In the shadows of St. Paul’s’ Cathedral and situated in one of the oldest parts of London, you could be forgiven for thinking that the City of London Distillery has always been there, but as owner and Master Distiller Jonathan Clark explained, it’s not the case.
Jonathan’s relationship with the venue began in 1976 when he began working there as a kitchen porter, doing the washing up. To use a well-worn cliché, Jonathan is your typical “London boy made good”, as twenty years later, not only did he own the premises, but another 5 bars.
After one of his tenants turned the venue into a “ladies bar”, as Jonathan delicately put it, he was hauled before the City of London authorities and told not only did he need to take-over the venue, but he had to find something else to do with it. The idea to open a distillery came while on holiday when he was enjoying a gin with a friend. (Jonathan had decided to start drinking gin aged 50 as he decreed it an “Old Man’s drink!)
He contacted Carl (the still makers) with the exact specifications for the stills (that occupy a small space under the stairs) and after checking costs and delivery dates headed off the States on a reconnaissance mission. After seeing a bar within a distillery he decided this was how he wanted his distillery to look. He placed his order for the stills and returned home.
Great, you might think. Except when he visited the City of London authorities they handed over four pages of reasons (many health and safety) why Jonathan could not open a distillery.
Nine months later and Jonathan had ticked off all the issues the City had presented to him, even installing bomb-proof glass in front of the stills. Jonathan proudly stated that even if there was an explosion you could carry on drinking and the glass wouldn’t be warm (let’s hope no-one ever puts this to the test).
The City of London Distillery eventually opened in December 2012 and two years later the Mayor officially opened it. Since then Jonathan has been made a Freeman of the City of London, an occasion that he is rightly proud of considering his humble beginnings.
The City of London Distillery makes four gins; City of London Dry Gin, ‘Square Mile’ (a super-premium version) and Sloe Gin, as well as producing an Old Tom gin exclusively for the Dorchester Hotel.
The London Dry is a good, traditional version and comes in at 40% ABV.
Square Mile has a punchier ABV of 47% and is perfect for a martini.
The sloe gin is a happy accident at 30% and full of almond flavours owing to the fact that Jonathan left the sloes in the gin three months longer than he planned as he forgot about it!
The bar has an impressive selection of gins from around the world and lots of gin artefacts and antiques that Jonathan collects.
You can also make your own gin in the workshop.
The City of London is a very special place. Everything from distilling to bottling and labelling occurs at this award-winning micro distillery. If you get the chance to visit, Jonathan is a great host and raconteur!