a perusal in its own right and is a welcome addition. It’s not so much a “distillery shop” and much more of a cool liquor store – think curated selection of bitters, whiskies and other craft gins too.
So what next?
It’s too soon to tell just where East London Liquor Company will go in the next few years. With established trade connections and a versatile gin portfolio, they already look set for steady growth across the UK. So far, we’ve been informed that well over 45,000 bottles have already been sold, so it’s not like they’ve got off to a slow start!
The ELLC team have also shown they are willing to take a few risks too, having worked collaboratively with other distillers to bring about interesting ideas. In October 2015, USA based Gin makers Death’s Door came across to create a limited edition Collaboration Gin. For the project, the respective head distillers Tom Hills and Brian Ellison produced a single gin batch of 150 bottles in honour of London Cocktail Week, using Death’s Door signature three botanicals – juniper, coriander and fennel from the USA – and East London’s 100% British wheat distillate.
Gin aside, it’s hard to underestimate the impact that the whisk(e)y element of the business will have once it has matured too. At the moment, the investment into maturing stock limits the amount of available resources to rapidly expand; however the tables will turn dramatically once it’s bottled. Both the awareness and income it will provide will mean a dramatic increase in the publicity around the distillery, as well as increased listings in bars to add to the long list of benefits. While it may seem indirect to their gin production, it places East London Liquor Company and their gin range in the ideal position for long-term growth.
It would seem that ELLC are simmering at the moment. Like all good things that take a while to fully develop, they show clear signs of more fantastic things to come. Just give them time as well as much deserved support and once they’re fully finished, it will no doubt be a worthy jewel in the British craft-distilling scene. We’ll be keeping an eye out for the inevitable barrel-aged cross over and updating this article to keep track of their progress!
For more information about ELLC visit their website: www.eastlondonliquorcompany.com
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