In the original Savoy Cocktail Book over 100 recipes used Absinthe.....
London’s first Absinthe distillery, Devil’s Botany founded by Allison Crawbuck and Rhys Everett was one of the big hits in July 2022.
Absinthe is a category surrounded by myth, ritual and history, making it the perfect spirit of choice for their cocktail bar The Last Tuesday Society located within The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & UnNatural History in East London.
How did you come to open London's first Absinthe distillery?
The journey began when we opened our bar The Last Tuesday Society. The setting really lent itself to the category of Absinthe and so it started from there.
Back in 2016 when we started selling absinthe at our bar, we didn’t know much about absinthe beyond the myths and legends but the more we learnt the more we were hooked. In a short time we were visiting producers in France and Switzerland and importing directly some of the smaller producers not available in the UK and we acquired the biggest list of Absinthes in the UK.
Brexit put an end to importing as it has become so much more difficult but during our research we found that an application had been submitted in London to build a distillery in the 1900s but it never happened.
We felt if anyone is going to open a London absinthe distillery it had to be us so we set to it!
And when did the idea turn into action?
When the bar was closed during the first lockdown we got started. We applied for a rectifier’s licence and started with a 2.5ltr still in our kitchen.
That developed and we got the keys to our distillery with a 150ltr still named Pepper, named after the English botanist Nicholas Culpeper’s on November 2nd 2020.
Three days later we went into another lockdown!
And what was the first product you launched?
We started with Devil’s Botany London Absinthe. With our bar background, we wanted a clear, less bitter and versatile spirit using locally available ingredients.
An example of this would be meadowsweet which has been used to sweeten alcohol for hundreds of years and grows around the Walthamstow and Hackney Marshes and has a lovely almond aroma.
We don’t forage ingredients as we don’t want to affect local ecosystems and buy from sustainable suppliers but as a producer I think it’s important to know how your ingredients present themselves naturally. For example Elderflower in the morning is beautifully fragrant but in the afternoon has an aroma of a cat’s wee!
You were very popular at Cocktails In The City in the summer, are people receptive to Absinthe in general?
People are really interested in the category, the fountain, the rituals and the history all brings intrigue to the spirit and this is what we originally bought into.
Now we are focussed on getting people to think about Absinthe in more modern ways. Aperitifs and botanical spirits are very dynamic categories and Absinthe can be described in both these terms.
Do people question the London element of the brand? It's always been associated with the French and Swiss?
Although the first registered Absinthe Distillery opened in Switzerland in 1797 in Couvet we found an earlier recipe for Absinthe made in a London Apothecary from 1719 and this recipe was the inspiration for our Absinthe Regalis.
Do you have any tips for other small brands or business owners?
We have found collaborations with other like-minded businesses have been great for raising awareness of the brand and are fun to do. Our partnership with the new Soho Bar Thin White Duke at Cocktails In The City worked really well as we share a lot of the same values.
We’ve done collabs with craft beer producers and a recent one with East London Liquor Company and their London Rye Whisky to make a Chocolate Absinthe Sazerac for the coming winter months.
We tend to find the customers of these businesses who are interested in craft, small producers etc respond well to Devil’s Botany.
As a couple running a business together with a small child how do you balance your personal and work life?
It’s definitely true it would be easier to take a pay cheque from someone else and forget about your work at the end of the day but we are both very passionate about what we do and enjoy the work.
We do consciously take time to remind ourselves what it’s all for and try to celebrate everything we’ve achieved as it’s easy to focus on all the stuff you would like to do with more time and more money. We have self-funded the whole process and so we are the producers, marketers, HR and everything else you need to run the business.
Nearly every bar has a bottle of Absinthe on it but you only see it being used in Sazerac and maybe a Corpse Reviver No.2.
The Savoy Cocktail Book had over 100 recipes with Absinthe and we hope that bars and consumers will continue discovering the many ways in which Absinthe can be enjoyed.