‘She’s fiery, yet beautifully creative’, remarks Fairfax Hall who, along with Sam Galsworthy, makes up one half of the Sipsmith duo – co-founders of London’s newest microdistillery.
The subject of his compliments is Prudence, the first copper pot still in London for 189 years. Prudence is behind Sipsmith’s London dry gin and Sipsmith barley vodka, both hand-crafted from Lydwell Spring water, one of the sources of the Thames.
‘Prudence is the name of Sam’s late mother. We also named her at the time of Gordon Brown’s budget so the name seemed rather apt! She is completely bespoke and was created from a sketch of our ideal still by a family run distillery-makers in Bavaria, Christian Carl, where they have made specialist stills since 1869.’
Sipsmith, an independent spirits company dedicated to creating small batch artisan spirits, was established in London this year and is located in Hammersmith.
Hall and Fairfax, respectively former Fuller’s and Diageo employees, have 20 years experience between them in the drinks business, and noticed a gap in the market for small-scale artisan spirit production. ‘When we were in the States we noticed that micro distilleries were becoming incredibly popular over there. Here in the UK the number of distilleries had decreased dramatically in the last 100 years, with most alcohol produced on a large-scale.
‘In 2008 we raised the money to realise our dream. We faced long battles with Revenue & Customs to get our distillers licence because they hadn’t given one out in London for nearly two centuries!’
Why did you choose London as the base for your business?
‘London is the home of gin and has such a colourful history of the drink we strongly felt there was no other place for us to setup. We also wanted to create a true London dry gin, distilled in London.’
Where in London do you live and why?
‘We live in Shepherd’s Bush. It’s a wonderfully vibrant and multicultural area that always has a lot going on. It’s also close to the M4 so easy to get back to Cornwall where we both grew up.’
What first inspired you to delve into the drinks industry?
‘Drinks have a very personal, emotional resonance for people and that is inspiring. A great occasion is often marked and remembered by the drinks we choose, so having something a bit special really makes a difference.’
What are the best and worst aspects of drinking in London?
‘London is recognised on the international stage as being at the very forefront of the cocktail revival and as a result is home to some of the most exceptional bartenders in the world, serving some of the best and most inventive and stimulating drinks. It can be a little expensive but then it is worth paying for true quality.’
Which area of London do you find most inspiring?
‘London is an inspirational city precisely because it is so diverse and has so many fascinating facets. As a result I wouldn’t like to focus on just one area – there is so much to see, do and experience all over London.’
Where would you recommend anyone in London go for a drink?
‘The Dorchester – the quality of the spirits they stock and the cocktails they make is outstanding. Bartenders there are true masters of their art and inspire clientele with their deep knowledge of every spirit on the list, providing an exquisite drinking experience.’
What’s your cocktail specialty?
‘The Sipsmith Vespa – it’s a version of the martini created by Ian Fleming for James Bond in Casino Royale. It is made with both gin and vodka, so the marriage of the two spirits is fundamental. And for perfect harmony you can’t beat using Sipsmith London dry gin and Sipsmith barley vodka as they both start from the same English barley and are made in the same still.’