Hidden among the rows of houses lining the narrow, tree-lined streets of Chiswick in West London, gin enthusiasts may stumble upon one of the globe's hottest and most in-demand distilleries: Sipsmith. Led by the most interesting man in the world incarnate, master distiller Jared Brown, Sipsmith sparked the UK's gin revival when it debuted in 2009 as the first new copper pot distillery in London since 1820.
"In London, there were only two gin distilleries," Brown says. "Imagine if Scotland was down to two Scotch distilleries." That's when Sipsmith's other cofounders, Sam Galsworthy and Fairfax Hall, saw their moment to enter the scene.
"We found this unconscionable," Galsworthy says of the spirit's diminished presence in London. "And there was this groundswell—for the first time in decades, authenticity was important. So we set about this mission." Now they just needed somebody to actually make the stuff for them. And after a chance meeting with Brown—a distiller, historian, author, bon vivant and, yes, occasional underwear model—and some much gin-fueled discussion, the trio embarked in earnest.
Brown (left), Galsworthy (Center) and Hall (right).
"Jared said, 'I will only commit to this if you commit to making gin the old way,'" Galsworthy recalls. That "old way" refers to small-batch, copper pot distillation versus production via a gin concentrate, in which only a fraction of what ends up in the bottle is actually distilled with botanicals before being diluted with neutral spirit. "We really believe we make gin the way it used to be made and the way it should be made," Galsworthy continues.
There was yet another rather large obstacle in Sipsmith's path: They actually had to change long-standing legislation, which in a roundabout way essentially barred new distilleries from being built in London. After much legal and logistical haranguing, the Sipsmith team became the 13th operational gin distillery in the UK. Now, less than a decade later, Brown says there are some 400 throughout the country, with 30 in London alone.
"For us, Sipsmith is London, London is gin and London is Sipsmith," Galsworthy adds.
Sipsmith uses 10 botanicals in its London dry gin, with exotic entrants such as Spanish ground almond and Madagascar cinnamon peel, and a base distillate of English wheat, which delivers a distinct creaminess. The juniper leads the way but doesn't block your palate from prominent citrus and warm spice or lurking notes of lemongrass, vanilla, bitter citrus peel and pepper. "Making gin is an orchestra of botanicals," Brown says.
Thankfully, this darling of the bartending world is now available in all 50 states, with more of the distillery's product lineup on the way. Already appearing in limited quantities is Sipsmith's V.J.O.P., or Very Junipery Over Proof, a stunning rendition with a boosted juniper-forward profile that's bottled at a robust 57.7 percent ABV. Enjoy it simply over ice or deploy it in a Negroni and never look back again. "It's the gin lover's gin," Brown says.
To visit Sipsmith's modern temple of gin, buy a ticket in advance online for evening tours hosted several times a week. And to really get your gin geek on, consider signing up for the Sipping Society, a membership club giving you access to a dozen bottles of experimental gins every year.
Jake Emen is a food, drink and travel journalist living in San Diego. Follow his adventures on Twitter at @ManTalkFood.
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