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A Drink With… Darren Rook, London Distilling Company

The London Distillery Company (LDC) joins London’s growing fleet of craft distilleries this month as its stills roar into action. CEO Darren Rook shares his experience with Becky Paskin.

Darren Rook, London Distilling Company
Darren Rook has just fired up the stills for the first time at the London Distilling Company. Photo: Simon Hanna

What drink will you have?
It depends on the mood, but right now I’m feeling like I’ve had a long day and want something to make me smile, so a Willet Straight Rye. It’s a good, benchmark rye whiskey.

How did the LDC come about?
Nick Taylor, an angel investor manager, asked me why there wasn’t a whisky distillery in London. We discussed the idea of erecting one seriously for some time and after getting the green light in June 2011 we set up the company. Andrew Macleod Smith, our head distiller, came on board a few months later – he turned down two job offers to come work with us. We should have liquid flowing from February 2013.

Why do you use the term head distiller instead of master distiller?
I shy away from the term master distiller. There are a lot of people in the industry who use the term but aren’t, strictly speaking, using it correctly. In my mind a master distiller has gone through the spectrum of jobs in their field, like malting, mashing, distilling and problem solving, which takes 10-15 years of experience. To do it for just two years and say you’re a master is a joke. Andrew’s our head distiller; he’s not qualified enough to be called a master.

Did you have much experience in the drinks industry before you set up LDC?
I’ve worked in bars in Edinburgh and Newcastle, and even at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Scotland and London. I also worked with Master of Malt as project manager in the product development of Rumbullion and Origin. I’ve also done a small hands-on distilling course with Christian Carl and have spent some time at distilleries chipping in. I’ve probably got about 10 years of practical and theoretical experience.

What’s the most difficult part of setting up a craft distillery?
The actual distilling is quite easy. Doing it on my own has been the hardest part for me. Although I’ve got Nick on investment he has a full-time job. Up until four months ago I was marketing, project managing, accounting, and more. It’s a lot of balls to juggle and very stressful. My wife even threatened to move back to Canada a few times.

How will LDC fit into the craft distilling movement in the UK?
There’s a fine line between what a distillery is and how you define it. To me a distillery is where you actually create alcohol. When you make gin, you’re licensed as a rectifier compounder, not as a distiller. It’s a different definition. We’ll be the only licensed distillery in London to create our own alcohol. Everyone else is buying alcohol in and redistilling their product.

Should there be more craft distillers in the UK?
I’m supportive of there being more; the danger is using the US as an example. There are some really bad producers in the US giving consumers a negative first impression of what craft distilling is. That’s my concern.

What makes a good craft distillery then?
Craft is about the ability to make something skillfully that’s artisanal and beautiful; not everyone meets that criteria. Gin producers like Sacred and Sipsmith definitely do. We haven’t done anything yet, but I hope we will be defined as craft.

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