Journey back 200 years, and one in every four London establishments was distilling spirits. Refreshing G&T’s, they probably weren't. Gin was, however, the people's’ poison. Quite literally. For very little dough, London’s city-dwellers made and enjoyed their own gin using any starched based substance they could get their hands on. And by 1743, England was drinking on average a litre and a half a day. This ‘bathtub’ gin era earned the drink its nickname - ‘Mother’s Ruin’- thanks to an increase in vice and debauchery at the time.
Roll in the Government’s Gin Act of 1751, which meant that if you wanted the privilege of making your own gin, you would have to swallow heavy taxes, about the equivalent of £45,000 in today’s money. Legislation went one step further, banning any still operating with a capacity of under 1800 litres. Small-scale gin joints went very quickly out of action.
Over the years, gin experienced a rags-to-riches makeover and grew to become the Gentleman’s drink of choice. Families with deep pockets were the only ones capable of making a business out of gin once more and it’s those names - Gordon’s, Gilbey and Booth, which have dominated the market ever since.
In 2007, two friends who had grown up together in Cornwall and had both spent time working in the alcohol industry in the US during the micro brewery boom, headed back to London, inspired by this craft beer movement and knocked on the gin licence application door. Having not been knocked on for 200 years, it was covered in cobwebs and no one took Sam and Fairfax seriously, for two whole years. You see, no one living knew how to properly pen an application for a license. The friends were stumped.
However, Sam and Fairfax took it upon themselves to barge that door open. Sam went as far as Scotland to visit micro whiskey distilleries to understand how they gained their licence. But ultimately, it was the help of the government that really set this craft gin dream alight. At the time, when ‘prudence’ as a fiscal mantra was being preached, the government was simultaneously helping to cut red tape preventing small businesses from starting up. Later, the friends received the green light, and ironically sold their houses, quit their jobs and bought ‘Prudence’, a 500 litre copper still and one of the most important members of the Sipsmith Team.
Sam and Fairfax now run a full-time operation in their workshop-cum-Distillery in Chiswick, West London. Prudence, Constance and Patience, their three copper stills, stand tall and majestic in all of their golden glory, reminiscent of something out of the Land of Oz, pouring forth the cleanest and smoothest tipple for all to enjoy.
Sipsmith has pioneered the craft gin movement in the UK. They focus on things well made, like they used to be, where old meets new. Roughly what Sipsmith team turns out in a year, the big guns in the gin industry make in just one day! Sipsmith have paved the way for other craft gin producers and for customers to have so much more quality choice when ordering at the bar.
You can visit their welcoming wonderland throughout the year where you’ll be greeted with the finest G&T, best enjoyed as you walk through the colourful history of gin with one of Sipsmith’s gin historians. You’ll meet the ever-so glorious copper stills responsible for your fine drink in hand and leave through the big garage doors feeling like a gin connoisseur and converted Sipsmith disciple.
And for the ultimate refreshment, Fairfax at Sipsmith recommends taking your gin with a wedge of lime (unsqueezed), whereas Sam likes a wheel of lime peel!
Sipmsith's favourite Finlay frames? Ledbury Ebony with Purple Mirror Lenses.