Sipsmith: a successful homecoming

Sam GalsworthyWhile working in sales at Fuller’s in the US, Sam Galsworthy witnessed first hand the rapid boom in micro-distilleries popping around the US. With a childhood friend, Fairfax Hall, also working in the US at the time for Diageo, they mulled over the idea of setting up their own micro-distillery. They came to the same conclusion: people were getting tired of vodka but gin was making a slow but definite come back. So gin it would be and preferably in their homeland since England and for that matter, London, as incredible as it may sound to modern day consumers, once used to be the centre of all gin production.

600px-Beer-street-and-Gin-laneBeer street and gin lane by William Hogarth

The love story between gin and London dates back to the 1600’s. Gin (and its cousin Genever, based on Juniper berries) had long been produced in the Dutch and Flemish territories when William of Orange decided to bring it to England. He did so by imposing heavy duties on all imported spirits whilst allowing unlicensed gin to be produced in England. Very rapidly, thousands of gin-shops sprung up, in fact, one in four houses in London had a home distillery. The population soon became addicted to this low quality beverage (turpentine was often added in lieu of juniper) and very rapidly gin gained its nickname of mother’s ruin. Gradually though, around the 1700’s, various gin acts imposed a tax on all distillers and forced them to sell only to licensed retailers. All the big gin houses that we are familiar with today such as TanquerayGordon’s Gin, Beefeater established themselves around the 1800’s in London. But the Second World War and the cost of being in London forced them one by one to close down, merge or to relocate to Scotland or elsewhere with the exception of Beefeater. Until 5 years ago, Beefeater was the sole gin house left in London. That’s when Sipsmith come into play.

1303-503-sipsmithhotmulledsloe2012To come up with the highest quality, classic London Dry Gin, Sam Galsworthy and Fairfax Hall decided to go after the best to make it happen. Their first copper still, Prudence, was designed with Germany’s oldest distillery producers, Christian Carl, a small family business that has been crafting stills since 1869. Then, they enrolled the help and expertise of Master Distiller and writer Jared Brown whom they met at one of the Beefeater gatherings. As a nod to London’s former glory at the centre of the spice trade, they sourced the best botanicals (Macedonian juniper, Bulgarian coriander, Chinese cassia bark, Madagascan cinnamon bark, Spanish ground almond, French angelica root, Spanish liquorice root, Italian orris root, Spanish lemon peel, Seville orange peel) from around the world for the composition of their first small batch gin production. Finally, they added one more particularity to the way they make their gin. They are the sole producer in Europe of the “one shot” gin method which involves distilling the botanicals with the spirit rather than making a concentrate which is blended with the neutral spirit. In 2009, Sipsmith, the “independent spirit” opened with a bang the first new distillery in London in nearly 200 years.

Sipsmith 2
Courtesy of Will Savage

Sipsmith classic London-style gin (the first of a series of five more incredible spirits) was born and bore much resemblance to the original recipe back to the XIXth century. Whilst old school artisanal methods have been used for the confection of the gin, the marketing aspect of the business is resolutely modern. For the brand visual identity, they called on Victoria Sawdon from big fish, incidentally Sam Galsworthy’s good friend, to design the beautiful swan that adorns their bottles. The swan being a direct reference to the swan-necked copper still Prudence. Sipsmith’s website with its plethora of information communicates in a very effective way the founders’ passion.

Sip-smiths as in sip for savouring and smiths for the crafts inferred in making the gin is a celebration of the artisanal methods and crafts that are necessary to make gin of uncompromising quality. The Sipsmith team sees very much itself as a family that run an artisanal business where spirits are crafted with care and love. Their overall philosophy is in tune with what’s happening elsewhere in the country. Artisans are reviving old traditional crafts using artisanal methods. Sipsmith is at the core of this small and fledgling revolution at least in the world of gin.

1294-sipsmithsSipsmith is stocked by major retailers across countries, served in upscale bars in London (such as the Savoy Hotel). It has also won awards (Best Newcomer in UK 2010) and partnered with numerous local chefs and master chocolatiers. It, however, mostly gained momentum thanks to its distillery tours that are hugely popular. 10,000 people or so have already attended since last year. Their friendly no nonsense approach is a hit amongst the avid or curious gin lovers. They entertain while educating people on what gin is about. It is Sam Galsworthy’s strong belief that as life becomes more and more frantic, people need to reenergise and one way of doing so is taking an interest in a new field, such as by learning about gin’s provenance! 

27 Nasmyth St

Since Sipsmith has launched in 2009, five more London distilleries have opened and several more have cropped up across the country with the particularity of being linked to the land they originate from. Cornish and Scottish gin distilleries use local botanicals in their blend. Sipsmith started in a garage in Hammersmith where by pure coincidence beer was once brewed. However, in March, they will relocate to Chiswick to accommodate their latest addition. Prudence, their first copper still was named after Sam Galsworthy’s mother and was an ironic twist on then Prime Minister Gordon Brown exhorting prudence at the time. The second copper pot was named Patience as they asked the US market to bear with them while they upped their production. The third one will be called Constance as you should be constant in everything you do in life. In fine, Sipsmith’s ethos lies in this trio of values and also in maintaining high quality every step of the way while reaching out to more markets and developing their relationship with the public that savour their gins. They are on their way to success.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *