Behind every great artisanal gin there is a cadre of dedicated individuals who comprise the very heart and soul of the spirit. Their names or likenesses may not appear on the label, but rest assured, they've poured their blood, sweat and tears into the brand. It's enormously challenging to create a world-class spirit from scratch and you can't do it alone.
Sipsmith Independent Spirits is an excellent example. In 2009, partners Sam Galsworthy, Fairfax Hall and Master Distiller Jared Brown began operating a craft distillery in London, and in doing so became the first copper-pot distillery to open in that city in nearly 200 years. Along with some beautiful, state-of-the-art equipment, they brought a passion for handcrafted gin and the artisanal distilling process. For devotees of classically structured spirits, Sipsmith Gins are a tour de force.
At the heart of the Sipsmith operation is a 300-liter copper still named Prudence. Handmade in Germany, Prudence has a long, curved swan's neck and is outfitted with a vapor infusion chamber, which makes it capable of functioning as both a pot still and a Carterhead-style still.
The distillery's standardbearer—Sipsmith London Dry Gin—is produced on a foundation of neutral spirits distilled five times from English barley. The neutral spirits are transferred into the distillery's newest copper pot still dubbed "Patience." A proprietary blend of 10 aromatics and botanicals is added to the still and allowed to steep for 15 hours prior to distillation. The botanical mix includes juniper berries, coriander seed, angelica root, licorice root, orris root, almonds, cassia bark, cinnamon and orange and lemon peels, a traditional cast capable of producing an exceptionally dry gin.
When the maceration is ready, Brown transfers just enough of the botanical-infused neutral spirits into the still to produce an extremely small batch of gin equal to only 400 bottles. After distillation, it is rendered to 41.6% alcohol (83.2 proof) with pure spring water drawn from the Lydwell Springs, one of the sources of the River Themes.
"Craft distilling is a philosophy," contends co-founder Sam Galsworthy. "It's about making spirits by hand; it's a sort of 'smithery' and it's this attitude that is followed through out all aspects of our distillery life."
Sipsmith London Dry Gin is big, complex and utterly engaging. The gin has pristine clarity, a satiny textured body and a tantalizing floral, juniper and citrus bouquet. Its aromatics add greatly to the gin's appreciable character. Its warm, silky smooth entry gradually fades to reveal a broad ensemble of dry flavors, including piney juniper followed by zesty lemon, anise and baking spice. It finishes long, spicy warm and absolutely elegant.
Gin enthusiasts will be smitten with Sipsmith London Dry Gin after the first sip. Aromatic, flavorful and precisely balanced, it's a natural to serve straight up, or in a '50s style Martini.
For those searching for a gin imbued with a pronounced juniper presence will be pleased to welcome Sipsmith V. J. O. P. (Very Junipery Over Proof). Launched in 2013, the super-premium gin is an ultra-classy homage to the juniper berry.
To make Sipsmith V.J.O.P, Brown starts by macerating juniper berries for a minimum of 45 hours in neutral spirits. Before distillation, more juniper berries are added to the maceration to further concentrate its flavor. Finally, the maceration is put into the still and its botanical trays are filled to the brim with fresh juniper. The rising alcohol vapors passing through the trays are further imprinted with the aroma and flavor of juniper.
Not surprisingly, Sipsmith V.J.O.P. is exceedingly dry. The gin has a clear, shimmery appearance, a velvety mouthfeel and a highly focused, juniper and citrus nose. Bottled at a lip-tingling 57.7% alcohol (115.4 proof), its entry is quite warm, yet remarkably never hot. The gin quickly fills the mouth with the long lasting flavors of piney juniper, spice, citrus and roasted almonds. The finish is long and spicy. It makes for an unforgettable cocktail.
The distillery's portfolio also includes vintage-dated Sipsmith Sloe Gin. The seasonal liqueur is made every year with fruit picked from the Blackthorn trees that grow wild in the hedgerows of west England. It's not uncommon for families to hand down their sloe gin recipes from generation to generation.
Relying on his own recipe, Brown makes the Sloe Gin by steeping late-harvest sloe berries in Sipsmith London Dry Gin from 4 and 8 months. After the maceration has reached its fullest potential, Brown blends various batches together to attain the desired taste profile.
Limited edition Sipsmith Sloe Gin is altogether sensational. It has an opaque, reddish/brown hue, a full, voluptuous body and a wafting bouquet of red cherries, plums, vanilla and marzipan. On the palate, the 58-proof liqueur presents a balanced offering of tart red berries, ripe plums, citrus and cassis with semisweet raisins on the lingering finish.
Sloe Gin is perhaps best known as the inimitable base of the Sloe Gin Fizz. That said, who knew that it's also delectable way to cap off a fine dinner.