The Sipsmith Blog

From Gin Crazes to Copper Pots: Exploring London’s Distillation History

in Articles October 30, 2015

London has been drinking – and making – gin for centuries. In honour of the capital’s rich distillation history, we’ve chosen to produce our gin the traditional way: using copper pot stills, fragrant botanicals, and no concentrates to speak of.

The story of British gin begins, technically, with the Dutch (and their spirit of choice, genever). First consumed in the medieval period, the malty, juniper-forward tipple is considered a precursor to gin, and made its way to the UK as early as the 17th century. Back in those days, distilling was an art that had been practiced for centuries by apothecaries, scientists, and other experts…and the local Worshipful Company of Distillers had strict control over the London spirits being produced.

But distilling in England was soon set to change. In 1690, Parliament passed the Distillers Act, which dissolved the monopoly of the Worshipful Company of Distillers, and meant that anyone could make their own spirits. For the casual gin sipper looking for a quick dram, that was good news indeed. But for those practiced distillers who prized quality above all else? It might have made things, shall we say, a bit difficult.

The story of British gin begins, technically, with the Dutch…

And thus began an insalubrious chapter in London’s distillation history: enter the Gin Craze, during which one in four homes produced their own gin and the spirit was sold in dram shops across the city. Unsurprising, much of the gin produced during this period was remarkably impure – even toxic – due to the lack of proper distilling techniques, and would be unrecognisable to today’s tipplers. For instance: turpentine was a common ingredient in 18th century gin.

It goes without saying that we don’t at all fancy the idea of turpentine in our gin, and Parliament didn’t, either. Beginning in the 1729, they enacted a series of Gin Acts which, once again, restricted the spirit’s production. As a result, we witnessed the return of the ‘gentleman distiller’ – and larger distilleries, using proper equipment and techniques, to once again produce gin of character, subtlety, and consistent quality.

We also produce our gin in individual batches, as they would have done in the past, without use of any concentrates.

That brings us up to the present day. The first copper pot distillery to open in London in 200 years, Sipsmith has always sought to pay homage to the city’s rich distillation history and the gentlemen distillers of yore. That’s evident in the way that we produce our gin: thanks to our copper pot stills and one-shot method, our gin is still made the traditional way.

Copper pot stills have long been the best way to produce rich and complex gin. The conductive metal is a distiller’s best friend, and keeps the spirit pure without excessive filtration. A copper pot still’s relatively simple design, one which originated centuries ago, also preserves the character and the complexity of the gin’s botanicals – something which column stills simply can’t do.

We also produce our gin in individual batches, as they would have done in the past, without use of any concentrates. This is called the ‘one-shot’ method of production, wherein we capture the “heart” of each distillation – the purest middle cut – and bottle it with a designated amount of water to bring it to its perfect 41.6% alcohol content. And that’s it: fresh off the still, purely made without concentrates – and no turpentine allowed.

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