You would never know by looking at Nasmyth Street in Hammersmith that there was anything out of the ordinary there. It’s a quiet, sunny (whilst I was there, at any rate), tree lined, residential Hammersmith street, peppered with children riding tricycles and the odd dog-walker. Look a little more closely though and you’ll spot the small unassuming white warehouse, nestling between the ends of two terraces, discreet, but there, if you’re looking for it.
Inside, it’s a world away from what lies in the hazy post-school, street scene outside – an office come laboratory come distillery; glass jars, copper funnels, gizmos and gadgets a-plenty. It is the first London copper pot still distillery to open its doors in two hundred years. Sipsmith.
Fairfax, one of the two brains behind the exclusive and artisan Sipsmith Barley Vodka and Sipsmith London Dry Gin, shows me around and explains the idea behind the brand. The concept was born from their experiences of artisan micro-distilleries over in the US, where it is warmly welcomed by consumers. Fairfax and his business partner Sam thought that their native England sorely lacked the small-scale, hand-crafted products that are a growing trend over the ‘pond’. London has the historical ties to gin and so it seemed like the ideal location from which to launch Sipsmith; so named because of the craftsmanship and attention to detail that goes in to every sip of the product.
A StillAlthough Fairfax and Sam are running the operation, the centre stage should really be given to Prudence – the bespoke 300L German-made copper pot still – there isn’t another one like her in the world! She stands proudly at one end of the Sipsmith distillery, while master distiller, Jared Brown, crafts each product by hand, in small batches – just a few hundred bottles a time.
The resulting spirit is just incredible – smooth, full of character and a true intensity of flavour.
The Sipsmith Barley Vodka is distilled from English barley spirit and blended with the exceptionally pure water of Lydwell spring, which is the source of the River Thames. The vodka is unfiltered; filtration, Fairfax explained, isn’t necessary because they only take the vodka cut from the top of the ‘heart’ of the distillation run. It’s the part that has the most flavour too – a smooth, creamy and soft mouth-feel, with a gentle warmth that envelopes at the finish. It’s perfect when served over ice, by itself, or to make a vodka martini.
The latter half of the ‘heart run’ that has less flavour but is incredibly smooth is used to make the Sipsmith London Dry Gin. The botanicals (coriander seed and juniper, among others) are steeped in the still for 12 hours before a very gentle and patient distillation that is carefully monitored by Jared to ensure just the right balance is achieved. The resulting gin is a delight – citrus notes on the nose, with slightly bitter ‘marmalade’ notes; on the palate, again it is very smooth and fresh with juniper and citrus peel dominating the entry but leading to a gentle spiciness, zestiness and a great length.
Having never before been able to stomach gin or vodka without any sort of tonic or cocktail mixture, I found myself surprisingly able to savour their character and enjoy them straight from the tasting glass.
My visit to Sipsmith this afternoon has certainly been a welcome break from the office; from the intimacy of the quirky distillery, to the friendly and relaxed attitudes of Fairfax and Co. and, of course, the wonderful boutique gin and vodka. There’s definitely room for Sipsmith on my drinks shelf from now on!