Dear Prudence – Visiting the Sipsmith Distillery
In a quiet, residential Hammersmith street, something wonderful is happening.
It’s not the sort of thing that usually happens on residential suburban streets – there are no embarrassing encounters with the vicar or furtive forays into ‘the lifestyle’ – but it is nonetheless a very English wonderfulness, and at its heart is a lady named Prudence.
We are, of course, talking about Sipsmith Independent Spirits, makers of Sipsmith London Dry Gin and Barley Vodka and their beautiful copper still, Prudence.
BarLifeUK first bumped into Sipsmith at the Boutique Bar Show in Manchester, and were much impressed with their London Dry Gin. When invited to come and visit the distillery, which happens to be pleasingly close to BarLifeUK HQ, we jumped at the chance and a few weeks later found ourselves questioning the GPS directions on our phones: “Surely there can’t be a distillery here? This street is full of houses?”
But sure enough, tucked away at the end of Nasmyth street, behind an unassuming blue door, we found Sam Galsworthy right where he said he would be, tasting glasses in hand.
It’s a small building and Prudence, glowing bright copper at the far end, dominates. Looking like something a Steampunk alchemist might have built, Prudence is clearly very alive in the eyes of the Sipsmiths. In the hour we spent at the distillery, not once was the still referred to as ‘it’, always she or Prudence, and the men of the family are obviously very proud of her.
Despite her slightly Jules Verne appearance, Prudence is, to quote Sam, “Brand spanking new”. She produces 300 litres or 80 cases a batch, and from August until December will be operating non stop.
Using a base barley spirit, Master Distiller Jared Brown keeps 50% of the front heart cut for Vodka, the rest is re-distilled into gin.
Changing the setup of the still, so that a pipe runs directly from the swan’s neck to the condenser, they add the remaining 50% along with 10 botanicals (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 and Spanish lemon peel) in an outboard flavour chamber, and Sipsmith London Dry Gin is born.
There’s a lot of passion to be found in the Sipsmith distillery, and provenance too.
The building once housed the micro-brewery for a local pub, and legendary drinks writer, Michael Jackson kept an office there too.
In this setting, Prudence and the Sipsmiths seem very much at home. There’s a slightly eccentric feel to the operation – when a flustered Sam had to apologise for taking a phone call from Buckingham Palace, this seemed right and proper for an outfit producing gin on a residential street in Hammersmith.
Prudence’s Pythonesque curves looming overhead and shelves lined with bell jars full of exotic-looking botanicals give the distillery an arcane, ‘sorcerer’s apprentice’ atmosphere, and right at the start of our visit, Sam described their approach as ‘the marriage of art and science’.
Having visited Prudence at her house, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a little magic in there somewhere too.