London’s appreciation of a good cocktail can easily be traced back to 1891, but right now the craft resurgence is at a new high point: solid offerings continue to pop up across the metropolitan with an array of well-made classic and neo-classic drinks. And few represent the care and concern going into cocktail making quite like Hoxton’s White Lyan cocktail bar. This pristine, minimal venue—helmed by celebrated bartender Ryan Chetiyawardana—offers something you won’t find anywhere else: their own proprietary spirits. These branded house spirits are made specifically for and purchased directly from distillers, to White Lyan’s specifications. The white spirits, in particular, are completely unique. But even their whiskey is blended and diluted with White Lyan’s own water.
Chetiyawardana’s vision meant quality control on all possible elements. “We knew we wanted to use our water,” he explains to CH, “so that was a crucial difference too.” Water is a defining factor in spirits production and to make a good cocktail, one must first start out with the best spirit possible. To take cocktail creation to that level, many individuals in White Lyan’s sphere stepped up. “Over the years, lots of relationships were formed where people were very keen to do something very ‘different’ with us. When it came to White Lyan, I called all these favors in as there was finally a project where there were no boundaries or stakeholders to answer to, and thankfully, all of them said yes.” Chetiyawardana says. “When we told them the concept they loved the idea, so we just spiraled from there.” The project took three years to bring to fruition, but the team notes that it took many more years of previous relationship building for something like this to even get off the ground.
As for customer reaction, Chetiyawardana notes that “They don’t always notice. We took away a lot of the standard pillars of a bar—including brands—to try and encourage guests to choose according to mood or their own genuine taste rather than marketing. Others love it. Some were worried we were undercutting quality but when you taste the products, I’d say we have some of the best around—and many attest to that too.” All the cocktails are premixed and bottled. That means you won’t see cocktail shakers, or even ice—the drinks have been refrigerated. You also won’t find a perishable item. It’s all about preparation—and it pays off.
Coupling those spirits with innovative recipes leads to a unique cocktail experience. While at White Lyan we imbibed a few new favorites. The “Civil Serve” featuring vermouth delivers a bit of (blueberry) vinegar to the nose, with elderflower immediately on the palate. It’s a sweet, dry finish that abates quickly. White Lyan’s “Pillow Manhattan” is a more subtle, less sweet and less fussy contemporary take on the classic rye concoction. There’s no citrus and no flourish—it’s more like what you’d want in your hip flask. Perhaps their most literal drink, the “Salad” tastes much like a refreshing garden medley and sports their own gin, lettuce, Herbes de Provence and a little red apple soda. Regardless of guest selection, it’s a one-of-a-kind experience.
White Lyan is located at 153-155 Hoxton St., London N1 6PJ and is open seven days a week from 6PM to late.
Lead image and Chetiyawardana portrait by Jason Bailey, other images courtesy of White Lyan