East London Liquor Company was founded in 2014, in renovated warehousing on the canal banks of Victoria Park, in the heart of London’s East End. Here's how it started:
Actor-turned-bartender, Alex Wolpert, left drama school in 2006 and spent his 20s living in East London, working behind bars. At the time, big brands were investing big to stay big, before independent craft spirits rocked up, some with crazy price tags that were supposed to signify high quality.
Exasperated by customers calling for only expensive brands to make the perfect drink, Alex thought maybe the time had come to quit his job and to fight for everyone that wanted affordable excellence, but without the vanity pricing and packaging. It was in 2013 when a friend challenged Alex to set up his own business. Over the next few weeks Alex sought out industry advice on how and what to do. The resounding advice was don’t do it. So he did, supported by his kick-ass bosses at Barworks.
Six months later he borrowed against his Hackney flat, convinced the bar owners of Barworks (his bosses at the time) to invest in his vision and cycled the waterways of East London until he found a disused glue factory warehouse-cum-boozer that had closed down, next to Victoria Park. He then ordered two copper pot stills from Germany and in 2014 Alex set up East London Liquor Company. In the first year the team of five were producing 1,000 bottles of gin a month for East London bars and restaurants.
Nowadays it’s not uncommon for a distillery to have a small bar that serves samples of spirits, but the bar at ELLC is a different beast altogether, serving an array of cocktails, wine and food with the distillery on display behind a huge glass wall. Is it a distillery with a bar or a bar with a distillery? We’re not sure, but we sure as hell like it.
What with being a bar as well as a distillery, ELLC have taken the approach of making pretty much all of the spirits a bar needs: vodka, rum, whisky, and gin. And they don't just make one gin, but four.
Their standard "Gin" uses a relatively classic botanical mix of juniper, coriander seed, angelica root, cardamon, cubeb berries, lemon peel, and pink grapefruit peel. It's bottled at 40% and therefore perfect for a G&T.
Their "Brighter" gin gets its brightness from a more dominant pink grapefruit presence, plus cassia (cinnamon) and Darjeeling tea (with cardamon and lemon removed). It's bottled at 45% and great in a martini, where the tea note really reveals itself.
"Louder" brings in Mediterranean elements, like orris root, fennel seeds, lavender, bay, sage, thyme, and savory. It also ups the ABV to 47%. This is a bolder, bigger - and, yes, louder - gin that really stands up to powerful ingredients in drinks like the negroni and red snapper.
The final gin made at ELLC is "Kew", which is in partnership with Kew Botanic Gardens in west London. Kew's head botanist hand-harvests a monthly dump of Douglas fir and lavender for distillation in this gin, and 10% of all sales go back to supporting 260 years of science and 16,000 species of plants. It's gin that gives power to the pollinators, because there's no booze without bugs.
ELLC currently distribute their spirits nationwide across the UK and export globally to 15 countries, including five states in the U.S. and Sweden’s Systembolaget monopoly scheme.