Email Burtons Blooms to order

Greenwich: How a bottle of Greenwich Gin contains a journey all around the world

We talk to Gonzalo Ruiz about creating a spirit with consensus inspired by the prime meridian

Greenwich Gin’s Gonzalo Ruiz – image Matt Grayson

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

Greenwich Gin is a coming together in many different senses.

Its creator, Gonzalo Ruiz, first began distilling botanicals at his home at Royal Arsenal Riverside as a lockdown project.    

“Since I was born I’ve always been moving around,” he said. “I’m originally from Colombia but I’ve lived in Canada, in the USA, in Switzerland, in Hong Kong, Germany and now here.

“The person that I am is a mix of all of the places where I’ve lived and, in many of them, I’ve picked up on specific flavours and cuisines. I’ve always been a gin lover, so I thought I would try to distil some of these botanicals and see what happened.

“I spent about a year and half playing with my two-litre copper still, trying dozens and dozens of ingredients. I found that while many work really well on their own, they don’t mix.

“So it’s trial and error – there’s no scientific explanation for why a combination of flavours work together. It was often a frustrating process, but eventually I narrowed it down to a selection of botanicals where I was happy with the result.” 

Having come up with the recipe, Gonzalo thought the resulting spirit would contribute something different to the ever growing gin market.

So he set about scaling up production and creating a brand that would do justice to the liquid in the bottle.

“The name of the gin has a lot to do with the prime meridian, which enabled navigation around the world,” he said.

“But there’s a subtlety about Greenwich, which is often overlooked – to me it’s a really nice detail. Unlike the equator, which is the physical middle of the Earth – something nobody can dispute – the prime meridian could really be anywhere.

“So the whole world has to agree where it is. All the countries had to come together and make a decision for the greater good – to decide that time would begin in Greenwich – the place where west and east separate.

“The concept of the world coming together for something is reflected in the gin. The gold line down the middle of the bottle symbolises the prime meridian.”

Greenwich Gin is inspired by consensus – image Matt Grayson

Inspired by the spirit of consensus reached at the International Meridian Conference in 1884, Gonzalo’s recipe is all about diverse ingredients working together to achieve something greater than themselves. 

“I describe the flavour as an ocean journey around the world,” he said. “There are always the marine botanicals in the background – Atlantic dulse and kombu kelp from the Celtic Sea and sea fennel from the British Isles. The first two grow in the ocean and provide that backdrop.

“There are traditional botanicals found in many gins too such as bitter orange, coriander, juniper and angelica.

“Then the world botanicals I’ve hand-picked from across the globe – some are dry, some are sweet – they help give the gin peaks of flavour as you drink it.

“As much as it is a local gin, created in Greenwich and produced in Kent, it is a global spirit that ties back to my personal story. It brings all those world flavours and cuisines together.

“I’ve sourced many of the botanicals directly from people around the world that I have a connection with.

“There’s a map on the bottle that shows where they come from. Balsam fir, for example, comes from the Canadian arboreal forest and there’s a family who actually live among the trees and ship the fir tips that they forage every spring, to us.

“There’s lime from Mexico and lulo, which is a tropical fruit from Colombia. It’s really acidic – you can’t really eat it on its own, but people use it to flavour desserts and juices and now I use it to flavour gin.

“That’s why you get a citrus flavour that’s a bit more on the tropical side.

“We also use sustainably sourced tonka beans and pink pepper from the Amazon in Brazil and sakura from Japan, which are the cherry blossoms. Their floral flavour is very subtle and brings a touch of spring into the gin.”

Greenwich Gin at Royal Arsenal Riverside – image Matt Grayson

Balancing the input of these diverse ingredients was tough enough during development and Gonzalo discovered that scaling up production threw up new challenges. 

“It was almost like starting over, but more expensive because the quantities are greater,” he said. “You’d think you’d just multiply the original recipe but there are so many variables.

“I haven’t started a distillery as that’s a big investment, but I found a family business in Kent that allows me to be very hands on.

“First we scaled up to 50 litres, which was difficult and then to 200, which was slightly easier. In the end we’ve got something that’s close enough to the original and it’s in time for the Christmas season.”

That final period of development provided yet another opportunity for the theme of consensus to emerge.

“When you treat something as a business, you treat it differently – it’s no longer a hobby,” said Gonzalo. “You’re trying to balance your prices with the quality of your product. 

“One of the things I struggled with when developing a recipe, was that you might create something that’s perfect for you, but it might not be what most people want.

“I had to make some compromises on that, more towards the end.

“While we were doing the final scaling, we had a lot of blind tastings with other people and I tweaked the recipe in a way that maybe I wouldn’t have if it had just been for me.

“But people found it pleasing – they enjoyed some of the botanicals we’ve included more, so we’ve brought them a little more into the foreground.

“It’s all about finding balance. If I were to describe the flavour in one word, it would be ‘fresh’. But the great thing about this gin is that the taste is not homogeneous, it’s a journey.

“You start on the citrus side and then get peaks of intriguing flavours. On the finish you get spice from the tonka beans and the pink pepper.

