In honour of V.J.O.P., the newest addition to the Sipsmith portfolio, we’re delving into the (slightly less than) illustrious history of over proof drinks.
V.J.O.P. (otherwise known as ‘Very Junipery Over Proof’) hails from a long tradition of delightfully boozy, potent, and palate-beguiling tipples. What exactly does ‘over proof’ mean, though, and when is it fair to slap the label onto a new bottle? Below, read more about the history of over proof spirits, which precedes our latest bottling.
The concept of ‘over proof spirits’ – or of ‘proof’ at all, really – was born in Britain in the 18th century. Back then, the alcohol percentage of spirits was essential information, more even than it is today, as sailors and their ilk were often paid partially in alcohol rations (rum being a common choice, which was sourced from Jamaica, the British Virgin Islands, and elsewhere in the Caribbean). Various tests were developed to ensure that the alcohol they were being given wasn’t watered down. They only wanted the good stuff.
One popular and explosive method involved mixing the spirit with gunpowder and lighting it with a match (we don’t recommend trying this one out at home). A spirit that caught alight and burned steadily was ‘proofed.’ Anything that failed to catch fire was ‘under proof,’ and had a less than satisfying amount of alcohol in it. As it follows, ‘over proof’ referred to a spirit that burned very quickly, designating a higher alcohol percentage by volume.
Those hard-drinking British sailors were also the inspiration behind a related terminology, ‘navy strength.’ In the 1800s, navy strength supposedly referred to any spirit that wouldn’t ruin gunpowder if it accidentally sloshed onto it during choppy seas. So long as the gunpowder remained ignitable, the spirit was fine to keep on board. Since then, navy strength gins have had to clock in at no less than 57% alcohol.
These designations were originally born out of practicality, but it wasn’t long before drinkers realised that over proof spirits also typically had more heft, richer body, and more potent flavour. In the hands of capable distillers (like Plymouth Gin, famous for producing a navy strength spirit), spirits with high-alcohol percentages weren’t just booze bombs, but actually showed unrivalled levels of complexity and flavour.
With our V.J.O.P., which itself clocks in at 57.7% alcohol by volume, we’re hearkening back to that tradition of high-alcohol, complex, well-balanced over proof spirits. With its richness of body, its complex palate, its lingering flavour and its full juniper character, the gin is unapologetically bold. It works beautifully in cocktails, while true gin lovers may even be inclined to enjoy it neat.
As you sip our new V.J.O.P., then, take time to reflect on its colourful history. Just do us a favour and stay well away from the fireworks.
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