Bimber Distillery: primed and ready

Dariusz Plazewski and Ewelina Chruszczyk emigrated from Poland to London in 2003 and now, just a few years later, their much-talked-about Bimber Distillery is poised to launch one of London’s first single malt whiskies.

Plazewski, the founder and master distiller, inherited his passion for whisky from his grandfather, who distilled his own spirits in Poland.

Plazewski’s dream of setting up his own whisky distillery came to fruition in 2015 when the couple chose the unlikely location of Park Royal in London as the place where Bimber would start its life. The first casks were laid down in 2016, ready to be launched this September.

For whisky enthusiasts it’s not a long time to wait but, for a business that needs to turn a profit after a hefty initial investment, the three- year maturation period – a stretch also marred by Brexit chaos – could be a tense one.

So how has the company managed to establish a strong following for its whiskies before the first bottles have even hit the shelves, and what might we see next?

Bimber wants to be known for its whisky, so much so that the team controls every step of the production process, from the farm where the barley is grown to the fermentation, distilling and blending stages.

Like many emerging whisky producers the team knew from the start that the company would have to spend the three-year waiting period wisely. As a consequence the Bimber portfolio now comprises an impressive collection of premium spirits.

This collection has been instrumental in establishing Bimber’s reputation because it shows creativity and a sense of bravery. The latest launch, as an example, is the UK’s first Da Hong Pao Tea gin, made using one of the world’s most expensive tea plants – rare, handpicked, organic oolong tea from Wuyi Mountain in China.

To make the gin Plazewski infused the semi- fermented and heavily oxidised tea with Bimber’s existing gin for one week before filtering and bottling at 51.8% abv. The bottle is designed by Chruszczyk and takes inspiration from an old pharmacy-style bottle, with a label representing Chinese traditions of herbal remedies.

It’s a bold move from the producer with the gin priced at a super-premium £38.75 for 50cl, but it’s not its first project. Bimber also has a range of flavoured vodkas made using a very small amount of sugar compared to other brands, and it has oak-aged vodkas and gins as well as the premium kumquat liqueur Fortunella. It is also one of the first to produce a London rum, using both pot and column stills.

All of this has helped tide the company over financially before its whisky launch, but it has also helped show the world what kinds of whiskies to expect: experimental, premium, bold and crafted using high-quality ingredients.

Making whisky is Plazewski’s dream but alongside him is sales director Farid Shawish, who is also passionate about the spirit and tells DRN: “We have our own on-site cooperage and we generally use new American oak.

“We also use our own yeast and we have our own bottling facilities. We have some casks we have charred ourselves and we generally do things differently. So, unlike other whisky producers, we ferment for a lot longer – seven days instead of two – which isn’t the most economical way of producing whisky because it means we have to wait a whole week before we can take the juice.

“We will have whisky aged in ex-bourbon, new oak, port and sherry barrels, and there will be some experiments and some peated whisky. We want to be known for our high-quality whisky and whisky that is different, because we are different in our approach.”

This summer the company is driving early interest in its whisky by opening entries to its Founders’ Club, and will release a limited number of private casks for members.

Shawish says the aim of the club is to build a community of people who “share our passion and want to be part of a distillery whose mission is to produce a true handcrafted whisky, made with care and traditional methods”.

He adds: “Our members will always be welcome for a chat, and their input will play an important part in shaping the future of Bimber Distillery.”

Members will receive their first, exclusive, cask-strength bottle of London single malt whisky in December. Then they will enjoy a further three special and rare releases, a tour of the distillery, a sample box and a 10% discount on online whisky purchases. Members can also buy their own 30-litre casks, hand-filled with either peated or non-peated new-make spirit, which will mature at the distillery for three years.

The intent to make a statement with a quality product is clear, and in terms of timing Bimber has done well to jump in as a contender in England’s growing domestic premium spirits industry. But what it does next could be important, potentially taking it from the position of niche and experimental distiller to one of London’s most important names in spirits production.

Shawish says: “We want to be the go-to whisky distillery in London. We want to create the ultimate craft whisky experience in London and also in the glass. We are looking for a new facility now, which will take us from 2,500sq ft to 20,000sq ft and it will be nearer to a station – probably not far from where we are here. But we want to take all of the best bits from some of the distilleries we have been to and pop this all down in London. It will be somewhere which anyone who likes whisky will find interesting and they won’t have to go to Scotland to see it all.

“In our new distillery we will be able to ramp up production but we will still do it in the same way. This year we will focus on our whisky and the oolong tea gin, and we may bring out another gin, which will also be premium.

“We want to have a strong English whisky sector and we want to help drive English whisky forward. It is an emerging category and we have the potential to have a New World whisky. Countries such as Japan and Australia are now establishing themselves as whisky-producing nations and hopefully England can also be known around the world.”

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