By Rollo Ross
LONDON (Reuters) - A Scotsman and an Englishman have banded together to create a single-malt whisky they say will be the first distilled in London since 19th-century laws wiped out the craft in Britain's capital.
On Thursday, Darren Rock, the CEO and co-founder of The London Distillery Company, and Andrew MacLeod Smith, his Scottish head distiller, poured the first of their clear spirit into oak barrels to age and pick up a tawny color before being bottled and sold.
They say it must be aged at least three years to be whisky under British law, and they may choose not to sell it until 2017 or later - with a name yet to be chosen.
"London obviously has a very rich brewing heritage, but in terms of distilleries everything subsided when licensing laws became a bit more rigid down here," MacLeod Smith told Reuters during a tour of the modern distillery in an old dairy building on the south bank of the river Thames.
"The guys up north in Scotland were a little bit more fortunate, because they were stuck out in the hills so the taxman couldn't find them, and when they finally regulated the industry again and started handing out licenses, all these distillers came out of the woodwork and said, 'Yeah, we'll take one.' So they already had the industry set up."
The distillery has been using local ingredients that were employed in whisky production in London more than a century ago. Barley is sourced from Warminster Maltings, Wiltshire, and yeast comes from Surebrew in Surrey.
"We're looking at heritage, so there'll be a lot more flavor profile there, basically," Rook said.
"The world 'whisky' comes from 'Eau de Vie' - the water of life - so it was that idea of the running of water. So it will come off clear and then when you put it in a cask it sits and the wood acts like a sponge.
"So the spirit absorbs in, it sucks out some of the color and sucks out some of the flavor so it's the contraction, expansion and contraction of the wood drawing flavor and color in and out of the spirit, so in time the spirit will change color."
But it's not just the ingredients and distilling process which dictate the flavor, distiller MacLeod Smith said.
"The composition of the spirit is sort of determined by the environment that you create it in and this in itself used to be an old dairy, a Victorian dairy, so who knows what weird and wonderful bacteria and yeast are living in these walls?
"So that will give us a distinct spirit - something that can't be replicated anywhere else."
And when can tipplers expect to taste a whisky distilled and aged in London but which as yet has no name?
"Probably it's around 2017 - 2016 it will be officially spirit, but we want to give it enough time that we feel happy with it," Rook said. "It might be that it goes 12 years or 10, but it will definitely be whisky in 2016.
"I can't tell you the name, if that makes sense - you know, branding and all that - but we've got three years so you'll just have to wait to be surprised."
The distillery says it produces different-sized casks of whisky but on its website says overall production "is a fraction of what even the smallest distilleries in Scotland produce".
(Writing by Michael Roddy; Editing by Larry King)