Two brands are credited for the resurgence in British distilling, and one in particular broke a 189 year run and became the first copper-pot based distillery to start-up in London back in 2009 (Beefeater being the last in 1820). So how did Sipsmith come to break this, and more importantly, become a staple in many a bar?
Sipsmith is the brain child between three gentleman – Sam Galsworthy and Fairfax Hall, respectively former Fuller’s and Diageo employees. and Jared Brown who is the Sipsmith Master Distiller. Building from scratch, they utilised former whisky and beer writer Michael Jackson’s former residence in Hammersmith, L0ndon and ordered themselves a copper pot still designed by Germany’s oldest distillery producers, Christian Carl (a family business who have been in the industry since 1869). Naming the still ‘Prudence’, it became multi-functional with the design combining a pot with a carter head and a column still, thus allowing them to create and produce both vodka and gin from the same still. ‘Prudence’ also gave birth to the swan motif that adorns each bottle of Sipsmith. It’s in reference to the ‘swan’s neck’ pipe located on top of the still that diverts the spirit vapour away to the condenser.
Being part of an elite group of London distillers (Beefeater Gin Distillery, Thames Distillers, Sacred Microdistillery and The London Distillery Company being the only others), Sipsmith had high hopes for a bright start, until they realised that their distillery roof sloped and therefore could not actually fit ‘Prudence’ in. Looking past that slight inconvenience and much impromptu renovating, they moved onto the task of sorting out London’s first distiller’s licence in nearly two decades. As the Government had not written a distillers licence for a while (189 years), the process had to be written all over again. All good and well, until it was granted and then realised that it had been date stamped with a year ahead.
Perseverance! So how do Sipsmith create their two different spirits?
Sipsmith is created in small batches, usually just a few hundred bottles a time. A base spirit is produced that they then distill once to produce the vodka. Some of the product is then re-distilled to make the gin (the still is always cleaned before starting again).
The base spirit is poured into the copper still, which can hold up to 300 litres, and then heated. The vapours rise and travel through the swan’s neck, then condensing and fall down into the cooling chamber where it turns back into a liquid. It’s held for a short time and then heated once more before passing through the condenser and becoming liquid again. It then sits in the spirit safe where it is ‘cut’. This means the removing of the initial product (named the head) and the end of the product (the tail) which are both of poor quality. The middle is kept (the heart) and it’s pure enough that it doesn’t need to be filtered. 40% of the heart is kept, diluted with pure water from Lydwell Spring in the Cotswolds, and bottled to become their vodka. The remaining 60% goes on to make the gin.
The ten botanicles – juniper, coriander, angelica, liquorice, orris root, almond, cassia bark, cinnamon, orange peel and lemon peel, that Sipsmith use for their gin are left overnight in the pot still at 75 degrees so that they can release their flavours. Once released, it makes the journey though the still but bypasses the distillation column. Once in the spirit safe, the liquid is cut to remove the heads and tails, and the remaining heart blended with the Lydwell Spring water and then bottled. Sipsmith creates one of the only gins in the world that uses the traditional ‘one-shot’ method instead of the usual concentrate. This nods to the times of the original days where there were ease in distilling and no ‘flashy’ botanicals.
So how does Sipsmith fare? Well below, I give to you my tasting notes on their range -
Sipsmith London Dry Gin – 41.6%
Distilled using 10 botanicles – Juniper, Coriander, Angelica, Liquorice, Orris Root, Almond, Cassia Bark, Cinnamon, Orange Peel and Lemon Peel. On the nose it gives off a soft floral scent with a fresh citrus and slight juniper note. The palate enjoyed the sweetness of the Seville orange, with a hit of juniper to follow. It led to a dry finish with a slight kick of spice at the end.
Sipsmith Barley Vodka – 40%
The nose enjoys a mix of nut and barley that transfers itself onto the palate. A hint of spice emerges on the tongue to create a well-balanced spirit. Slight pepperness near the end.
Sipsmith Sloe Gin 2011 – 29%
Distilled Sipsmith London Dry gin left to rest on wild sloe berries that are hand-picked in the autumn. Aromas of red currant and cherry on the nose mix together and are bold on the palate to create a warm, rich flavour of currants and plums. The finish is sweet that balances well to a crisp finish.
Sipsmith Damson Vodka 2011 - 28%
Sipsmith barley vodka left to steep with fresh English damsons. Sweet, fresh plums blends with bitter damson on the nose whilst the palate gets hit with a sharp damson hit to begin with. Cherry and plum become evident as it mellows out into a tangy finish.
Sipsmith Summer Cup – 29%
Sipsmith London Dry gin blended with a host of summer ingredients including infusions of Earl Grey tea, Lemon Verbena and Cucumber. Fresh herbal aromas on the nose, with lavender and cucumber dominating. The palate enjoys subtle flavours, more perfumed than anything, with citrus and juniper coming through to create a slightly dry yet refreshing finish.
A fantastic range, and versatile enough to create gems like these -
100 ml boiling water
25-40 ml Sipsmith London Dry Gin
25 ml Fresh lemon juice
25 ml Simple syrup or sugar to taste
Combine ingredients in a teacup or Irish coffee mug. Stir and garnish with a lemon twist.
Damson and Champagne
30 ml Sipsmith Damson Vodka
English sparkling wine, Champagne or prosecco
Pour Sipsmith Damson into a flute. Top with sparkling wine and serve.
Fantastic. A range to definitely enjoy at home, and to look out for in your local bar. Always worth a look around the distillery too if you’re in the neighbourhood. That’s what I did a few years back!
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