It was back in the late summer of 2009 when we first met Sam and Fairfax, the founding fathers of Sipsmith Independent Spirits. Back then, Sam had started buying ice from us that he was using for the purposes of taste-testing Gin and Tonics – a strenuous job no doubt! Having both spent many years in the drinks industry the guys paid witness to the boom of small artisan distilleries in the US, producing top quality handcrafted spirits. Believing that there was also a market for similar products in the UK, Sam and Fairfax founded Sipsmith right here in London.
Once the long drawn out process of obtaining the first distillers license issued in over 150 years was complete, the evolution of Sipsmith began. At the heart of the distillery lies Prudence, a bespoke designed copper-pot still, hand-built in Germany by one of the few remaining specialists in the field. Even those with little appreciation for objects of engineering would have to concede that she’s a truly beautiful machine (see pictures). Finding her hunched at the end of what is essentially a smallish garage must be one of the most astounding sights in London.
As drinks professionals, naturally our curiosities were raised by such an exciting prospect starting up on our very own doorstep. When asked if we could try a sample, Sam was only too keen to invite us down to the distillery to see the operation in action. Walking into the Sipsmith headquarters is akin to walking into a chemistry lab for drinks and feels alive with possibility and a vibe of positivity. It speaks volumes that it took a little over one month from our first tasting for our spirits buyer, Justin, to give the green-light and for Sipsmith to become a supplier to Majestic, forging an ongoing partnership.
To celebrate this fact and to give Sipsmith the launch we felt it deserved, we organised a tasting evening at the distillery, inviting staff from other stores to come down and get involved. The evening proved to be a great success and samples of both the gin and vodka were widely enjoyed! Our hosts were on top form and proved to be most hospitable. The passion and pride they put into what they do goes a long way to proving why Sipsmith are fast making a success of themselves and is a great illustration to why artisan products have plenty of room up there alongside the big boys. The evening was nicely rounded off with dinner at Tatra, our favourite Polish restaurant on the Goldhawk road. Their roast pork never fails to produce a “Where have you been all my life” reaction, and the flavoured vodkas painstakingly created by the head chef are to die for ! It is probably best to leave the tale of the evening’s shenanigans for another time and place, suffice to say that a lot of fun was had by all…
Well that was back in October 2009, and now just few months later the future looks bright for Sipsmith. Both the gin and vodka have proved to be firm favourites with staff and customers alike and as word continues to spread, more and more people are trying Sipsmith products. So let’s raise a glass to the chaps at Sipsmith and to the success of all those independents out there doing as they do. Providing the enthusiasm and dedication to create something so enjoyable will rightly be lauded. And why shouldn’t it? Long may it continue.
The best thing about using a copper still and only keeping the heart of the run (as distillers do in Cognac or Single Malt production) is that there is no need to filter out any “nasties” such as methanol. This means that the resulting spirit is noticeably more characterful than most commercially made vodkas. Sipsmith’s barley-based Vodka has a wonderfully creamy texture with a nutty, almost sweet finish, and that typical burn we expected on the finish just never materialised, replaced instead by a lingering smooth warmth.
This rich and buttery spirit is a perfect base ingredient for the Gin. Juniper and a number of other botanicals are steeped in the spirit overnight with the still warmed up to extract as much flavour out of the botanicals as possible and produce a rich, aromatic and deeply favoured gin. When most gin producers would produce a flavour concentrate and dilute it with neutral spirit, the guys at Sipsmith only ever use each batch of botanicals once, which results in a much richer and deeper flavour. This London Dry Gin is perfect coupled with the best quality tonic (Fever-Tree is Sipsmith’s – and indeed our- favourite partner) and a slice of lime.
Sipsmith Barley Vodka is currently available in 50 Majestic stores and Sipsmith London Dry Gin is available in 46. They’re both included in the current ‘Buy any 2 spirits, Save 20%’ promotion. If you’re interested in purchasing either, please contact your local store to enquire about availability.