Sipsmith are at the forefront of a burgeoning revival in London gin, becoming the first new gin distillery in the city for almost two centuries. Based out of an unassuming garage in West London, they produce a truly local, artisanal family of spirits.
Just over three years since the first batch of alcohol passed through the gleaming copper still (‘Prudence’), Sipsmith is a company hitting its stride. Its family of lovingly crafted spirits offer an extremely smooth and refined drink, which highlight the mass-produced inadequacy of some of the bigger brands.
Sipsmith don’t cut corners. They use only the finest ingredients and botanicals in the industry, such as Macedonian juniper berries, Bulgarian coriander seed and Spanish orange and lemon peel. Even the label uses real copper leaf. Speaking to Head Distiller Chris Garden, in front of the imposing copper still, his enthusiasm is obvious: “We just really enjoy what we do and what we make.” Something you immediately see and taste with every mouthful.
Set up by Stamford Galsworthy, Fairfax Hall and Jared Brown, the biggest challenge for a fledgling Sipsmith was navigating the antiquated legislation that had lay dormant for the last 191 years. “It took Revenue and Customs a very long time to issue us with a licence, basically because they didn’t know how to.” explains Chris, “It was a bit of chicken and egg really, the investors wanted to see the distiller’s license before they invested the money and the Government wanted to see the money before they issued the distiller’s license.” But in the end, after much wrangling, the company was issued with the first new license since the first year of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1819.
With that hurdle overcome, the company has steadily grown from Stamford taking deliveries around on the back of his scooter, to being stocked nationwide in Waitrose and Majestic Wines. Tapping into the desire for provenance, Sipsmith has certainly made the most of this trend. Offering weekly tours, the distillery opens the doors to the “black arts” of the industry, allowing the paying public to meet the producers and Prudence, and taste the products. “It’s integral to the whole provenance of the product, meeting the producer is absolutely key.” explains Chris.
In the uncertain financial landscape of post-crash Britain, Sipsmith are an example of a UK company who are bucking the trend and actually exporting their product abroad. “I’d say 85% of our sales are in the home market, with around 15% of sales coming from exports,” says Chris, “Spain – the second biggest gin-drinking country in the world – and Australia are our main export partners. But we export to a lot of countries”.
The future for the small but growing company looks bright. There are plans to enter the US market in 2013. The main issue here is one of supply and demand. If Sipsmith takes off in the US, supply (currently 350 bottles per day) would need to be able to cope with that extra demand, without taking away from the company’s other markets.
“Our plan is to continue to grow in Britain, but to simultaneously increase our export market as well. For this we will need a second still, probably a slightly larger still, maybe three times the size of Prudence, that would give us 4 times the current capacity.” outlines Chris, “The biggest challenge is going to be finding the right space, for the right price. Somewhere we feel at home, not an industrial park. We always want to remain local to Hammersmith.”
Sipsmith has inspired a new generation of distillers in London, and according to Chris, Sipsmith has a very “open doors” relationship with the other members of the micro-distillery scene. “If we can grow the category of the micro distillery all together, and eat into the big guys share, then perfect.” A noble intention indeed, by the leader of a growing sector.
In terms of emerging trends in the drinks industry, Chris points towards the continuing resurgence of gin; “Gin is on the way up, it used to be an uncool drink, but that’s changing. Gin is becoming the ‘in’ drink, and it makes so much sense as it’s so versatile and there’s so many different flavours going on, it gives bartenders something to play with”.
Yet it’s not just the preserve of bartenders. Gin, and specifically Sipsmith’s ‘one shot’ gin is a joy to drink. As are the brands other spirits which include barley vodka, sloe gin, damson vodka and ‘Summer Cup’ – which is a refined take on the original Pimms recipe. All of which scream to be admired, mixed and drank.
Sipsmith is a very British success story, placing locality, provenance and a real passion for producing beautiful spirits at its heart. “We’re not quite there, but we’re getting there”, suggests Chris, modestly. But Sipsmith is a quality brand, and one very much on the ascendancy; converting discerning drinkers, one sip at a time.
Sipsmith, The Distillery, 27 Nasmyth Street, London, W6 0HA; 020 8741 2034