November 4, 2015

There’s nothing to warm you up this cold season like a hearty dose of gin. When the cold settles over the city like an icy blanket, getting out of bed in the morning is a challenge and the darkness closes in by 4pm, it’s definitely the season to embrace some fiery cocktails. Fortunately, London gin distillery, Sipsmith, invited us to their bustling HQ for a tour where we caught up with head distiller, Ollie about the distilling process, pairing gingerbread with gin and creating new flavours and developing delicious new recipes. Sipsmith also share with us their Charlie Chaplin recipe so you can try it yourself at home!

UO: Distilling is a very specific profession. How did you come to be a distiller at Sipsmith?

I’ve always enjoyed applied science and ended up doing a pharmacology degree at Edinburgh. As a result of being in Scotland’s capital, where they take their beer and whiskey pretty seriously, I discovered Heriot-Watt University offers an MSc in Brewing and Distilling. Initially I went into the beer side of things, being a 20-something young man I wanted to avoid living in the middle of nowhere, something part and parcel with the Scottish distilling industry. However the capital called and gin was starting take off, a bit of fortuitous timing with Sipsmith needing a new head distiller and I guess the rest is history.

UO: We love to drink gin, but don’t know much about making it. Can you walk us through the steps involved in distilling?

Distilling is basically the boiling of a mixture and the condensing of the vapour produced in order to separate, purify or alter the various different components of the mixture. To make gin, various botanicals are added to the spirit before it is then distilled in order to impart a myriad of different flavours. Juniper is integral to any gin, giving wonderful oily pine notes, if there’s none in there it’s just flavoured vodka. Orange, lemon or grapefruit are added to provide bright citrus notes. Most gins also contain coriander to add a hint of peppery spice and to help bolster the citrus. A plethora of other botanicals may be selected by the distiller to imbue a range of different qualities; liquorice for sweetness, cassia for warmth, angelica for dryness and cardamom for herbal, spiciness; the list is almost endless.

UO: Tell us what makes Sipsmith gin so delicious?

Sipsmith’s gin is special because it is a classic London dry gin distilled with real botanicals using the ‘one shot’ method on our copper stills Patience, Prudence and Constance. Rather than creating an intense flavour concentrate which is then diluted with raw spirit or simply compounding raw spirit with flavoured additives, London dry gin means no concentrates, no additives, just water to dilute the distillate to bottling strength, the rest is up to the distiller. This commitment to uncompromising quality and integrity is what allows us to create truly unique spirits.

UO: What does a typical day at Sipsmith look like?

Well-orchestrated chaos!

UO: What’s all this about gin and gingerbread? Would you recommend eating gingerbread while sipping your gin?

Pairing gingerbread with gin is actually a tradition that dates back to the frost fairs held during the 1700s when bitter winters due to the little ice age, would cause the Thames to freeze over. In recognition of this I created a gin using clove, all spice, orange and plenty of fresh root ginger. It’s pretty good in a G&T and makes a superb hot toddy.

UO: How do you balance modern technology with traditional techniques when distilling?

Sipsmith is all about where old meets new. Rather than being revivalists though, we want to be progressive in terms of our approach to things. The stills themselves would be very familiar to a 19th century distiller but we have modern equipment to heat them and help capture the spirit. Where it lends to quality we will always look to adopt modern techniques to augment traditional artisan methods in order to create the best spirits possible.

UO: What’s your favourite way to drink gin?

I have a couple of favourites. First a Martinez, often regarded as the predecessor to the martini. I make mine using 1 1/2 parts Sipsmith London dry gin, 3/4 sweet vermouth and 1/2 Sipsmith sloe gin shaken over ice and served in a chilled coupette. Add a dash of orange bitters or an orange twist depending on how you feel.

Secondly a Collins, apparently named after a fictitious character that was part of a hoax in New York during the 1870s. Normally lemon is recommended though I use the juice of half a lime, 25ml of Sipsmith London dry gin and half a shot of sugar syrup all added to a high ball then topped off with ice and soda. The sugar syrup is really easy to make at home using equal weights of sugar and water shaken vigorously in an empty bottle and can even be infused with fruit if you are prepared to wait!

UO: What’s the best and worst thing about your job?

Sampling can obviously be pretty cool, but the most enjoyable part for me is exploring different botancials, creating novel flavours and developing new recipes. We’ve got a very well equipped lab and have got some exciting new products coming to fruition. Summer can be pretty unpleasant when the temperature in the distillery soars as a result of the hot equipment.

UO: Any cocktail trends you can’t get enough of or alternatively any cocktail trends you’d like to ban?

Yeah, I’m not a fan of dropping the used twist in a martini as a garnish. The bitterness comes out of the peel and can overpower and ruin the subtle flavours of the gin and vermouth. Basil as a garnish for long drinkslike a G&T though is great.

UO: Favourite Sipsmith gin?

That’s tough. I like them all for different reasons and couldn’t pick a firm favourite, I’m too capricious.

And finally…

Best autumnal cocktail… A negroni is a great drink to sip on whilst the sun goes down and it’s even better when the clocks go back!
My favourite fact about gin… The Juniper used in all gin is almost all wild and must be hand picked to avoid destroying next years harvest.
Best summer drink……The best summer drink is surely a gin and tonic with plenty of ice.
Exerpt’s tip on how to cure a hangover… Most cures are bogus, it’s all about avoiding them in the first place in my opinion. Always go for quality products, drink water with cocktails and eat toast when you get home.

Charlie Chaplin

35ml Sipsmith Sloe Gin
25ml lime juice
15ml apricot brandy
25ml dry vermouth

Shop: Copper Bar Set


1. Fill your martini glass with ice and top with water to chill the glass (throw away when you are ready with the good stuff)
2. Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker
3. Shake hard and fine strain into a chilled cocktail glass