I couldn’t tell you when I first tried Sipsmith gin, but it was bloody ages ago and probably involved my mum (aka Chief New Gin Discoverer).
From that day forward Sipsmith became a gin that I’d seek out in bars and always have on standby at home. It’s such a smooth gin that it really can be sipped on its own and that is in part where the Sipsmith name comes from: their drinks are all designed to be sippable. That burn factor which you’d typically associate with a neat spirit is replaced by a warmth, which is testament to the distilling process every bottle of Sipsmith goes through.
As a Sipsmith fan I’ve been to a couple of their events in the past to learn more about their drinks, but I’d never been to the West London distillery itself.
UNTIL LAST NIGHT…
Nestled away in an old garage on a leafy residential street off Chiswick High Road, you’ll find Prudence, Patience and Constance working away and doing their magic. Looking for the garage on CityMapper you could easily think you’re in the wrong place entirely, but once upon a time it would have been as normal as anything for small-time gin distilleries to have been dotted along every London street.
This is one of the things I love most about Sipsmith, the fact they’re making London gin here in London. Unlike Champagne or Parmigiano-Reggiano, “London gin” isn’t a protected product and can in fact be made anywhere in the world as long as it is made using a particular method. When Sipsmith was established in 2009, it became the first copper-pot based distillery to start up in London in 189 years.
On last night’s tour, this almost two century gap in London distillery openings started to make a lot more sense as we delved into the history of the drink. Gin has had a rough of old time of it over the years, being blamed for all kinds of societal ills (often understandably, when you realise how many pints of the stuff people would drink!) and facing the propaganda machine of the beer industry. For Sipsmith to be granted permission to distil in London at all was a real battle, thanks to the outdated laws of the Oliver Twist era.
Beer Street and Gin Lane by William Hogarth – 1751 – depicting the evils of the consumption of gin as a contrast to the merits of drinking beer.
Luckily for our drinks cabinets, it was a battle the Sipsmith founders were prepared to fight and by tackling the archaic legislation they’ve paved the way for further small-scale distillers to be able to open within the city limits. It’s a cool enough story from an entrepreneurship perspective, but these guys truly cemented themselves into London’s drinks history by refusing to give in.
As well as learning about the history of gin on the tour, you get to see the beautiful stills in all their on-trend copper glory and learn about the delicate process each one plays home to in the production of Sipsmith tipples.
If you’ve ever tried any Sipsmith product, anywhere in the world, it will have come from one of these three stills. I wanted to pat them on the back for their loyal service, before remembering they spend their working day cranked up to 80 degrees and I’d probably live to regret it. I’ve enjoyed Sipsmith gin in Greece and Spain recently, so to think it had come from this little garage all seemed rather lovely and small scale.
Because I suppose that’s one thing I forget about Sipsmith: it’s not a huge gigantic drinks company. Sipsmith will make in a whole year what other gin producers would make in just one day. They explain themselves on the tour that the way they create their gin is no way near the most efficient method, but it’s the method that produces the highest quality and for them that’s what’s most important.
Sipping on their neat gin and vodka (do not underestimate Sipsmith’s vodka, it’s absolutely fantastic) it’s clear how much care and attention goes into every batch. I love that if you have a bottle of it at home you can search your batch number on their website to see exactly what was happening at the distillery the day your gin was born…
I want some Bubba Watson gin, dammit!
As well as sampling the gin and vodka on the tour, we were treated to one of my absolute favourite Sipsmith creations – London Cup. I will be forever grateful to the barman at The Cross Keys who first got me hooked on this marvellous drink, which is a slightly tweaked update on the Sipsmith Summer Cup which it replaced.
If you’ve not tried London Cup then I suppose the easiest way to describe it is as a really nice version of Pimm’s, but at the same time that’s probably not a great way to describe it as I really don’t like Pimm’s at all but I adore London Cup. It’s a Pimm’s-type drink though – a punch crafted from gin infused with Earl Grey tea, borage, lemon verbena and a host of other botanicals. It’s served with ice and lemonade. And it’s AMAZING.
We also tried Sipsmith’s Sloe Gin which is so brilliant that I was up half the night wondering where I might find some sloes in zone 1 to try to recreate my own. Sipsmith have an interesting take on how to make sloe gin and I have to say I am sorely tempted. If you all get homemade sloe gin from me for Christmas, you know why.
A couple of the small batch experimental gins that have never been on sale, but all sound amaaaaaazing
It was really fun to see the distillery and learn more about the science behind it all as well as the history of both the drinks and the brand. I was amazed by how small the distillery was, which only made me love the brand more. Oh and I could get there very easily on the bus from my house, which is always nice. Turns out a key way to strengthen my loyalty to a company is to just make it easily accessible by public transport. Who knew?
The tour is £25 per person and takes places Monday to Wednesday evenings. You can find all the info you need to book here. It’s probably worth noting that due to licensing you can’t buy any bottles to take home from the distillery, but you can of course find Sipsmith products all over the place now. My Sainsbury’s even has the sloe gin. 31Dover is a good shout if you’re looking online though, they have the damson vodka too which I’ve not tried but if it’s even half as good as the original Sipsmith vodka, I need it in my life.
Thanks for a fun evening Sipsmith, you made me wish I listened more in Chemistry, gave me new goals for owning a big ol’ house in Chiswick and have reminded me why I love your gin so very much.