From processors to pigs, slap the word ‘micro’ in front of almost anything and it becomes immeasurably better. But, fast-working tech and farmyard animals aside, our favourite product of the micro movement is infinitely more exciting, interesting and intoxicating: the urban distillery.
Springing up in city centres around the British Isles, these small-batch businesses are bringing their stills and barrels to built-up areas, and creating fine spirits mere miles from the bars where they’ll be drunk. Gins and whiskies are the bottles leading this inner-city revolution and, with many of the operations featuring on-site tours and tasting rooms, they’re well worth a visit. Here are six of the best…
The Holyrood Distillery in Edinburgh is experimenting with spirits
The first single malt distillery in the heart of Edinburgh for almost a century, the Holyrood Distillery takes Scotland’s most famous export and moves it to Scotland’s most famous city. Situated in a 180-year-old building next to the picturesque Holyrood Park, this is a distillery unconstrained by heritage, category and tradition — and one aiming to set up a distinctively different spirits company.
The Scots’ focus is on experimentation and, available to taste in the brightly coloured, stripped-back chic distillery, are spirits including Auld Tam Gin, Single Grain Scotch and a whole host of fruity liqueurs. It’s an emporium of flavours, a great place to learn about spirit production and — if you needed any more convincing — there’s also a distillery dog.
The City of London Distillery is a haven for the gin enthusiast
In 2012, the City of London Distillery brought gin distilling back to the capital after an absence of almost 200 years. It’s a similar story to the Holyrood Distillery above. But, where the Scots are dabbling with multiple spirits and liqueurs, this central London set-up has focused firmly on gin. From their Old Tom and Christopher Wren variations to a classic London Dry and vivid Sloe Gin, this is a haven for the G&T enthusiast.
And the small batch concept, the distillery explains, allows them to bring variety, interest and innovative limited edition gins to the market, experimenting with new combinations and botanicals to reinvigorate London’s oldest spirit. If you’re keen to give the process a bash yourself, they even offer a Gin Lab Experience.
Liberties Distillery in Dublin is a wild, wayward whiskeymaker
Okay, this might be more British Isles than Britain, but Dublin’s newest distillery was too good to leave out thanks to their crystal clear aim; to make Irish whiskey cooler than it has even been. And Liberties Distillery, found near the established Teeling Whiskey Distillery, doesn’t care about the heritage of its neighbours — it’s doing things its own wild and wayward way.
The place itself is a sight to behold; all uplit stills and vivid red wood. It’s a fittingly devilish decor — the Liberties area of Dublin, originally established beyond the old city’s walls, was colloquially known as ‘hell’, and one of the best bottlings produced here is the rich, malty Oak Devil — named for the carved demon above the distillery’s arched doorway.
Glasgow’s Clydeside Distillery is a bespoke scotch experience
Whisky runs through Glasgow like the River Clyde itself. And the Clydeside Distillery is a celebration of the Scottish city’s lifeblood. Found at the Queen’s Dock, everything is done traditionally here: classic whisky-making techniques are employed to make exquisite new Clydeside Single Malt Scotch, and everything produced is distilled by hand.
Opened in 2017, the majestic stills can been seen from the river, housed in a vast glass-walled building. And the whisky bubbling away inside is just as impressive, once it distills down the swan neck and is bottled. A charming modern touch is how you buy the Clydeside’s whiskies; choose either Highland, Lowland or Islay, pick a bespoke designed label and personalise your bottle before you buy.
The Bimber Craft Distillery in West London has every spirit you could wish for
Another micro-distillery found in the capital, the Bimber Craft Distillery doesn’t exclusively pander to the usual gin-obsessed London crowd, and instead has turned its hand to almost every spirit under the sun. Perhaps the most confident, moon-shooting set-up on this list, Bimber churn out whiskies, rums, gins and vodka — and it does all very, very well.
Run by a pair of Polish emigres, the Acton-based distillery lay its first casks in 2016 — and last month it launched the first single-malt whisky to be produced in London for over a century. It’s a big step for Bimber, and an even more impressive milestone for micro-distilling as a whole.
The Liverpool Gin Distillery are masters of organic spirits
The company does what it says on the crystal clear bottle; it’s based in Liverpool and it makes gin. What isn’t immediately obvious, however, is the attention to detail this northern distiller gives to its craft. With gin distilled in modern versions of the Caterhead copper pot still, the organic spirit produced at the Liverpool Gin Distillery is one of the finest to be found in Britain.
The distillery, too, is a treat. The whole place has four floors, starting with a basement lounge where you can eat, before making your way up through the ground floor’s gin bar, first floor’s gin lab and second floor’s bartender school. By the time you leave you’ll be either very drunk or very knowledgable about gin — or, preferably, both…
Looking for little distilleries outside the city centre? Here are the best rural boutique distilleries in Britain…