A Proper London Gin...
Historically, gin has a fascinating and at times, quite tragic history. Blamed for the evils of poverty while simultaneously being consumed in the homes of wealthy Londoners, gin has reinvented itself for the 21st century. As with many alcohols it was initially consumed as a medicine and by the 19th century cheap, readily available gin was the scourge and signature of London and Great Britain’s empire. Gin is synonymous with London and with the resurgence of distilling, for the first time in decades traditional London style gin is being produced in London once again. My fondness for gin has grown through the years and I am thrilled distillers are crafting modern gins, suitable for a variety of palettes, in addition to traditional gin. Having spectacular gin is an experience that all should have when visiting London. Today I’m sharing with you four of my favorite places to stock up, drink, sample and relax with London’s esteemed spirit. Although there are many more places to sample this versatile intoxicant, I have attempted to keep my recommendations to central London where visitors will be more likely to spend and maximize their time.
From their booth at the Borough Market (my favorite place on earth!), the East London Liquor Company is spearheading the distilling resurgence in London. With a classic dry gin, two additional bespoke gins and a barrel aged gin, everyone can find something they fancy from East London. My personal favorite is the fresh and clean No. 1 Distilled from British wheat, Darjeeling Tea and pink grapefruit peel. At times, I find some gin to be too floral but Batch No. 1 is smooth and refreshing, perfect in a cocktail or on the rocks. While the Borough Market location lacks seating, the energy of the market is invigorating. Enjoy your gin tasting, led by passionate team members, surrounded by some of the best food in the city. If you have time, East London’s distillery is at Bow Wharf, with a bar and tours available. A little out of the tourists’ usual purview, the location is in uber trendy (not shockingly) East London, in Globe Town.
Off the beaten path but well worth a jaunt, is Jensen’s Gin, located in a train viaduct alcove at the Maltby Street Market. (If you haven’t, definitely read my post on this amazing market - side note, salted caramel heaven Fattie’s Bakery has closed :() The tasting space is incredible...lovely 19th century brick railway arches with nooks and crannies to hangout with a g & t and a small bar with incredibly warm and patient bartenders ready to share their product. Distilled in small batches, Jensen’s is the definition of drinking local, its distillery being located within those same arches as the trains rumble overhead. Jensen’s is the perfect spot for a tipple before, after or even during a trip to the market. Laid back and welcoming, Jensen’s personifies the casual atmosphere of this market with their emphasis on locally sourced and produced food. Jensen’s crafts two gins, a dry and an Old Tom, based on a mid 19th century recipe. I prefer the dry over the Old Tom but head to Jensen’s yourself to choose your favorite.
For an entirely different approach to gin, far away from the warehouses and trains near the Thames, you will find the Alice in Wonderland-esque Mr. Fogg’s Gin Parlor in always au courant Covent Garden. Reservations are a must and ensure that you book the Gin Parlor as Mr. Fogg’s has additional establishments. The small exterior doorway, protected by a doorman who presents you with your personal invitation, leads up a narrow staircase into the most unexpected bar in 21st Century London. From the website alone, you can be sure that your evening will be unlike any other. Dominated by a gorgeous antique bar, two small rooms are efficiently run by staff in punkish era Victorian clothing. The interior design appears to have been done by an eccentric elderly aunt who dropped acid a few decades ago. Chintz prints, mixed with Asian dragon lamps, peacock feathers and glowing, glittering chandeliers create a world through the looking glass. The extraordinary gin list can be ordered as cocktails or by the glass, arriving in lovely, giant glass goblets, garnished with dried fruit and spices. A variety of botanicals and tonics allow for up to 9,000,000 varying types of gin and tonics. The atmosphere is unmatched and you won’t find any locale as quaint, charming or kitchy to enjoy London’s favorite spirit. Plan to spend a couple hours here, partaking in one of the 200+ gins. Mr. Fogg’s also offers a gin safari tasting, cream cakes and cocktails and what I’m planning for my next visit, a quintessential gin based afternoon tea. This is an establishment for a special evening - dress in your finest cloak, waistcoat or corset to truly set the mood.
My final recommendation resides in the most ancient section of London, the City. Walking over thousands of years of history, down a side street and exceedingly, dangerously close to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, you will find the City of London Distillery. Gin is made and consumed here, the first distillery in the City proper in over 200 years. Utilizing traditional 19th century ingredients which arrived on trading ships from vast and far away exotic colonies, the City of London Distillery is creating award winning gin, preserved in strikingly beautiful belle epoque inspired bottles. Numbering one to five, City of London has a gin for everyone’s taste, including an Old Tom, traditional dry and sloe gin. I prefer their Old Tom, a bit sweeter and warmer than the dry gin. The speakeasy vibe, dominated by the gorgeous copper stills, make for a fantastic choice if you find yourself in the sleepy City after working hours. Meat and cheese plates can be purchased, allowing you to savor your gin for a few hours. Additionally, a variety of experiences are available: tours, tastings and most interestingly a gin lab experience where you can design and distill your own unique gin!
Savoring a gin and tonic in a truly incredible city such as London is a pastime that should not be missed. Relaxing in the blue evening of twilight, glass in hand, along the small streets of this ancient and simultaneously modern city is an experience that any fan of alcohol and travel should partake in. Cheers!