Inspired by micro-distilleries which have popped up all over the States, Sipsmith is a micro-distillery housed in what looks likes someone’s garage on a residential street in Hammersmith.
Sam, co-founder of Sipsmith, and our guide for the evening is a great story teller and exudes passion. You get the feeling he does genuinely just ‘want to have a blast’ while making enough gin – and with it money – to put his kids through school and that he will vehemently resist any temptation to cut corners as they expand.
Sipsmith is essentially a celebration of artisan methods to create extremely high quality spirits. Sam (far right) and his colleagues, Fairfax and Jared (l-r), were not looking to reinvent the wheel with Sipsmith but instead wanted to explore making a traditional London Dry Gin recipe using the hand crafting methods of years gone by.
Sipsmith London Dry Gin is made using a mix of 10 botanicals commonly found in premium gins but in different quantities and with flavours infused in different ways. These botanticals are Macedonian juniper, Bulgarian coriander, French angelica root, Spanish liquorice root, Italian orris root, Spanish ground almond, Chinese cassia bark, Madagascan cinnamon, Sevillian orange peel and Spanish lemon peel.
Good gin is made by distilling botanicals (not just adding essences or flavourings to ethynol). Most producers do this by making a concentrate which is then blended with a neutral spirit and water, which is the most efficient and cost effective method when producing gin en masse.
Sipsmith is the only producer in Europe using the ‘one shot gin’ method which distills the botanicals with the spirit and involves passing alcohol vapour through a basket of botanicals. It also means the botanicals are used just once for each batch of gin.
Sam speaks with great affection about his handmade copper-pot still, Prudence. Who was incidently the first copper still to launch in London for nearly 200 years.
Sipsmith is one of just two gin distillers in the UK to use copper. Prudence was built entirely out of copper – at the height of copper prices, Sam doesn’t sound bitter at all! Copper reacts with alcohol removing impurities and reduces/removes the need to filter.
When distilling spirits, the first to come off the still will be the heads, which are the most volitile component of the spirit and contain methanol, which can cause blindness, madness and death if consumed in anything other than tiny proportions. Sipsmith discards these.
Next will be the hearts, the beautiful part of the spirit made up of ethanol, which is the alcohol we drink.
Finally, will be the tails – as these boil at a higher temperature than ethanol. These are not as toxic as methanol but are still unpleasant in anything but trace quantities and cause headaches and nausea. Again, Sipsmith disposes of these.
Whereas most gin makers will redistill/recycle the heads and the tails. Sipsmith disposes of them, in fact it only actually uses the first half of the hearts in its vodka production and uses the rest as the base spirit for the gin. Quality in, quality out!
Sam suggested they may well use the leftover heads and tails as fuel for a company car, which could be named the vod-car – genius plan!London Dry Gin is a style and a process which bizarrely doesn’t have to be made in London at all anymore, as it is now considered a generic term.
Regulations dictate all the flavours in a London Dry Gin must come from botanicals added during distillation, the only thing allowed to be added after distillation is water and a tiny amount of sugar.
This is why the likes of Henrick’s can’t be called a London Dry Gin, as you can’t steam a cucumber and so the distinctive, delicious Hendrick’s cucumber taste is added post-distillation.
One of the beautiful things about Sipsmith is that is a London Dry Gin actually made in London and what’s more it uses artisan methods and quality is clearly at the heart of everything they do.
If Cheddar cheese can only be made in Cheddar and Plymouth gin can only be made in Plymouth, we’re missing a trick to allow London gin to be made anywhere else but London in my book!
Click here to find out where you can buy your nearest shot/bottle of Sipsmith.
Top tip: Watch out for Sipsmith Colman’s Mustard gin – in a word AMAZING!