One of the pioneers of the craft gin movement in the UK, Ian Hart and Hilary Whitney at Sacred Spirits have been pushing the boundaries of the possible in artisan spirit distillation since 2009 in their extraordinary micro-distillery (perhaps better described as a gin laboratory!) in Highgate, North London.
After a career in Wall Street and the City of London, Ian found himself in 2008 with time on his hands and considering a career change. As a keen wine enthusiast, Ian was drawn to the drinks industry and began experimenting with distillation, using the knowledge he had gained studying natural sciences as an undergraduate at Cambridge University.
Ian’s research took him all the way back to the mid-17th Century and the Dutch botanical encyclopaedia, Hortus Indicus Malabaricus, a treasure trove of knowledge about herbs and spices. He started experimenting with different botanicals and flavour combinations, blending individually distilled botanicals. Every Sunday evening, he would trial his latest concoction with an enthusiastic audience in his local pub, the Wrestlers. The 23rd recipe was a hit – twelve botanicals including Boswellia Sacra (also known as Hougary Frankincense), which gave the gin its name, Sacred.
It is not only unusual botanicals that makes Sacred Gin unique though. Rather than distilling with a traditional copper pot still, Ian designed an innovative vacuum distillation system using small rotary evaporators, custom adapted to suit his purposes and all installed in the dining room of his house! The botanicals are macerated three times in English grain spirit and twice more with water to ensure maximum flavour extraction. The twelve botanicals are then each distilled individually. Over time Ian has refined the distilling process to increase its efficiency and ensure that all the vibrant fresh flavours are captured in the final spirit.
The vacuum distillation process enables distillation to take place at low pressure and also a much lower temperature of around 35-45ºC than conventional pot still distillation at around 85-95ºC. This ensures the freshness of the botanicals is preserved and the aromas and flavours of the final gin are bright and vibrant.
Remarkably, all this modern day alchemy takes place in Ian and Hilary’s residential home in North London. As well as the laboratory like distillation room in the back of the house, their garden shed is packed full of botanicals, all of which are Soil Association certified organic. The whole process takes place quite literally ‘in-house’, although the vacuum pump is located in their daughter’s old Wendy house in the back garden! All the botanical preparation and maceration takes place by hand – this is artisan distillation on a truly micro scale.
Since its launch in 2009, Sacred Gin has won a host of awards and a devoted following from gin enthusiasts. Encouraged by this, Ian has continued his experiments into vermouths, a delicious Rosehip Cup (which makes a fabulous Negroni with Sacred Gin and their Spiced English Vermouth) and a tremendous, and not to mention exceedingly quaffable, series of single botanical gins, consisting of 90% distillate of the chosen botanical blended with 10% of Sacred Gin.
With Juniper, Coriander, Cardamom, Pink Grapefruit, Orris Root and Licorice on offer, these gins offer a fascinating insight into the individual constituent botanicals of Sacred Gin. The Coriander Gin is a particular favourite of ours and makes a brilliant G&T with delicious herbal and citrus flavours. December each year sees Ian cooking up around 50kg of Christmas pudding using his Great Aunt Nellie’s recipe to distill a special batch of his annual Christmas Pudding Gin!