Whilst in London, the Sipsmith distillery held an open bar day at their premises as part of London Cocktail Week, and not one to shy away from a chance to try something new and homegrown, I made my way to Ravenscourt Park. Now I have to admit, I’ve never been lucky enough to visit any kind of distillery, so going off what I’ve seen on tv and in books, I was hunting for either a large warehouse or a factory with smoke billowing out! But as I walked down road after road of residential housing, I came across a small garage, and low and behold here it was! Stepping inside, the first sight that will grab anyones attention is the copper still (named Prudence) and its many copper piping, apparatus and machinery that makes spirits including London dry gin, barley vodka, and sloe gin.
Greeted by James Grundy, one of the team behind Sipsmith, he started by giving us a run-down of the origins of Sipsmith distillery.
2009 was the birth of the first copper-pot based distillery to start-up in London in 189 years (Beefeater being the last in 1820) and is now one of only 5 city based licensed distilleries. As with all new ventures, it never goes as straight-forward as it should, and Sipsmith was no exception! Prudence (the copper still) was constructed as a one of a kind in Germany by Christian Carl (Germany’s oldest distillery producers), but when it arrived in Hammersmith, it barely fit! The measurements of the building were taken, but only realised the sloping ceiling at the last-minute! As with all distilleries, you need a licence, especially if your brewing alcohol in a residential area, but as the government hadn’t written a distiller’s licence in nearly 190 years, they virtually had to invent the process all over again! When it was finally granted, they realised the date stamped was a year ahead! After all that though, the licence is proudly displayed in a frame and hung for everyone to see.
After the history lesson, James went through the distillation process that they conduct to create the gin and vodka. A base spirit is produced that they then distil once to produce their vodka. Some of the product is then re-distilled to make their gin (the still is always cleaned before starting again). The distilled spirit is poured into the copper still which can hold up to 300 litres. The liquid is heated and the vapours rise up through a pipe known as the swan’s neck.
As the vapours travel along the pipe and away from the still, they start to condense and fall down another pipe into a cooling chamber where it turns back into a liquid. It’s held for a short time and then heated once more before passing through the condenser and becoming liquid again. It then sits in the spirit safe where it is ‘cut’. This means the removing of the initial product (named the head) and the end of the product (the tail) which are both of poor quality. The middle is kept (the heart) and it’s pure enough that it doesn’t need to be filtered. 40% of the heart is kept, diluted with pure water from Lydwell Spring in the Cotswolds, and bottled to become their vodka. The remaining 60% goes on to make the gin.
The botanicals that Sipsmith use (named below in my tasting notes) for their gin are left overnight in the pot still at 75 degrees so that they can release their flavours, before once again making the journey though the still. Once in the spirit safe, the liquid is cut to remove the heads and tails, and the remaining heart blended with the Lydwell Spring water and then bottled.
James then announced it was time to taste some spirits! Below are my tasting notes on the Sipsmith products –
Sipsmith London Dry Gin – 41.6%
Distilled using 10 botanicles – Juniper, Coriander, Angelica, Liquorice, Orris Root, Almond, Cassia Bark, Cinnamon, Orange Peel and Lemon Peel. On the nose it gave off a soft floral with a fresh citrus and slight juniper note. The palate enjoyed the sweetness of Seville orange, with a hit of juniper to follow. It led to a dry finish with a slight kick of spice at the end.
Sipsmith Barley Vodka – 40%
The nose enjoys a mix of nut and barley that transfers itself onto the palate. A hint of spice emerges on the tongue to create a well-balanced spirit. I noticed a slight pepperness near the after-taste.
Sipsmith Sloe Gin – 29%
Aromas of red currant and cherry on the nose mix together and dance on the palate to create a warm, rich flavour of currants and plums. The finish is sweet that balances well to a crisp finish.
This finished off the afternoon really well and it was great to call Sipsmith my first ever visit to a distillery! Big thanks to James who has the most enthusiasm over gin and vodka I’ve ever seen! I’ll be returning for sure the next time im in London, as should you all.
Visit the Sipsmith website here – http://www.sipsmith.com/
You can purchase all the Sipsmith spirits here – http://www.thedrinkshop.com/products/productlist.php?text=sipsmith
© David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog/sites author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.