Happy World Gin Day! In honour of the occasion, we’re offering you an inside glimpse into the heart of Sipsmith, courtesy of our distiller, Ollie Kitson.
Ollie joined Sipsmith last year as a protégé and second-in-command to our illustrious Master Distiller, Jared Brown. Under JB’s guidance, he ensures that our stills Patience, Prudence, and Constance are puffing away happily, while also overseeing some really rather exciting gin developments in the coming months (watch this space). Read on to learn more about what it’s like to work as a gin distiller at Sipsmith – and how best to celebrate World Gin Day.
Tell us how you first came to distilling.
‘I’ve always been inquisitive and enjoyed science, so I ended up doing a pharmacology degree at Edinburgh before completing an MSc in Brewing and Distilling. Initially I went into the beer side of things at Purity Brewing in the Midlands, but the capital called and gin was starting take off…a bit of fortuitous timing!’
For those who aren’t familiar with the distilling process, walk us through the basic steps. What makes Sipsmith’s distilling methods special?
‘The process can be broken down into two basic steps: 1) the boiling of a mixture; 2) the condensing of the resulting vapour in order to separate, purify or alter its different components.
Sipsmith’s distilling is special because our gin is made using the ‘one shot’ method on our copper stills Patience, Prudence, and Constance. Rather than creating an intense concentrate that is then diluted with raw spirit, our method means no concentrates and no additives – just water to dilute the distillate to bottling strength, all overseen by the distiller. We see it as a commitment to uncompromising quality.’
Gin has certainly become fashionable again. Punters are really starting to understand and enjoy the versatility of this wonderful spirit…
What role do botanicals play in the distilling process? How do distillers sample and select the botanicals that make it into the final recipe?
‘Juniper is integral to any gin, with its wonderful, oily pine notes – if there’s none in there, it’s just flavoured vodka! Orange, lemon or grapefruit are added to provide bright citrus notes. Most gins also contain coriander to add a hint of peppery spice and to help bolster the citrus. A whole myriad of other botanicals may be selected by the distiller to imbue a range of different qualities; liquorice for sweetness, cassia for warmth, angelica for dryness and cardamom for herbal spiciness. Recipe design is tricky, and it’s something that takes a lot of time and knowledge. Though the research is certainly enjoyable!’
Rumour has it you’ve been crafting some experimental, small-batch distillations of late. What kind of kit do you use to distil these batches? Any flavour combinations or ingredients that you’re especially excited about?
‘That’s right. We use a Rotavapor (rotary evaporator) in the lab, which allows us to do experimental, small-scale distillation runs at different pressures and temperatures. We’ve made all sorts of awesome stuff on it: mince pie gin for Christmas, olive gin for Martinis – even a seasonal elderflower liqueur. I’ve got a few other things up my sleeve, but you’ll just have to wait and see…’
What’s your favourite way to enjoy Sipsmith gin? Any recommended drinks or serves?
‘I have a couple of favourites. First: the Martinez, often regarded as the predecessor to the Martini. I make mine using 1½ parts Sipsmith London Dry Gin, ¾ sweet vermouth, and ½ Sipsmith Sloe Gin – shake over ice, strain, and serve in a chilled coupette. Add a dash of orange bitters or an orange twist depending on how you feel.
I also love a Collins (interesting fact: apparently, the drink was named after a fictitious character that was part of a New York hoax during the 1870s). Normally lemon is recommended, though I prefer to use the juice of half a lime, 25ml of Sipsmith London Dry Gin, and half a shot of sugar syrup, all added to a highball and topped off with ice and soda.’
How has London’s gin scene evolved since Sipsmith’s founding in 2009? Is it fair to say that we’re in the midst of a gin renaissance?
‘Gin has certainly become fashionable again. Punters are really starting to understand and enjoy the versatility of this wonderful spirit, and the variety within the artisan gin category.
We’re really proud to have helped start the renaissance: we lobbied to have the law changed back in 2009 to allow small, craft distilling back into the UK. Prior to 2009, the smallest still you could operate was 1800L, meaning even our latest addition, Constance, would not have met the minimum requirement.’
What’s your preferred way to celebrate World Gin Day? Will you be mixing up any special cocktails to honour the occasion?
‘A lie-in! Business is booming at the moment, we’re growing quickly and we’re really proud of what we’ve achieved. I’ll certainly have a gin and tonic on World Gin Day and will hopefully enjoy a bit of sunshine too.’