On 14th May 2009, Sam Galsworthy, Fairfax Hall and Jared Brown opened the doors of Sipsmith distillery in Hammersmith and singlehandedly brought craft gin distilling back to London. The first traditional copper pot distillery in London for nearly 200 years, Sipsmith has set the standards for artisan distilling in London and has been at the forefront of the craft gin renaissance in the UK.
Sam and Fairfax are childhood friends from Cornwall whose jobs in the drinks industry took them to America where they met spirits expert Jared Brown. Sam had been inspired by his visits to American micro-distilleries and, with a shared passion for gin, they decided to establish an artisan distillery embracing traditional craft methods in the heart of gin’s ancestral home, London.
As with any pioneering enterprise, the journey was not an easy one. As well as the significant financial cost, which saw both Sam and Fairfax sell their houses to raise funds, HMRC refused to grant distillation licenses to small distilleries. The trio lobbied for nearly two years for the law to be changed and in 2009 their licence was granted, the first of its kind and a monumental breakthrough in the UK craft gin movement, paving the way for would be distillers across the country.
Sam, Fairfax and Jared set up their distillery in a former micro-brewery on Nasmyth Street in Hammersmith, formerly home to esteemed whisky writer Michael Jackson. Their first still, a custom designed 300 litre copper pot still made by Christian Carl, was named Prudence after Sam’s late mother and in ironic homage to Gordon Brown’s economic watchword. With a unique design, combining a copper pot, column and also a carter head, Prudence is very versatile, allowing master distiller Jared to fine tune the recipe and distillation process. Since expanding the operation and moving to Chiswick in 2014, they have acquired two sister stills, Patience and Constance, in order to keep up with the huge demand for their gins.
Jared uses a one shot distillation process and takes only the heart of the spirit, redistilling the heads and tails. Their 10 botanicals are macerated in warm barley spirit overnight to maximise flavour extraction. The botanicals are an eclectic selection of traditional herbs, fruits and spices sourced from all over the world, consisting of Macedonian juniper, Seville orange peel, Spanish lemon peel, Belgian angelica root, Italian orris root, Spanish liquorice root, Madagascan cinnamon bark, Chinese cassia bark, Spanish ground almond and Bulgarian coriander seed.
In their determination to connect with London’s rich gin history, the team used Google Earth to map out the path of the Thames so they could use the same water source as their predecessors. They located an ideal spot in the middle of the Cotswolds owned by a small farmer, who happily agreed to let them come over and collect 1,000 litres of spring water from the borehole in his field, which they use to cut their gins back to bottling strength. The finished gin is a masterpiece of craft distillation – a perfect balance of dry juniper with zesty citrus notes and aromatic spices.
With Sipsmith London Dry Gin the toast of London and beyond, Sam, Fairfax and Jared turned their minds to some experimentation. In 2010 they released their first bottling of Sipsmith Sloe Gin, a seasonal creation made with sloe berries hand picked each Autumn. Then in 2011 came Sipsmith Summer Cup, a delectable concoction made with a selection of summery ingredients inclusion Earl Grey tea and lemon verbana grown in Jared’s garden.
In 2013, they launched their ‘hymn to juniper’ Sipsmith VJOP (very junipery over proof), bottled at 57.7% ABV and distilled with around 75% more juniper than Sipsmith London Dry Gin. They add more juniper during the 3 day maceration stage and increase the amount of juniper in the pot still for the distillation. Juniper berries are also placed in the carter head to give a third helping of juniper to the final spirit. A truly brilliant gin, packed full of flavour and makes one of the best G&Ts around!
Jared also creates highly experimental gins in a 50 litre custom built still, affectionately named Cygnet. These range from the ingenious to the bizarre and extraordinary, including truffle gin, smoked venison gin, mince pie gin and lemon drizzle cake gin! In 2015, these were made available to the public for the first time in the Sipsmith Quarterly Sipping Service. Without a doubt, one of the most innovative and inventive distilleries around, Sipsmith well deserves its place at the forefront of the craft gin revolution!