11 years after tasting his first Gin and Tonic, Jonathan Clark enjoys his success with the City of London Distillery, having won multiple awards.
On a Friday evening, my wife and I made our way through a narrow alley in the middle of London’s City district. As soon as we opened the green door we could smell the slightly sharp odor of gin. As we descended the stairs we left the busy London streets behind us and found our self in a warm and cozy bar with a view of the gin stills used to make five varieties of City of London Distillery gin.
Sitting at the end of the bar, was nonother than Jonathan Clark, the head distiller, and owner of the City of London Distillery. What he has accomplished over just five years is nothing less than a small miracle. More about that later.
Distillery Tour and Gin Tasting
We had come for the one hour and fifteen minutes long distillery tour and gin tasting. After checking our tickets, we were placed at a table and handed a gin and tonic made from the City of London Dry Gin, garnished with pink grapefruit.
We arrived early and it was only a handful of guests in the bar. However, as the time for our tour got closer, it was clear that we would not be alone. I counted close to 20 people when we were led into the tasting room.
Here, we were treated to a taste of all five gins made at the City of London Distillery. Inbetween the tastings, we got a nice summary of the history of gin, paired with the history of the City of London Distillery.
This leads me to the only negative thing to say about this place: Tasting five different gins from only three glasses means that you have to finish two of the gins before you can taste the rest. Not only does that mean that you are numbing your taste buds, but you miss the chance to go back to compare the full range of gin. People signing up for a gin tasting actually want to taste the different gins.
The tasting was followed by a quick tour of the distillery. Here, we got a rather detailed explanation of how everything works.
When the tour was finished, I spotted the owner of the place sitting by a table. I went over to him and introduced myself. The rest of this blog post is the result of our conversation.
The history of the City of London Distillery
Jonathan Clark tasted his first Gin and Tonic at the age of 50. At that time he had the freehold for the property in Fleet Street, that today houses the City of London Distillery. When the current tenant opened a strip club in the basement, something that is illegal in London City, he had no other choice than to evict the tenant. That was when he got the idea to start making gin.
To learn as much as he could about the art of making gin, he started to invite other distillers to lunch. Charles Maxwell from the Thames distillery and Tom Nichol from Tanqueray. Every third week he would give them new gin samples and take notes about their feedback. Gradually, the feedback would become more and more positive.
No1. The City of London Gin
A classic London Dry Gin with a fine balance of juniper, angelica, licorice, and coriander. Fresh orange, lemon, and pink grapefruit give a zesty note.
No2. Christopher Wren Gin
Bearing the name of one of London’s most famous architects, known for St. Pauls Cathedral, this gin is designed by Master Distiller Tom Nichole. This is the premium gin that put the City of London Distillery on the gin map of the world. The combination of juniper, angelica root, licorice, coriander and sweet orange makes a really enjoyable taste.
No3. The City of London Old Tom Gin
Lightly sweetened and spicy, this is a classical Old Tom with notes of citrus.
No4. The City of London Sloe Gin
Based on City of London Dry Gin steeped for months with blackthorn berries, this gin is rich – both in color and taste. A gentle smell of marzipan hints of the sweetness waiting to be savored.
No5. The City of London Square Mile Gin
This is a London Dry Gin flavored with juniper, coriander, orris root, angelica, licorice, orange, and lemons.
These gins have received a lot of praise. In 2017, London City Distillery won three Double-Gold Awards at the San Francisco World Spirit Competition for the City of London Dry Gin, the Old Tom Gin, and the Square Mile Gin.
At the International Wine & Spirits Competition the same year, they won the Gold Award for the Christopher Wren Gin. At the Spirits Business Competition, the won the Gin Masters Award – something that is better than a gold, for the Sloe Gin.
Growing the business
In the spring of 2017 started a new chapter for the City of London Distillery. To facilitate further growth and extended distribution, Clark sold 80% of the company to Halewood International Ltd. When I asked him about the risk of diluting the brand, Clark was very clear about the fact that all gin would still be produced in the same place. The recipe would never change. The only difference will be bigger volumes and wider distribution, and that the gin is bottled by Halewood.
Plans for the future
Jonathan Clark is a man with a plan. When asked about what he is going to do in the future, having given up control of the company, he smiles secretively and mentions that he has a new distillery under construction just next to his home.
The five award-winning gins made just meters from where we sit cannot be tampered with. There is no more room for experimentation. With Essex Distillery Jonathan will be back in the game of experimenting and making new gins. The only thing he wanted to say was that this time, he is going to do vacuum distillation. According to the rumors, the gin will be louched 1st November 2018, but 28.000 bottles are already sold.
I’m looking forward to tasting it and to visit his new playground.