Gin, vodka and the original still

9476-wcos-crest-psd-oct-2015-1200Gin and vodka distilleries are popping up all over Britain and are using basic ingredients and flavourings as diverse as milk, sloe berries and damsons. Many of these artisan, small batch distilleries were started by enthusiasts, quickly becoming micro-businesses with several now winning national and international awards.

A parallel renaissance in label design has given the once dusty, fusty supermarket aisles and home cocktail cabinets a powerful shot in the arm. For example, the swan’s neck design on the London-based distillery Sipsmith takes its inspiration from its original still, known fondly as Prudence, the first copper still installed in London for over 200 years.

Sipsmith at the Langham, London
Sipsmith at the Langham, London

But while this new wave spirit world is attracting new tastemakers, the choice in mixer is less well developed. The question is … why fork out over £30 for a bottle of gin and then top it up with a less than adequate Indian Tonic Water tonic, ginger ale or soda water?

Step forward Fever-Tree, the UK-based upstart mixer company that is revolutionising the contents of the little bottle, often bought as an afterthought to the main event – the gin or vodka. The company suggests: “for a classic, juniper forward gin, we recommend Plymouth or Sipsmith Gin. For something with a little more citrus, Tanqueray 10 is a good choice, and for a floral flavoured gin, Hendrick’s or Martin Millers work wonderfully.”

So to London and the Brand Exchange, a business club and meetings venue in the heart of the City to hear from Sipsmith and Fever Tree about how the companies sparked into life, creating global brands within just a few years.

Organised by The Brand Exchange and London-based brand agency Breakfast, two speakers from each company spoke enthusiastically of the stories behind the drinks and the characters behind their success.

Charlie Roberts from Fever-Tree explained how the company puts the concept of great ‘taste’ at the heart of its mixers and sources ingredients directly from local producers to achieve this. Lemon extract is sourced from Sicily, ginger from Nigeria, Ivory Coast and south-west India and quinine from the Democratic Republic of Congo often risking life and limb in the search. Like the Victorian plant hunters Fever-Tree (the name come from the word for the tree providing the bark from which quinine is distilled), travelled to remote regions to source products with a serious provenance, and story. Likewise, the alchemists from Sipsmith source their botanicals from far and wide … cinnamon from Madagascar, angelica root from France and coriander from Bulgaria.

Alexander Darley from Sipsmith described the company’s journey and gin’s long and turbulent history. Today, the company’s own gin is created in individual batches in one of four copper stills without use of concentrates. This is called the ‘one-shot’ method of production, in which the ‘heart’ of each distillation is captured and bottled. It’s this purest middle cut that is mixed with a designated amount of water that brings it to the required 41.6% alcohol content.

Sipsmith generously offer three recipes for make-at-home drinks on their website, and as their distiller Ollie Kitson explains: “for those who have yet to experiment with crafting their own gin liqueur, it might be best to begin with fresh fruits, herbs, chocolate, and other approachable flavours. We always recommend working with duos or trios of flavours for more interesting and complex blends – strawberry works gorgeously alongside basil, for instance, while chocolate and orange are born partners.”

Here is one of Ollie’s suggestions for a gin liqueur, perfect for the upcoming Christmas season:

Chocolate Orange Liqueur

20g cacao nibs (available for health food shops and supermarkets!)
Orange zest
70 cl gin
400 ml sugar syrup

Add cacao nibs to gin and steep for one week.

On the final night, add zest of one orange (be careful to avoid the pith, as that will make your gin liqueur very bitter).

Strain the next day and add 400 ml sugar syrup to taste.

Both Fever Tree and Sipsmith have built strong brands and are likely to be around for many years, testament to the care and attention paid to creating fantastic drinks through sourcing the best ingredients, great design (packaging and labelling) and having terrific stories to tell.

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Bruce McMichael

Food writing, discovering food stories, meeting producers, chefs and food enthusiasts are all part of desire to inspire, inform my readers and fellow food lovers. I am a freelance writer, journalist and published author focusing on the international world of food and drink, culture and travel. In 2019 I graduated from the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy with a Masters in Food Culture, Communication and Marketing. I am now a visiting Professor at the university teaching Food & Drink Writing. Based in London I travel widely, particularly across western Europe. I have chaired many conferences and meetings, spoken at conferences and events and often appear on radio and TV talking most about food, the business of food and being an entrepreneur. In 2017 I won an episode of the ITV (the UK-based national television channel) cooking competition show, 'Gordon Ramsay's Culinary Genius'. I took my children on holiday to Sicily with the prize money. As an experienced farmers' market manager and operator of a small marmalade/ preserves company, I am very familiar with the issues surrounding local food, farming, enterprise and the environment.