Discovering the secret to the perfect local G&T at Jensen's Bermondsey Gin.
Master Distiller Dr Anne Brock and brand ambassador Hannah Lanfear of have been based under the arches, just by Maltby Street Market, for a few years now, yet they are utterly hooked on 'forgotten' gin, its local history and the evolution of SE1. We discover the secret to a good G&T, where to find one and why London Bridge remains one of their favourite spots in London.
LBN: Anne, can you tell us about how you became a distiller in the first place?
AB: Serendipity! I did a degree and PHD in organic chemistry, so distilling was a tool I used on a daily basis. Before I went to university as a mature student I spent four years working in pubs and bars full time, so I had a background in drinks. Towards the end of my degree, I was really struggling to work out what I wanted to do. I was at a wedding and a friend said to me, “the only other chemist I’ve ever met was a gin distiller” and a little light went on and I thought, I could do that! So I began researching the industry and in particular gin. As the micro-distilling world was starting to explode I started writing to gin companies asking for any job they could give me so I could learn about gin. Christian Jensen replied saying he was looking for a gin distiller and here I am.
LBN: What is it about gin that people are back in love with? Is it nostalgia? The independent distilleries? Taste? Good recipes?
HF: Gin has a very rich and wonderful history and a story that is synonymous with British history and London history in particular. A lot is down to the fact that gin is very flavoursome and I think that we are eking some of the vodka drinkers on to a more flavoursome way of drinking.
We’ve converted a lot of people who used to say “No we don’t like gin” to “oh I quite like that.” I think people are starting to realise that gin doesn’t have to come with piney bitter or sweet tonic. You can drink it with different mixers and in cocktails or on its own - a great gin is a wonderful quality product. I think that people are discovering that more and more.
AB: Most of my friends said that they didn’t like gin when I became a gin distiller, and now are drinking gin. What they meant really was that they didn’t like cheap gin and cheap tonic.
HF: Fever Tree tonic is fantastic because it has a neutral flavour for a tonic water - it is a very good showcase tonic for a gin. Originally it was designed by Charles Rolls ex-Plymouth Gin. He was looking for a tonic that would suit Plymouth Gin much better, something that didn’t completely overwhelm the gin.
AB: There’s a symbiosis - the more interesting gins out there the more the need for a decent tonic.
LBN: ‘Gin as it should be’ – could you elaborate on that statement? What should gin be?
HL: That statement was very much a nod to the fact that when we first established, and when Christian first began making gin, he was trying to emulate bottles of vintage gin he was collecting. These gins had a delicacy, a balance and a smoothness, that pre-1980s gins didn’t have. The more he collected gin made by independent distillers in London, the more he found them to be another world in terms of quality. So ‘gin as it should be’ is a little nod to the lost and forgotten style of gin.
LBN: Old Tom is definitely a favourite of ours, can you tell us why the distillery is reviving ‘forgotten gins’?
HL: We often have to wean people on to the Old Tom because they don’t really see Old Tom as a drinkable gin. It’s a lost style of gin, and it’s hard to get it into a drink sometimes. After people have tried it though they want it in every cocktail or gin and tonic.
It is our best seller which is a wonderful statistic for us because it is very unusual for a gin company to sell one of their more esoteric styles as their best seller. It is interesting to see how we are being seen as the makers of unsweetened Old Tom gin. Ours is as historically accurate as we can get it.
AB: We say that ours is historically accurate because we have an old recipe book that we use. There was a gin in 1840 called Old Tom and we make it to that recipe. Other people are making Old Tom but sweetened, ours isn’t.
LBN: What is it about SE1 that excites you? Has it changed much over the years?
HL: Christian settled here when he moved to London. He was involved in gin history and immersed himself in books about gin and the distillers of London. He discovered that Southwark was the original home of Gordon’s so for him it was about reviving the gin making tradition in the area.
AB: I also live in Bermondsey. I love the area, it’s great. It has fantastic restaurants, shops and bars, it’s central London - you couldn’t get more central really.
LBN: Can you reveal you favourite spots in the area?
AB: Bar Tozino!
HL: For us it’s difficult to get past Bar Tozino because it’s the nearest place, and does jamón & sherry, and we are big sherry drinkers.
AB: The vermouth & soda, black rice and Padrón peppers are also great.
HL: Occasionally we go a little bit further to St John for wonderful wine and small plates.
AB: Even further than that, we sometimes go to 40 Maltby Street.
HL: But then sometimes we get up to Bermondsey Street where there are some great cocktail bars. We head up to The Hide – one of our favourite places.
LBN: Where can we find the best gin martinis in the area?
HL: Well The Hide is great - they make really lovely martinis and were one of the first to stock Jensen’s.
Gong bar at The Shard is fantastic and Call Me Mr Lucky make brilliant drinks. Making a good martini is such a simple thing to do, but still, there are only ten places in London that I would consider having one. It has to be perfectly executed.
LBN: So what is the perfect execution?
HL: Balance between it being perfectly cold, perfectly diluted, and still having the texture of the gin. Execution is everything from frozen glass wear to cold olives, it is all about the execution.
LBN: Which SE1 bars and restaurants serve Jensen’s?
HL: Restaurant Story, Shangri-La, Kings Arms.
AB: B Street Deli, The Grange, Village East.
LBN: What do you think is in store for the London Bridge area?
AB: It’s going to be really interesting when London Bridge Station is fully rebuilt.
HL: It’ll become a much more polished area. Soho is no longer the be-all-and-end-all of London, and you can go out in places like Shoreditch or Stoke Newington quite happily. Bermondsey has always had a strong F&B culture, but it’s not always had the complete package. It hasn’t always been able to offer everything people want but soon enough you’ll never need to go north of the river.
It’s fantastic to see the grass roots of the food & beverage movement in the area. It could have gone a bit more luxury but the history, such as these arches, keep businesses like ours interesting. It would be a terrible shame in Bermondsey went super posh, but I don’t think that’ll happen though.