London’s first whisky distillery for over a century is about to commence production; Caroline Hampden-White meets founder Darren Rook.
Darren Rook. Photo credit: Colin Hampden-White
With its designer flats and trendy businesses, Battersea is not an obvious location to set up London’s first whisky distillery for over a century. But that is exactly what Darren Rook, aka The Whisky Guy, is doing.
The distillery itself can be found just off Parkgate Road, Battersea. Through an alleyway you step into a world of beat-up industrial units inhabited by a variety of trendy businesses, more reminiscent of Downtown New York than SW11. In the far corner sits Rook’s enterprise where there’s a lot of heavy labour going on. And that’s where the fun really starts.
Rook describes their outfit as a “boutique urban distillery”. The products will be gin initially and whisky later including some aged malt spirit “just small bits, about 300 bottles a year.” The plan is to sell through the website and a few very select retailers. Harvey Nichols has said it interested alongside Master of Malt, a shareholder in the enterprise. Selfridges is also on the cards.
“London is an iconic brand in its own right” says Rook, “We’re looking at the top 10 bars in London, the top 5 retailers.”
Tours are also planned and they will open their doors to the public early next year.
After initial finance from angel investors, they needed to raise additional money for the project. Rook got talking to Alex Kammerling from Kamm & sons at a Vinopolis tasting, who suggested Crowdcube. Three weeks later, they’d jumped from 18 investors to 68, including key people in the whisky business, and raised the cash they needed.
Sipping a cup of plain hot water (“I’m cleansing my palate”, he explains, “to keep it fresh”) Rook talks about the Crowdcube experience. “It was more about the evangelical side of it; we now had 68 really engaged investors. If you own a little bit of something you’ll want to promote it and those investors become our ambassadors.”
After a lull completing the legal details, they could finally look for space and the units were suggested. Rook says: “It was a bit of a disaster area; a white box, full of packing crates. But I thought: this could really work.”
Looking around now, the place is really taking shape. There’s been some serious renovation, including stripping off three inches of cork that lined the walls of this Victorian dairy cold room. The gin room is nearly finished, awaiting the installation of its steam generator, and the still is on order from the oldest German manufacturer, Christian Carl. On track financially, they’re just weeks away from the end of the build when they’ll start to distil gin.