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John Claridge At East London Liquor Co.

October 10, 2016
by the gentle author

There is nothing like a glass or two of gin at nine-thirty in the morning to bring the mind into sharp focus, as Contributing Photographer John Claridge & I discovered last week when we paid a visit to the East London Liquor Company on the canal next to Victoria Park. It was the morning after the opening of John’s East End photography exhibition at The Society Club, but nevertheless we both arrived at the distillery, housed in a former glue factory, before nine – and thus the tasting that we were required to undertake as part of our assignment served the function of ‘the hair of the dog.’

At the stroke of nine, the distillery staff arrived and admitted us to their workplace. We were astonished by the spectacle of the tall copper stills extending to the roof at the rear of the building. These gleaming cylinders embellished with pipes and valves appeared to me like vast wind instruments awaiting giant jazz musicians to play upon them. It was a fancy dispelled by the unexpected pungent scent of grapefruit and lemon, as distiller Sam Garbutt set to peeling citrus fruit and suspending the peel in the warm still while the grain spirit was added. This vapour infusion is sufficient to impart an aroma of grapefruit to the London Dry Gin that is distilled here. I watched Sam as he hastily measured out the coriander, juniper berries, cardamon, angelica root and cubeb berries, concocting a heady mixture of botanicals.

Head distiller Tom Hills was taking a moment to consult his laptop in between supervising the beginning of the day’s distillation, which would extend over the next seven hours. “I’ve got a zillion things to do today,” I heard him say under his breath. No hyperbole for the man responsible for producing between five and six hundred bottles of gin and vodka every day at the first new distillery to open in the East End for over a century. Founded just two years ago and exporting around the world, the East London Liquor Company has already established a formidable reputation for the quality of its gin and vodka, with whisky to come next year too.

After the first flurry of activity, setting up the stills, the pace relented as the distilling process commenced and John had taken his photographs, so there was no option but to try each of the three varieties of gin and study their distinguishing characteristics.

I would not describe myself as a gin drinker, so I had no idea what to expect of the London Dry Gin but I was pleasantly surprised by its complex aromatic taste with citrus overtones, which quickly dispelled any memory of the familiar industrially-produced gin which is commonplace. This was something else altogether and, even at nine-thirty, I was fascinated that it was possible to distinguish each of the botanicals within the blend. By contrast, Batch No.1 was a drier taste with a hint of darjeeling tea which gave it ‘bite’ and complemented the citrus aroma. Batch No.2 proved to be the most complex of the three with all the botanical flavours in the foreground. I alternated sips from each of the different glasses in front of me to clarify these relative qualities in my perception and it was a satisfying achievement to have grasped the comparative nature of these spirits, thus filling an important gap in my education before ten o’clock in the morning.

Meanwhile, John Claridge was regaling the distillers with tales of his visits to the Jack Daniels Distillery in Lynchburg in the ‘dry’ state of Tennessee during the eighties, when he took intimate black and white portraits of the distillery workers, initiating a series of advertisements which run to this day undertaken by other photographers carrying on where John left off.

It did not take much persuasion to introduce the obligation – as a matter of courtesy – of trying the distillery produce to John. Composing his attention, he raised a glass of London Dry Gin slowly to his lips, took a sip and made an involuntary exclamation of delight. “This could turn me to drink,” he declared.

Tom Hills, Head Distiller

Sam Garbutt, Distiller

Chris Culligan, Distiller

Andy Mooney, Whisky Distiller

Photographs copyright © John Claridge

East London Liquor Company, Bow Wharf, 221 Grove Rd, E3 5SN

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11 Responses leave one →
  1. October 10, 2016

    Lovely photos. It’s quite a sacrifice for one’s art to have to drink gin at 9:30. I’m glad that you all were up to it and gave this fine report.:-)

  2. Alex Knisely permalink
    October 10, 2016

    Beautifully photographed, written, assembled. Thank you.

  3. October 10, 2016

    Great photos today, sounds like a fun breakfast assignment! Valerie

  4. October 10, 2016

    The hallmarks of a master image maker. They sing!

  5. Sarahc permalink
    October 10, 2016

    Beautiful images!

  6. Malcolm permalink
    October 10, 2016

    Excellent post. I didn’t know they were still making Mother’s Ruin in Hackney. My uncle Tom used to make it in his shed in Limehouse. It must have been quite a task to write an excellent bit of prose whilst imbibing London’s finest Gin! Great pictures from Mr Claridge. The colour shots have a beautiful grainy sheen to them and the black and white portraits are superb examples of John’s trademark style. Chin Chin!

  7. pauline taylor permalink
    October 10, 2016

    Yet another very interesting insight which actually made gin sound like an inviting drink!! And the master photographer at work once again, such beautiful images and the black and white portraits are just brilliant. Well done GA and John.

  8. Jenny Sparidge permalink
    October 10, 2016

    The beautiful and evocative descriptions of the subtle differences of the gins distilled at the East London Liquor Company are mouth-watering … and certainly dangerous at 9:30 of a morning. And John’s photographs, so rich and luscious in colour, such a great collection of still lives that tells the story too. The black and white portraits, so very different from the still lives, but equally strong and rich.

  9. October 10, 2016

    With photos like these your a “East End Gineous” Jonny boy. They are a tonic for us all!

  10. October 11, 2016

    The next time I am considering a swift one, I shall repeat to myself: I am doing this to bring my mind into sharp focus. Thank you, Gentle Author, for beautiful images and an excellent new phrase.

  11. gkbowood permalink
    October 12, 2016

    Again and again, I return to look at these wondrous photographs! So mesmerizing in their composition and execution. And those portraits! The distillers are each caught in a moment that is timeless. Such a fine piece of work -Bravos all ’round!

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