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Legal at last: a story of illicit gin

If you happen to be hanging around outside Harrods or Fortnum & Mason and spot a Leakbusters yellow and orange van, no need to fear the worst. It could be a plumber on call, but it’s more likely to be a plumber delivering gin to the famous Knightsbridge or Piccadilly stores. That’s right, gin: a new small-batch London Dry called Old Bakery Gin, and Harrods and Fortnums aren’t the only top retailers to have been drawn to it. The quality alone would be enough, but the story behind Old Bakery is an absolute gift. You couldn’t make it up.

Old Bakery Gin

I’ll get to the story in a moment, but for gin-lovers who want to get straight to what’s in the bottle, let me describe it. Old Bakery is ultra-smooth – almost lusciously smooth – with a clean, sappy, juniper aroma, fresh, sweet citrus notes, a floral top-note and delicate spice; 41.7% abv and perfectly balanced in my view.

Tuscan juniper

Ian Puddick, the man behind it, says the smoothness comes from the high quality of the neutral grain spirit base and the juniper berries – fresh berries from Tuscany. There are only four botanicals, which are cold-steeped (the slower way of drawing out their flavours), and he uses bottled water to reduce the strength to the chosen 41.7% abv – no thanks to Thames Water who quoted £64,000 to supply the water and necessary plant. There are four miniature stills (for now – see below) and everything is done by hand, including bottling by Leakbusters’ plumbers, labelling and sealing the bottles with eye-catching yellow wax. They can do batches of no more than 30 bottles at a time.

Ian Puddick

The visionary behind Old Bakery Gin, Ian Puddick, doing the day-job that pays for the distilling business (for now anyway)

Back to the story. In 2013 Ian Puddick bought some run-down properties in a cobbled mews in Palmers Green, North London as premises for his leak detection company. In the second half of the 19th century and first decade of the 20th, the buildings had housed a bakery with a 200-foot brick chimney, the bakery’s grain store and stables. The chimney, sadly, is no more – even reduced to 140 foot, it was unsafe – but it was while Puddick was dealing with a legal dispute over the chimney (wrongly stated in the land registry as belonging to a neighbouring property) that the history of illegal gin distilling emerged – gin distilling on an industrial scale by a dodgy Arthur Daley character.

Wouldn't it be cool

It was when Puddick was sitting in his office about three months later, looking around, wondering where exactly the gin could have been distilled, that he suddenly thought, “how cool” it would be to make gin in his office. It was the fun aspect that appealed to him, but he was soon a man with a mission. First he tracked down the family descendants of the illegal gin distiller to get the recipe from them, which revealed the four botanicals but not the proportions, and then he set about learning how to make gin.

Not that the learning was a very sophisticated business in the end. He started by looking up craft gin-makers and contacting them to ask if he could make a paying visit to see how things were done. Every one of them refused. Eventually someone pointed out to Puddick that, for all their craft and artisan claims, they were having their gins made for them by big distillers. So, he turned to the teacher of the modern age: youtube videos.

2 orignials and new still

George, plumber and distiller, standing between two of the four copper mini-stills and the new soon-to-be-operational 400-litre still

Legal at last

Next step was “a toy still” bought on Ebay, so that he and Ron, his Dad (now Master Distiller pictured on the Old Bakery label), could start experimenting with different botanicals, sources, proportions, strengths, infusion methods and so on. At the same time, there were all the legalities and authorities to sort out – HMRC, Trading Standards, Food Hygiene Agency – none of whom talked to each other. Eventually Ian resorted to consulting a licensing barrister (£500 an hour plus vat) and by the end of November 2016 he had his licence. Old Bakery Gin was legal for the first time. It also had its first major customer, top seafood restaurant Randall & Aubyn, which was a tad awkward because the restaurant was listing it and insisting Ian supply it before he had his licence or even an Old Bakery Gin bank account. He’d dropped off a couple of bottles to get an opinion of his gin, not to get it catapulted on to the list.

Old Bakery Gin

Next steps

The Puddicks have taken delivery of a new 400-litre commercial distillery, which will be up and running in the next two months and will yield 1000 bottles. It’ll mean employing someone to do bottling, labeling and sealing. In theory, there’s room for one more 400-litre still, so they could get to 2000 bottles per run… eventually. As Ian puts it: “It’s much more fun than plumbing.” I bet his Dad agrees.

Where to buy it

£40 (50cl), £17 (20cl)

£36.95–£40.95 (50cl), Harrods, Fortnum & Mason, Gerry’s Wines & Spirits, Ginhaus Deli (Llandeilo), The Juniper Club, Majestic Wine stores in north London

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