A London distiller takes an artisanal approach to small-batch spirits.
By Laurie Kahle, August 17, 2011
Behind the bright blue door of a small white-washed garage in London’s Hammersmith neighborhood resides the first distiller’s license granted in the city for 190 years. Much to the disappointment of its recipients— Sam Galsworthy and Fairfax Hall—the 2008 document was not an elaborately rendered parchment, but a generic, computer-generated slip. Nevertheless, it marked a milestone for the lifelong, 30-something friends and founders of Sipsmith, which produces barley vodka and classic London dry gin in small batches of a few hundred bottles.
“Beefeater was the last copper distillery left in London,” explains Galsworthy, who came up with the concept for artisanal spirits while working for Fuller’s brewery in the U.S. “We wanted to do a classic dry gin handcrafted in the old style, the way the first gin houses did it way back when. London is the home of gin, and we wanted to bring a bit of history back.”
Naturally, a modern stainless steel still wouldn’t do, so they went to Bavaria to consult with Christian Carl, Germany’s oldest distillery fabricator. The collaboration produced Prudence, a bespoke copper beauty cheekily named in a dig at former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who frequently invoked the term. Master distiller Jared Brown discards all but the heart cut, the purest and richest cut of the distillation process. “It’s a hands-on, handmade process,” explains Galsworthy. “We collect just the heart, the really pure product, and reject the nasty stuff—so it requires no filtration, and we get a wonderful, smooth and creamy vodka.” The barley spirit is then distilled to produce gin using a recipe that calls for 10 botanicals including Macedonian juniper, Bulgarian coriander and Seville orange peel, which are blended with pure water from Lydwell Spring at the source of the Thames River in Cotswold.
Sipsmith delivered its first bottles in May 2009. It didn’t take long to build its fan base among London’s top bars, eateries and hotels, including One Aldwych and The Dorchester, which can arrange guest visits to Sipsmith.
The name Sipsmith originated with Hall’s father, a prominent silversmith in Cornwall. “My father starts with silver, then, by adding love, care and attention, he ends up with something that has more intrinsic value than what he started with,” says Hall. “Smithery stands for handcrafted artisanry—we wanted to be smiths of spirit world.”