“Creating the branding has also been very hard – bringing together work by freelancers with my own additions to represent the spirit.”

Greenwich Gin is available online as well as at select retailers in the borough including the Old Royal Naval College and Royal Museums Greenwich.

Miniatures cost £6 while 50cl and 70cl bottles cost £32 and £39.50 respectively. 

Gonzalo is also often to be found selling the spirit at weekends at Greenwich Market.

Read more: Hawksmoor opens up in Canary Wharf

Read e-editions of Wharf Life’s print edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

Subscribe To Wharf Life

Greenwich: How the Art Of Zero Living brings sustainable products to shoppers

Store in Greenwich Market stocks more than 400 eco-friendly lines with no plastic packaging

Art Of Zero Living founders Justas Kanapeckas and Vita Viskackaite
Art Of Zero Living’s Justas Kanapeckas and Vita Viskackaite – image Matt Grayson

Vita Viskackaite and Justas Kanapeckas would love you to bring your own containers when you visit their shop in Greenwich Market. But if you don’t it’s no bother. The Art Of Zero Living is as ready to serve curious passers-by just as any convenience store would. But it does it without resorting to single-use plastic.

Opened two months ago, the shop carries more than 400 product lines – all carefully selected by the couple to meet their exacting environmental standards – including 240 kinds of food with 85% certified as organic. 

how did you come to start the Art Of Zero Living? 

Vita: It was born during the pandemic, when we were at home for eight months doing nothing, and we couldn’t shop zero waste, because there was nothing around, so we decided it was the perfect time to start something.

I was working at Itsu in the logistics department as a supply chain coordinator.

Justas: I’d been working in a restaurant as a manager for the last 10 years, so I’m from a retail and hospitality background and Vita knew about supply and logistics, but retail was new for us.

One morning over coffee – we’d already watched a lot of Netflix – and we said, as we were locked at home, we should use the time for something.

The storefront in Greenwich Market – image Matt Grayson

where did you find inspiration?

Justas: We’d read a book by Bea Johnson, who coined the term Zero Waste. We’d always been into nature and, because we have a daughter, we thought it was important to work on that area.

Vita: Bea gave me a kick up the arse. Her ideas had already pushed me to make changes – we refused to buy food in single-use plastic packaging, but during the pandemic we were forced to go back and buy it, because we didn’t have anywhere to buy it locally in Greenwich. When you’re purchasing this stuff every day, you don’t realise – you think it’s normal. 

But when you start living a different lifestyle and then you have to go back, you realise that it isn’t at all.

Food products ready to be dispensed into containers – image Matt Grayson

what will people find in the shop?

Vita: High quality, natural, sustainable food and other products – absolutely nothing that has chemicals in it.

It’s all about being able to trace each product from the beginning to the end of the supply chain. We can provide all the information customers need and we believe in organic food and use all the products ourselves. I’m happy to stand by every single one – if we didn’t like it, we wouldn’t sell it.

Justas: We’ve done eight months of homework and we’re still doing it if we decide to bring in a new line.

Customers can buy as much or as little as they like because the things we sell are mostly not pre-packed. We try to eliminate as much packaging as possible. 

Of course, for first-time buyers we provide paper bags and containers free of charge. We live this lifestyle so we know how to encourage people.

The shop also sells many non-food products – image Matt Grayson

how does it work?

Vita: We explain that to everyone who comes through the door for the first time. Either people go back home and get their jars and containers, or use our bags.

I remember my first time shopping in such a store – it’s very strange if you’re used to a supermarket. You’re afraid to drop the beans or that you might put something in the wrong place, because it’s complete freedom for you to help yourself.

But nobody should worry – we’re always there to advise customers that it’s fine, that they can make a mess and it’s normal. The shop is designed for this. Then they laugh and we make them feel welcome. We want Greenwich to know that we exist, because we are affordable. We said that we were not going to be expensive, even though we are organic. People should be able to afford this food and bring their own containers.

Justas: We’ve had Australians come to our shop – many of them – and they’ve said shops like this are on every corner in their country and wonder why it’s not like that in the UK. We are the first shop like this in Greenwich.

how would you like to develop the brand in future?

Vita: Business is getting better and better – we knew that at the beginning it was going to be very hard.

No-one made a shop work in two or three months, it takes time – one year, maybe two – we don’t know. But this is our idea, it’s our lifestyle and it comes from the bottom of our hearts, so we’re going to fight for it.

Justas: One of the good things is that everyone can buy from us, because they are not forced to buy a lot. We have literally had people spending 83p on nuts or some pasta.

I hope this shop will bring us more attention in general, and maybe we’ll start a bigger project, perhaps open a few more or maybe teach kids in schools – that would be nice. It’s not only business, it’s spreading a message.

Read e-editions of Wharf Life’s print edition here

Subscribe to our regular newsletter here

Subscribe To Wharf Life

Stratford: Doreen’s Jamaican Homemade Rum Cakes on expansion and spirit

How chef Jackie Christian is celebrating her mother’s legacy in Greenwich and Hackney

Jackie Christian, co-founder of Doreen’s Jamaican Homemade Rum Cakes – image Matt Grayson

It would probably take something the length of a novel to do justice to Jackie Christian’s story. The Stratford resident, working with her sister Natalie Walker, is the driving force behind Doreen’s Jamaican Homemade Rum Cakes, which have been delivering sweetness and generous levels of Wray And Nephew overproof spirit to the mouths of Londoners for the past six years.

