When it comes to drinking spirits, I have always lived by steadfast rules.
First: Vodka is my tipple of choice. Whether as a base for a cocktail, with a mixer, or even neat, I like it. Always have. Gin is a different story. I have never liked it. The distinct Juniper berry flavour has never agreed with me. And I’ve always found the classic gin and tonic bordering on disgusting. Strong words I know, but that’s what drinking spirits is all about. Strong drinks evoke strong emotions.
So for me, going to a new cocktail bar that housed a working gin distillery was likely to present a few challenges. Nate Brown and Lewis Hayes are bar consultants (a job I hitherto never knew existed) who have opened their first working bar – the City of London Distillery – in Bride Lane off Fleet Street. The guys took over a basement bar that had seen better days (in its previous carnation, I remember seeing Tony Hadley performing for a bunch of middle-aged office managers) and created the area's first decent cocktail bar. Dark brown wooden tables and fittings, ambient leather chairs, and soft lighting give the place a ‘seedy chic’ New York cocktail bar feel. The centrepiece of the bar is the magnificent copper-plated gin distillery. With its bespoke German engineering and design features, it combines function and form perfectly. It looks as good as it works.
But what does it taste like? Well, despite my earlier reservations, pretty damned good actually.
Starting with a G&T made from their own distilled gin, I tried not to blanch as I took my first sip under Lewis’ watchful eyes. I spared both of us any embarrassment by liking it. In fact, I managed to finish and even enjoy the hearty pouring. I followed that with their 'London Negroni', using only London-made ingredients. I’ve always found the Negroni little bit sweet, but this was an improvement on any version I’ve had outside of Italy. The ‘Ford’, which is apparently the forgotten beauty of the classics, combines gin, Cocchi Americano, Bénédictine and orange bitters. It was too sweet and rich for my tastes, or perhaps I had reached my gin limits, but I could imagine it appealing to more refined palates then mine.
We finished the evening with a gin tasting session in which the boys taught us the history of gin, before offering samples of four shot-sized gins. Oh, and did I say they were served neat? I had definitely hit my gin limit by this stage, but enjoyed the session a lot (even if I started to lose feeling in my mouth). Of course the C.O.L.D. bar serves other drinks besides gin, and that’s a good thing, because they have created a very good bar here. They’ve certainly filled a large gap in the Fleet Street drinking market.
And to my amazement they’ve created a product which has turned many of my gin prejudices on their head. Strong drinks inspire strong changes, too, apparently.