East London Liquor Company has graced our shelves with a trifecta of fascinating new whisky releases, including the distillery’s very first single malt – cause for celebration if ever we’ve heard one. As we blow up the balloons and scatter the confetti, founder Alex Wolpert talks us through the tasty trio…
Those already familiar with East London Liquor Company’s spirits-making philosophy will know they don’t do things by halves. These are the people who, when presented with the opportunity to release the city’s first distilled whisky in more than 100 years, released a London rye made in a combination of pot and column stills and matured in three different cask types. Whether it’s ageing gin in Moscatel casks or distilling 100% English-grown Chardonnay brandy, we’ve come to expect the unexpected from Wolpert and his team.
The east London-based distillery has just launched three new whiskies, each as compelling as the last. The first, East London Single Malt Whisky, is double pot-distilled and matured in a combination of ex-bourbon and rye casks from California’s Sonoma Distilling Company and ex-bourbon casks from Kentucky for a minimum of three years. Bottled at 47% ABV, given tasting notes include ‘peanut butter, bitter almond and biscuits, developing into a vegetal finish of green tomatoes and light tar, with a delicate and slightly oily mouthfeel’.
There’s also a fresh batch of London Rye, matured first for a year in virgin oak before being rested in ex-Sonoma and Kentucky Bourbon casks for two years, with six months’ maturation in an ex-peated cask before it was finished in ex-Pedro Ximénez. Another 47% beauty, this bottling boasts ‘a big, umami hit of leather, peat, bouillon, porridge and peanut butter on the palate, with a chewy mouthfeel, wrapping up with notes of candied ginger and light tar to finish’.
The third and final release goes by the name of ELx Sonoma, a blended whisky made in collaboration with Sonoma’s owner and whisky maker Adam Spiegel. Bottled at 45.5% ABV, the liquid contains London Rye whiskies aged in a variety of casks (including ex-peated, Pedro Ximénez and oloroso casks, as well as ELLC’s own barrel-aged gin barrels) along with Spiegel’s own blend of Sonoma bourbons. Here, spice and fruit lead on the palate, with notes of black peppercorn, dried apricots, candied cherries, corn silk and oatmeal.
Thirsty for more details, we called ELLC’s Wolpert for a chinwag. Here’s what he had to say…
Master of Malt: You’ve just released three brand new expressions, including your very first single malt whisky. Talk us through that project…
Alex Wolpert: From our point of view, it’s always been about experimentation – we never set out specifically to make single malt. Our London Rye last year was about, ‘how can we celebrate rye as a grain? How can we get that into a whisky that showcases us as a distillery? How do we find our character as a whisky producer?’. And at the same time we were – and are still – experimenting with single malt, so Andy Mooney, who is responsible for our whisky production, has really taken this approach to its limits. You’ve got extra pale malted barley, double pot distilled and matured in a combination of ex-bourbon and rye casks. We talk about it being a balance between nutty bitterness, a sweet, fragrant note, and then a vegetalness which really makes it incredibly moreish. It’s really special. But obviously I’m completely biased.
MoM: It’s been a year since you launched London Rye. How was it received by drinks aficionados? What do the barrel finishes in the new bottling bring to the spirit?
AW: It went better than we could ever have dreamt. We allocated a couple of bottles to 40 of our key accounts, I hand-delivered the London accounts on the Friday and by the Monday most of them were out. It was really rewarding to see that not only were people prepared to take the juice and try it, but actually people came to the venues, asked for it by name and it sold. The whole production team were really very happy and it gave everyone a big spring in their step in terms of how we progress and what we work on. The new bottling feels like a development of what we did last year and it’s really tasty – that peated note adds to the fruity flavours of the Pedro Ximénez in such an incredible way.
MoM: You guys have collaborated with Sonoma Distilling Company in the past – could you talk about your relationship with them and the creative process behind ELx Sonoma?
AW: We’ve been importing Adam’s rye, bourbon and wheated whiskey for almost four years now. I never set out to have an import arm, I guess it was driven by finding amazing liquid, and his stuff is truly exceptional. Earlier this year I was out in California, I guess I had a bit of our liquid with me, he had a little bit of his and we just thought, why not see what might happen? In the end we made a few different samples, developing it and having conversations about ABV and blending. To end up with a liquid on this level was slightly unexpected, it’s amazing. What I love is that it proves we’re in pursuit of great liquid. If Adam’s high-rye bourbon adds something to what we’re doing, then why shouldn’t we bring them together? There’s a danger in any category that people have tunnel-vision, so it’s lovely to break that up and say, ‘We want to elevate rye – what better way to do that than to work with other great rye producers?’. Plus, Adam’s a lovely guy and we get along well, so any excuse to sit down with him and drink whisky is always gratefully received.
MoM: When you first opened the distillery, your aim was to “produce spirits that are accessible in flavour and price, while being of the highest quality”. So far, are you happy that you’ve achieved what you set out to do?
AW: Absolutely, yes. Nothing leaves the building without us collectively saying, ‘This is really good’. And for every new release, there’s so much in the background that isn’t ready or doesn’t quite work. So much work goes into finessing every release and making sure it’s of that standard. At the same time, sometimes you have these moments of panic where you think you’re in a big echo chamber – you release something, like our Grape Scott, where you think, ‘Will people like this? Does this work?’. And then you get great feedback and it acts as a sense check. So I’m really excited to hear what people think about these whiskies. Democratising good booze is always going to be at the forefront of what we do, it really informs how we develop and grow as a business, so that’s always going to be what we come back to.
MoM: ELLC’s momentum is super inspiring – what’s the distillery’s next goal?
AW: I feel immensely privileged, we’ve come so far and the team is a real testament to that. We’ve got such an incredible team who make it happen – without amazing product, we’re nothing. I guess our next goal is getting more whisky out and growing our gin footprint. We don’t call ourselves craft, but in an environment where ‘craft’ is perceived as justifying a £35 price tag for a bottle of gin, we want to get more of our £21.50 gin into people’s cupboards so they realise that price tag doesn’t equate to quality. We’re not shy about experimenting, so there will be some new releases on the horizon. It might be a bit unfair to say that without saying what will come, but when we think they’re ready, they’ll get airtime. We’re not standing still, and we’re not shy of pushing the envelope and developing what we do.
These fabulous whiskies should be arriving at the end of October, keep an eye on our new arrivals page.