“Our mum, Doreen, always cooked these amazing dinners for family and friends,” said Jackie.

“She’d also make rum cake and banana bread and, because I was the second eldest, she’d get me to help out doing bits and pieces around the kitchen when I was a teenager.

“Because of that, I wanted to become a chef so I went on a catering course – you did six months in college and six months working in the industry.

“So when I was 17, my first job was working at the Mayfair Hotel with Gordon Ramsay – he was my boss and that was the start of my career. After my training, I was called into the office – I was wondering what I’d done because Gordon was in there. But they said: ‘We love the way you work and we’re going to save you a job here’.

“I was amazed, so I went back to college, finished my course and started at the Mayfair, working as an a la carte chef. From there I went to L’Escargot in Soho – I loved it so much – and then to Fred’s Club, which was on three floors and for the rich and famous. We had Boy George, Neneh Cherry – all the celebrities.”

After years working long hours at the top of the London restaurant scene, Jackie and her husband decided to start a family and she stepped away from the industry.

“I have to be proud of myself because I’ve had a tough time,” said Jackie. “I lost my husband to a heart attack out of the blue when my son was five. We lost our mum and, just recently, our sister but I know that they’re watching – they are our angels.”

It was inspiration while thinking about her mother that led Jackie’s life to change direction again. Having forged a successful career in contract catering, Jackie had hit an impasse. She was happy to be cooking, but bored by the repetitive nature of the work.

“Someone asked to buy a cake from me and I was looking at Ma’s picture. That was the time I decided to continue her work. She used to make rum cakes with me and then give them away to neighbours and friends. If you got one it meant you were a bit special because of the love that goes into baking one. So I resigned from my job and decided to go for it, just working from my home in Stratford.”

Rum soaked fruit as part of the baking process – image Matt Grayson

Born in London after her mother emigrated from Jamaica, Jackie uses a recipe passed down through at least three generations for her signature product, soaking fruit in overproof 63% ABV Wray And Nephew white rum before partially blending it and adding more rum as the other ingredients are folded in by hand.

“By using this spirit I’m preserving the theme as well as sticking to the original recipe,” said Jackie. “Before the pandemic, I would go to Jamaica once a year, buy the rum and bring back the sunshine to England to bake into the cakes.

“It’s about telling the story of our mother to our customers and letting them try the cake. I had no idea if this would work as a business in the beginning but it has. It’s not a cheap cake to make.

“You need to soak the fruit for ever in the rum – I have a big barrel for that. Mummy didn’t like it whole so we blend it until it’s like a chunky puree, add the other ingredients and bake the cake. 

“Each one takes about three or four hours in the oven and then we put more rum on it and leave it to soak and infuse.”

Jackie’s rum cakes are made by hand using her mother’s recipe and generous quantities of the spirit – image Matt Grayson

Having started with a regular stall at Greenwich Market, Doreen’s has built up a significant following in the borough allowing Jackie and Natalie to expand the business to Bohemia Place Market in Hackney.

Lockdown saw online sales start up too and Jackie got the keys to a commercial kitchen in Woolwich, which will allow her to grow production and take on staff to assist.

“We got the unit at Thames-Side Studios in October last year,” said Jackie. “Now I can get a team in because it’s just been Natalie and me. I’ve always had management roles when working in contract catering, so I know how to lead a team. You have to treat people with so much respect. No job defines a person. 

“When I employ someone to wash up, I wash up with them. If they’re the last one to leave, I’ll stop whatever I’m doing and help – we’ll grab the brooms and mops and clean together.

“Lots of people have asked me to take on work in the past and now I can accept more. People need to know what real rum cake tastes like – hand crafted as a labour of love.

“What feels good is when a customer tells me that my cake reminds me of their mother’s – it makes me cry and then they cry too. 

“It’s happiness – because that means I’ve smashed it with my mother’s generation and now we’re starting to capture the younger people too.

“They say they’ve never had it, then after a sample, they’re hooked. It is tough – we get so busy that I don’t get a rest. Sometimes it’s an eight-day-a-week business.

“But when you see reactions and responses from the customers you feel so good. That’s when I know I’m doing this right. That love feels amazing. 

“My mum gave me the inspiration to become a chef and to start this business, and this is giving that love back to our customers.”

As well as offering Doreen’s classic rum cake in a variety of sizes and shapes – all of which should last a long time on the shelf thanks to the high levels of rum within, the business also sells a vegan version.

Also available are Jamaican rum truffle brownies, stem ginger and chocolate brownies, lemon and coconut muffins and Appleton Estate rum sponge cakes made with a darker, spiced spirit. 

Orders can be placed online or the various products can be found and (frequently) tasted at Greenwich and Bohemia Place markets.

Read e-editions of Wharf Life’s print edition here

Subscribe to our regular newsletter here

Subscribe To Wharf Life