East London Liquor Company "ELLC" - 19 April 2018
Unit GF1, Bow Wharf, 221 Grove Road, London E3 5SN
On a gloriously sunny morning in April, my colleagues and I had the pleasure of visiting the East London Liquor Company.
ELLC is located in Bow Wharf in London’s East End, about a 15-20 minute walk from Mile End station.
Ceri Walden, Sales Manager, greeted us in the bar, which is large, spacious and funky. It has huge glass windows along the whole length of the back of the bar which overlook 3 beautiful copper stills. The bar serves a full range of spirits, including their own.
The company was founded by Alex Wolpert in 2014. Hailing from Hackney, Alex wanted his distillery to be located in the heart of London’s old spirits industry. Production of English Single Malt Whisky ceased in 1905 with the closure of Lea Valley Distillery. ELLC is the first vodka, gin and whisky distillery established in East London in over 100 years.
When Alex bought the site, it was a run-down old pub. Prior to that, it was a glue factory. As such, ELLC labels depict an upside down horse which is representative of the fact that glue was previously made in the factory from collagen from animal parts, particularly horse hooves and bones.
The ELLC team is young and trendy, with an average age of 30 years old. They have 4 young distillers, all with beards, who are keen to experiment. All production comes from the distillery; nothing is contracted out.
The hand-made Arnold Holstein copper stills were custom fitted for the distillery and the Gin still holds 450 litres. The base product for their spirit is 100% British Wheat. To produce their Signature Gin, a 96% neutral grain spirit, water and botanicals are added to the still. Lemons and grapefruits are placed in a basket in the neck of the still so that they are vapour infused for a more delicate flavour. The still is powered by a steam jacket which eliminates the risk of burning.
Gin was being distilled whilst we were there and the methanol (the Heads) was in the process of boiling off. This equates to around 5 litres. The ethanol (the Hearts) is next to boil off. Once the methanol starts to become smoother, the distiller cuts to Hearts. This is the good alcohol which is used to produce the Gin. As distillation continues, water starts to come through and the distiller cuts to Tails. The Heads and Tails are simply used to wash the floors.
The pot still used for distilling Gin is attached to a column still and has several rectification plates which are kept open whilst Gin is distilling. At the top of the column, there is a copper catalyser, which is rather like a large scouring pad; it gives the product a smooth finish and removes impurities.
All of the cuts are done by taste alone. It is a batch process with minimal batch variation. The Gin still can produce 600 bottles in one run and 1 batch takes between 6-8 hours.
Vodka is produced in the larger still which holds 650 litres.
They currently produce 3 Gins, 1 Vodka and 1 Rum. The Signature Gin is their best seller and represents 50% of their production.
We then moved into the brewery. ELLC has a patent on London Rye and their first London Rye Whisky is due to be launched at the end of the year. English Whisky has to be aged for 3 years and 1 day. There is no specific requirement about the mash bill and their first release has a high proportion of rye. They plan to produce both Single Malts and Rye Whisky.
Barrels for ageing the Whisky are a mixture of American oak, Bordeaux barrels, Douro barrels and Rum casks. The idea is to experiment and see how each influences the final spirit.
The slim design of the bottles for the Signature Gin and Vodka makes them bartender friendly, as they are light and easy to handle. Batch 1 and Batch 2 Gin are in shorter, fatter bottles, which provides a point of difference.
100% British Wheat Vodka: Simple and accessible. This has a creamy mouthfeel and is very smooth.
Signature Gin: A classic London Dry style. This Gin contains 7 botanicals and is fresh, citrusy and easy to drink.
Batch 1 Gin: This also contains 7 botanicals but with a higher abv than the Signature Gin, coming in at 45%. The Darjeeling tea provides a dry finish and the pink grapefruit peel keeps it light and fresh. This is their “Breakfast Gin”.
Batch 2 Gin: Also known as their “Bad Boy”, this Gin contains 11 botanicals and is 47% abv. It is super smooth, with a long creamy finish and works well in cocktails.
They launched their Barrel Aged Gin program in January 2016 and intend to experiment with various wood finishes. The first batch featured their Signature Gin which was aged in new French oak for 14 weeks. The cask ageing gives classic vanilla and dried fruit flavours. Their latest release is being aged in a peated cask, and will be the last release before the Whisky.
Demerara Rum: Their Rum is made at Diamond Distillery in Guyana and is a variation of the local rum from Georgetown. It is made using molasses produced from 100% Demerara sugar and aged in ex-Bourbon casks for between 3-8 years. They refer to it as the “Swiss army knife of rums” as it is so versatile. Aged in Guyana, it is shipped to the UK when mature and cut down at the distillery. It is very creamy, with caramel overtones and spicy vanilla on the finish.
Partnership with Sonoma County Distilling Company:
ELLC has formed a partnership with a small craft distillery in Sonoma County, whose products are sold through them. They produce 3 Bourbons, 3 Rye Whiskeys, and 2 Wheat Whiskeys. Their ex-Bourbon barrels are shipped to ELLC as part of the relationship.
We were lucky enough to be able to taste the following:
West of Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey No.1 (Smoked): Made from a blend of locally smoked California Cherrywood-smoked barley, American yellow corn and rye, this Cherrywood Bourbon is smoky and smooth. It is aged in new American oak for at least 1 year and has flavours of Maraschino cherry, allspice and vanilla.
Cherrywood Rye Whiskey: The Cherrywood Rye has a base of rye, wheat and just a hint of California Cherrywood-smoked barley. It is also aged in new American oak for at least a year and has aromas and flavours of dried figs, dates, toasted almonds, brandied cherries and new leather. My favourite!
Sonoma Rye Whiskey: Their signature Whiskey; aged in new, charred American oak barrels for at least a year. This has notes of vanilla, white pepper, dried apricot and walnut.
2nd Chance Wheat Whiskey: Aged in used Bourbon and Rye barrels, this smooth Wheat Whiskey has a nose of freshly baked bread and ginger, followed by flavours of rich butterscotch, English toffee, sultanas and citrus.
I would like to thank Ceri and the whole team at ELLC for an amazingly informative visit and tasting. I thoroughly recommend a visit. They offer private tours upon request and regular tours on the weekends. Their light and airy restaurant offers a selection of Italian foods and sharing plates and you can buy any of the products from the Bottle Shop which is open whenever the bar is. For such good quality products produced in such small volumes, I think they offer sensational value for money. I can’t wait to taste their Whisky!!
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