In my last post I mentioned that Sipsmith had been in contact asking if I would like to sample their rather special gin. After a short email conversation, there was a bottle in the post, winging its merry way to Devon and a few exciting days later, a Sipsmith branded box graced my desk at work. Grateful as I am about being sent a free bottle of gin, this will not guarantee anything other than me drinking it and writing about it. I am not going to give Sipsmith a favourable review because of this – if I don’t like it, I will tell you.
I have been looking for Sipsmith gin in the shops and supermarkets for quite a while as it seems to come highly recommended. Saying that, Beefeater 24 came highly recommended and it was a distinct let-down, so I am not holding my hopes too high for fear of a thorough dashing.
The Sipsmith gin bottle is a rather spiffingly-presented, heavy-bottomed, round affair, with an elegant copper label depicting a stylized pot-still with a swan’s neck and head – reference to Prudence, the swan-necked copper-pot still that Sipsmith is distilled in.
Prudence is the first still of its kind to be commissioned in London for 190 years and was hand-made by Germany’s oldest still-makers, Christian Carl. She lives in a small building in Hammersmith where she is lovingly tended by founders Sam Galsworthy and Fairfax Hall, as well as Sipsmith’s master distiller, Jared Brown. The building is little bigger than a garage and was formerly the home of whisky and beer writer Michael Jackson and a micro-distillery supplying a local pub. The whole operation was only allowed to commence after a painful two-year quest to obtain the first new distiller’s license issued in 150 years.
Sipsmith gin is a London dry gin but it doesn’t have any strange botanicals or unique selling points. Indeed its botanical list seems fairly run-of-the-mill.
- Macedonian juniper berries
- Bulgarian coriander seed
- French angelica root
- Spanish liquorice root
- Italian orris root
- Spanish ground almond
- Chinese cassia bark
- Madagascan cinnamon
- Sevillian orange peel
- Spanish lemon peel
The only stand-out botanical is cinnamon, which given its similarity to cassia bark, seems to add little to the mix that isn’t already there – it seems like a very traditional gin recipe. Sipsmith touts the quality of its botanicals, but which gin brand doesn’t? The water however, is drawn from the source of the river Thames, the Lydwell Spring and it is rumoured that Sam sets off at 4am in order to collect water for a distillation run.
The bottle top is sealed with green wax and unsealed with a black ribbon under the wax. The cork comes out with the satisfying faint squeak and a pop that all good whiskey bottles do.
All of this detail is crowned with a batch number which can be used on the Sipsmith website to find out what was happening on the day of its creation: http://www.sipsmith.com/your-batch
The whole experience pleased me greatly – it is the little details that make opening a bottle like this a pleasure, rather than a chore which one must dispense with before getting to the goods. However, presentation is worthless if the contents of the bottle do not measure up.
Inhaling deeply from the bottle-top rewarded my nose with an incredibly clean scent of juniper and pine notes. The scent was clearly gin and it held what smelled like a fair payload of juniper. There was little to complicate it, no floral or spice notes, just clear, clean juniper. This first impression was only reinforced when I poured the Sipsmith into a clean glass.
Sampled neat, Sipsmith gin rewards the mouth with more of the same; it is definitely a spirit, but there is only warmth, not harshness, in the mouth. The gin carries a medium-to-heavy juniper load, firmly placing it outside of the realms of the vodka-gin. It is super-smooth and while there are hints of citrus and spice, they are there very subtle and serve only to support the juniper, rather than distract from it.
Adding a little water intensifies the experience again; more flavours are mobilised and some of the alcohol disappears into the background but, critically, the balance remains true with juniper being firmly to the fore.
Well, so far so good; time to add the tonic water to see if the quality carries through to the main event.
Initially, I used Schweppes; this is because I wanted to try it on a level playing field with the other gins I have tried of late. The bubbles from the tonic water liberated the same clean aroma from the gin as smelling it neat.
Tasting the completed gin and tonic was certainly pleasing, it was smooth and very creamy – I hate terms like this as it reminds me of Jilly Goolden and her preposterous descriptions, but it really is creamy. The juniper is absolutely unrestrained by the tonic water but all of the astringency of the quinine and juniper disappear into a sweet creaminess. In fact, it needed the wedge of lime to add a little tartness to the drink, something that I have never experienced before – all too often the taste of lime just sits there wrestling for dominance with the flavours of the gin and tonic, but in this instance, it seemed to fill a lime-shaped hole in the taste, like it was waiting for it.
Sipsmith gin makes a cracking G&T with the Schweppes but next up, I have to try it with Fever-Tree tonic water; this seems to be the god of tonic water and works superbly with a gin of strong character. Sipsmith gin should work very well. However, this will have to wait for another day as I have none at the moment – I need a shopping trip to gather more.
Something else I have to try is a gin-off between the Sipsmith and Juniper Green. These are very similar in character an I have a burning desire to do a side-by-side taste comparison to see if the premium price tag of Sipsmith is justified, or whether the budget value of the Juniper Green will win again.
Update – 31/10/2010
After a trip to Waitrose to stock up on Fever-Tree tonic water and the wave of trick-or-treaters abated, it was time to kick back with a G&T in an attempt to not watch X-Factor – what better way then with an experimental combination that explores new territory (for me at least)?
Sipsmith gin and Fever-Tree tonic makes for an incredibly clean, crisp drink. It is the epitome of gin and tonic in my mind – it is clearly a juniper-based drink, with pine freshness and a biting astringency that doesn’t let you forget it is a G&T you are drinking. For the seeker of the traditional G&T with no frills or gimmicks, this is going to be a total winner. I like this a lot and have found myself a new favourite G&T.