Gin is pretty big business now. Everywhere you go there seem to be craft gin producers making artisan gin and I think we can all agree that this is a very good thing. In London there are several excellent bars dedicated to the purveyance of gin (I think of London Gin Club in Soho and the Gin School at Charlotte's W4 to name but a few), plus when you walk into most pubs now they have a decent selection of gins on the shelf. This, however, has been a fairly recent development. It would be somewhat simplistic to ascribe this gin revolution to a single cause - but for me it is apparent that the rise of the gin scene in the UK coincided with the opening of the Sipsmith Gin Disillery in West London. I was very pleased then when my siblings bought me and my wife a voucher to take a tour of their distillery for a Christmas present - a veritable pilgrimage for the gin lover!
When you head to the distillery you think that there must be some kind of mistake, you find yourself pacing the back streets of Chiswick and eventually end up at a decidedly underwhelming garage/industrial unit. From the road there aren't even any signs announcing that you've found the right place. Luckily there was someone outside waiting to meet a friend who was able to confirm that we were indeed at the right place. We made our way hesitantly through the industrial unit towards a building with a giant Sipsmith swan on it - this was starting to look more like it! We were greeted by some of the Sipsmith staff who checked our tickets and then ushered us over to a bar for a gin and tonic - smashing. We milled around for a little - which allowed me to take most of the photos that you'll see on this post! After a little while we were called to attention by our host for the evening - Zoe.
The History Bit
Now, the story behind Sipsmith is to my mind fascinating. Two friends and drinks enthusiasts, Sam Galsworthy and Fairfax Hall, decided that they would like to start a gin distillery in London. They applied to the HMRC for a licence to open a distillery but were refused as no-one in the HMRC knew what the procedure for granting a licence for a distillery was due to the fact that there hadn't been a new gin distillery in London open for well over 100 years! There was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing but eventually the guys' persistence paid off and they were granted a licence to open and start distilling! Since 2009 when they opened, a number of other licences have now been granted, giving credence to my view that the Sipsmith lads were the trailblazers for the gin scene.
The Drinking Bit
Zoe then took us through the distilling process and its complexities. All the while we were given various samples of their wares. We started off with their Sipping Vodka (available on Whisky Exchange for £28.95/bottle). Gin is, after all, just vodka that's been flavoured with juniper, which is a remarkably warm and pleasant drink, nice and bright with a sparkling precision to it; as far from the mouth burning, cheap stuff that you drank as a teenager (just me?). Next up was their London Dry Gin (available from Ocado for £28/bottle), their most famous product; the predominant flavour profile is one of juniper, followed up by with some slightly spicy notes (corriander) in the mid-palate. A wonderful, balanced gin that is great for both gin and tonics and martinis. We followed this with the Sipsmith Sloe Gin (available from Ocado for £24/500ml bottle) Oh. My. Word. This was delectable: full to bursting with jammy fruitiness it warmed your cockles as it slipped down. We now own a bottle of this - I am looking forward to experiment with some mulled sloe gin next Christmas with this. We finished up the tasting with their Damson Vodka (available on Whisky Exchange for £24.25/500ml bottle), which was another hit - they make these in vintages with a limited run each year.
For anyone interested in gin I really would heartily recommend a visit to the Sipsmith distillery. Tickets are £15, you get a gin and tonic and the chance to try four wonderfully crafted, artisinal spirits. Bargain! You can find out more information about their tours by following this link.
Thank you to Zoe and the Sipsmith team for putting on such an excellent evening and thanks to my siblings for a great Christmas present!