November: Sipsmith Distillery

The address was correct and my map was telling me that I was going in the right direction, however could this quiet residential street really be the place I was looking for? A couple of minutes later I dubiously knocked on the door of what looked like a garage. As the door opened I knew I was in the right place: I had found the Sipsmith distillery.

Prudence (their still) was gleaming at the back of the room and the remaining space was full of stock, raw sprits, ingredients and bottles – the remnants of previous experiments! Further exploration confirmed that this one large room was pretty much it: when they say small batch they really aren’t joking!!

Our lucky members began to arrive, most of them equally baffled with the location, and then a rather flustered Sam Galsworthy (co-founder of Sipsmith) turned up. To apologise for his (very slight) lateness he made us all G&T’s: he was more than forgiven! He then started to talk us through his background in the industry and how the brand came to be in a tiny shed in Hammersmith! It was an absolute pleasure to listen to his stories, he is such a great story teller and full of passion for what he does. Setting up a distillery (surprisingly) isn’t quite as straightforward as you’d think and there were a few trials and tribulations along the way, however these made the story all the more interesting…

Firstly Prudence is a purely copper still, which is very unusual, and cost more than a few bob, especially as the cost of copper soared during her build. Secondly *someone* didn’t measure the height of the ceiling correctly (it slopes) so she nearly didn’t fit when she arrived. The problems didn’t stop there though…as the government hadn’t written a distillers licence for so long they virtually had to invent the process, and then when it finally arrived it was dated incorrectly for a year in the future. However despite all of the problems they encountered along the way they have two stunning spirits to show for it…trust me, they truly are something special.

As we moved onto tasting their vodka Sam talked us through the history of the building itself. It turns out that the ‘shed’ has quite the history in terms of spirits and distilling, with Sam commenting that in a way it has ‘always known what it wanted to be’. It was once home to the esteemed whisky expert Michael Jackson (apparently his desk sat where Prudence does now), and before that it housed a micro-brewery for a local pub. However, in it’s latest reincarnation it can be proud of the fact that it houses one of only two gin distilleries in London, and the first new gin distillery in England for over two hundred years!

Click here to read more about the distillation process at Sipsmith.

After tasting the vodka we moved onto the gin. Sipsmith gin is made using 10 different botanicals:

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.

Sam began to pull down jars of these botanicals from his shelves. We were invited the crush juniper berries between our fingers, and smell and feel many of the other botanicals one by one. We then tasted the gin straight, and finally in a good old fashioned G&T.

The bottles for both the gin and the vodka are fab, with reassuringly heavy bottoms and have beautiful labels which include the swans head motif. The bottles are sealed with wax and unsealed with a black ribbon underneath which makes them very satisfying to open for the first time. The cork stopper also gives a pop when you open it every time, one of the best sounds in the world if you ask me! Another nice touch is the unique batch number on each bottle. If you enter this number on their website you will see a photo and caption which relates to the time that each batch was ‘born’. Personal favourites are LDG/001 which is when Fairfax’s daughter was born and LDG/044 which is dedicated to Hogarth’s depictions of Gin Lane, and because it was the first batch of Sipsmith I ever tried!

This winter Sipsmith have made a Sloe Gin, which was pretty special too. However the star of the evening had to be the mustard vodka! The result of an experiment with some mustard powder we were very lucky to be given the opportunity to try it. It had quite a kick to it as it was the final cut (undiluted) vodka in the bottle and was therefore pretty strong. Then there was the mustardy kick which was really warming and pretty damn yummy, and I would imagine pretty awesome in a bloody mary – I think I speak for everyone there when I implore Sam and the guys to make more of this stuff!

On behalf of the LCS I would like to thank Sam for his very kind hospitality, sharing some great stories with us, and letting us sample some of his more unusual experiments! We’re sure to be back in the future as we’d love all of our members to experience the wonderful Sipsmith distillery!

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