Monday February 15th 2016 saw Sipsmith’s Master Distiller (and legendary drinks historian) Jared Brown and Head of On-Trade Sales James Grudy take over the Gin Parlour at Birmingham’s Jekyll & Hyde to have a little chat with a whole bunch of bartenders from the city. We took a seat, and before we’d even been handed our London Dry Gin & Tonic, Jared had signed a handful of his books and started sharing stories. The Sipsmith Masterclass had begun.
What made the Sipsmith Masterclass different?
One thing that was quickly made clear about Sipsmith is that, with his extensive background as a drinks historian, Jared Brown was embracing the traditions of classic Gin making before shortcuts were taken such as overloading the stills to make Gin concentrates that are later cut with neutral spirit and water. Sipsmith Gin is cut only with water to reduce it to bottling strength when it leaves the still, and as a result we were able to sample the heart cut Gin at different points in the distillation process.
Sipsmith Gin uses a narrower heart cut than other Gins. In layman’s terms, what we’re talking about is that the head and tails of the distillation, or the first and last parts, where the quality of the distillate is the lowest, containing non-ethanol (drinkable alcohol) volatiles. Sipsmith, we were told only uses the very peak of the quality, cutting as the quality begins to drop off rather than where it bottoms out.
1 Hour Sipsmith
We were first brought over a taste of the London Dry Gin as its sold so we had a baseline for the flavours we were to taste in the partial distilations that we were about to try. Sipsmith Gin is super clean tasting and has zero alcohol burn even though it is bottled at 41.6% ABV, thanks to the narrow heart cut described above. Botanical wise, Sipsmith comprises Macedonian Juniper, Seville orange peel, Spanish lemon peel, Italian orris root, Spanish liquorice root, Belgian angelica root, Madagascan cinnamon bark, Chinese cassia bark, ground Spanish almond and finally Bulgarian coriander seed.
The samples were each cut to bottling strength to give a good comparison to the retail version we were tasting against, and the 1 hour sample was passed around to the gathered bartenders. As we were told to expect, this early sample showcased the citrus notes within the botanical blend, and Jared explained this was because those molecules have a lower molecular weight, allowing them to evaporate earlier in the distillation. The whole thing certainly had a lighter, thinner mouthfeel when compared to the final product.
2 Hour Sipsmith
The second sample is where the Juniper berries begin to really shine, with a far more pronounced and fresh pine flavour to the drink, which is still not overpowering. More sweetness starts to come through at this stage along with hints of spice and ginger notes thanks to the Bulgarian coriander seeds.
If you get the chance to attend one of these sessions with Sipsmith it is fascinating how the Gin’s flavour profile is built during the distillation and how the flavours extracted change with time.
3 Hour Sipsmith
The third and final sample taken at the three hour point in the process is noticeably heavier and fuller bodied than the previous tastings thanks to the more complex and larger molecules that are being carried away with the spirit. This sample still resembles Gin but with much more of the herbal and sweet earthy notes being passed on at this stage with a good deal of spice and juniper playing second fiddle here.
The taste is huge on the palette, melting onto the tongue and spreading wide into the cheeks – and while the flavours are not as crisp as a normal Gin, this could almost be a spirit of its own.
Jared, James and the Sipsmith team put on a fantastic event in Birmingham, incredibly informative and filled with anecdotes and stories about the creation of the product as well and a good chunk that were completely irrelevant to the Gin but marvellously entertaining none the less. Its always a pleasure to learn about the process that goes into the products on our back bars, the love and passion that is put into the liquids that we sell, and having the opportunity to pass on even a little of that information to our guests.
We did also get to taste their super juniper VJOP, Sloe Gin and Damson Vodka, so let me know if you’d like to know more on those and we’ll get into the details there!
Thank you so much to Jared Brown and James Grudy for sharing their knowledge and time with us.