For my birthday in April Lauren kindly fed my gin addiction and gave me a tour of the Sipsmiths distillery in Chiswick. We finally got a date booked with some friends and general gin lushes to visit in July! So off we skipped after work on a Tuesday night to get quietly soozled (this is a familiar occurrence!)
As soon as everyone is sorted with a gin and tonic, James gets started with the tour and explanations in front of the three copper stills:
The main one is called Constance, used to make the London Dry style gin, the smaller Patience is used for the sloe gin and Prudence used to make their base spirit (vodka made from English wheat) and also their Very Junipery Over Proof (VJOP), where they layer extra juniper flavours using the Carter head flavour chamber.
Patience looking shiny – she was also hot making the room very toasty!! Copper is the usual metal of choice for gin makers as it helps by absorbing the bad bits – fatty acids – so although they are harder to clean they make a better quality spirit.
So crash course in gin making (sorry if you’ve read this before on other posts!) – all gin starts off as a neutral spirit that is flavoured with minimum 40% juniper. A London Dry style has all the botanticals added to the neutral spirit and then nothing apart from water and a small amount of sugar is allowed to be added post distillation (most of the distillers I’ve spoken to, including Sipsmiths, don’t add any extra sugar).
Sipsmiths was set up in 2006. When they applied for the distilling license they were told that the quantities they were going to make counted as moonshine according to the law. It took them a while to get their license as no one had issued one in 200 years!! The last license was granted in 1823 to Beefeater, so they had to consult with the whisky industry in Scotland…
The tasting took us through their range – starting with the vodka, which was peppery with a hint of sweetness, to the London dry style. Key botanticals are coriander, juniper, angelica and orris root. Sipsmiths macerate all the botanicals in the vodka at 60 degrees over night, before increasing the temperature to 78 degrees to redistill the gin.
The gin has a rich flavour, with citrus top notes, smoothness rather than aggressive warmth and spiced notes on the finish. They recommend serving with a twist of lemon peel or a wedge of lime and obviously a lot of ice to keep it colder for longer!
Very large bottles of the Summer Cup on the back bar!
Non gin offerings:
Sipsmiths also make a Summer Cup – the first alternative to Pimms. This stems from the Victorian traditional of punches which included gin, vermouth and bitters. The name cup comes from the cups hooked on the outside of the punch bowl. They were trying to reproduce the dry style using earl grey tea, cucumber, Seville orange and lemon verbena. They recommend mixing 1 part to 4 parts mixer (this sounds a little weak to me, but the last time I tried it was at the end of Junipalooza and I didn’t need any more alcohol by then!)
We also tried the Sloe gin and the Damson vodka – both lovely, the Damson vodka with more of a plummy flavour and almond aftertaste – recommended with chocolate! We all loved the Sloe gin made by macerating Dartmouth sloes for 3 months with sugar added at the end, but yet the Sipsmiths is not as sweet as some I’ve tried. It’s very drinkable on its own – ideal for camping without a fridge, so I took a bottle to Standon Calling!
Me checking out some the other concoctions displayed on the bar wall.
Raspberry and Basil gin
Elderflower Liqueur – maybe they’ll make some limited seasonal editions?!
They recommend using the sloe gin in negroni cocktails, or mixed with bitter lemon and even a sloe mulled apple, which I totally approve of – having made something similar for our Christmas party.
The VJOP really powers through the tonic in a G&T or apparently in a martini will be a life changing experience ‘like running through a pine forrest naked’ but should be limited to a maximum of two!
Needless to say that experience wasn’t included on the tour…. When we finished the gin tasting and tour from the enthusiastic James, Alex lead us to Chiswick high street for some dinner and a chance to sober up!!
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