Now in its third year, the 2015 London Craft Distilling Expo opened its doors this last October to a throng of attendees from around the world. Exhibitors and visitors travelled from locations as diverse and distant as China, Tasmania, South Africa and Eastern Europe. Their destination was the disused boiler house of an old brewery set on a narrow street in the trendy East Central district of London. For a few days the old Truman Brewery came alive with the new spirit of the craft distilling movement.
Their reasons for visiting the Expo were as different as the people themselves. Some came to learn. Others came to sell products or find solutions for the needs of their growing distilleries. Many came for the camaraderie and the opportunity to taste a wide array of craft produced spirits. If all the attendees shared only one thing in common, it was their excitement for the worldwide growth of craft distilling.
For those who came to learn, there were plenty of opportunities. Lecture halls were set up on opposite sides of the convention. Presentations in each hall ranged from a discussion of the laws and duties that affect the export and import of spirits, to the chemical effects of botanicals on an individual’s taste buds and the subtleties of distilling an elegant apple brandy. In one hands-on presentation, gin enthusiasts even had the opportunity to mix their own individual gins.
During a break from one of her well-attended gin lectures, Dr. Anne Brock, who holds a PhD in organic chemistry and is a highly-respected gin distiller, talked about her path to the world of craft distilling. She said, “ I had a slightly convoluted career course. I didn’t go directly to a university. I spent four years as a bartender. I then went for a chemistry degree, and during my undergraduate years, I was also running the college bar. My academic life and my bartending life came together in distilling.”
Speaking of the craft-distilling movement, she said, “I think that opening all of these small distilleries is incredible and it’s making so many jobs for people.”
One of the visitors who came to hear lecturers like Brock’s was Malcolm Bucholtz, an educator who runs Prohibition University in Saskatchewan, Canada. He came to the Craft Distilling Expo to learn more. He says there aren’t many educational opportunities in Canada. He thinks this may be the only five-day hands-on course in the country, but there is still room for him to learn. When asked about his work, Bucholtz said, “I’m looking to educate people because I don’t want them to fail because they don’t have the experience.”
Included in the manufacturers who recognized the importance of appearing at the convention was the prestigious still manufacturing firm Forsyth. While Forsyth’s representative, Derek Johnson, acknowledged that although craft distilling was on a slightly different scale than Forsyth’s biggest project, a 36-still, 15,000,000 liter per year project for Scotland’s Macallan Whisky, he said that emerging markets for craft spirits are appearing around the globe in such places as Russia, the Far East, China and Brazil.
Many of the vendors had developed services or products that specifically targeted the craft distilling movement. Across the hall, Michael, a representative at Still Dragon, offered a still of an entirely different type. He said, “We offer a modular distilling concept so that craft distillers have easier access to the craft distilling market. You can start small and the equipment can grow with you. You don’t have to jump in with a huge production still.”
Nearby, Scott Allen of Allen Associates, a Scottish chemical-engineering firm, said, “We’re chemical engineers who work with all of the big distillers in Scotland. We recognize that craft distilling is a growing market. So, we wanted to come along and show craft distillers what we could do.”
His comments were echoed throughout the show. Whether they made labels, bottles, capsules, or provided other services, all of the vendors whose products were on display at the Expo were there because the craft market is growing and it is an important market.
Finally, as education and commerce slowed for the day, the Expo offered camaraderie and tastings. Who could turn away from the opportunity for some friendly talk with distillers from around the world, and the chance to sample a few examples from an incredible variety of some 30 gins or other spirits that graced the afternoon tasting bar?
Come October 2016, the London Craft Distilling Expo will return to the Old Truman Brewery. It promises to be even bigger and more exciting than this year.