Our Patch Spring 2018 Chiswick - Page 5

OUR PATCH SPRING 2018 I t’s hard to believe that it’s only nine years since two childhood pals sold their flats, put the money into leasing a garage in Nasmyth Street, Hammersmith, and set up the first new copper pot gin distillery in London for nearly two centuries. The Sipsmith story is a phenomenon; a soaraway success which still leaves its founders shaking their heads in amazement. “It’s been a bit of a rocket ship ride,” admitted Sam Galsworthy, who opened the distillery with his chum Fairfax Hall in March 2009. “We are still pinching ourselves.” In those nine years, the operation has shuffled half a mile across Ravenscourt Park and Stamford Brook to its current home in Cranbrook Road, Chiswick. Sam had previously been working a hop, skip and jump away in that other local temple of drink production, Fuller’s brewery. He was then in his early 30s, and had spent 10 years in beer – six of them promoting brands such as London Pride in the USA. “It was while I was in the States that I saw the momentum behind consumers wanting authenticity in what they were drinking,” he told Our Patch. “They were really buying into the ‘why’ of products; the US craft scene was proving to consumers that they deserved more.” The idea of setting up a new gin distillery came about after several long conversations between Sam and Fairfax. “He’s my best friend; we grew up together in Cornwall,” Sam explained. “I said ‘Look what’s going on in Left: Sipsmith is master distiller Jared Brown, and founders Sam Galsworthy and Fairfax Hall Sipsmith founder Sam in Hammersmith everything – brewing, distilling, clothes, coffee…’ The US was going from ‘big is beautiful’ to saying ‘small is wondrous’.” So they took the decision to go into business, assisted by master distiller Jared Brown, the third of the three amigos. To their amazement, they discovered that what they were planning was illegal! Back in the 1820s, in an effort to stem production of cheap back-street gin and contain the effect it was having on London’s population, the government outlawed small-scale distilling. The clampdown meant it was harder to hide from the authorities, making the drinks industry easier to regulate. The law had never been repealed. So Sam, Fairfax and Jared set out to change it. “We’d quit our jobs with great trepidation and sold our flats,” said Sam. “We spoke to our MP, and to drinks trade associations, and to revenue and customs.” Their badgering led to an amendment buried in the footnotes of the 2007 Finance Act, which said that – after a gap of nearly 200 years – small distillers could once again apply for a licence. The boys were in business. With the help of estate agent John Horton, at Horton and Garton, suitable premises were found at 27 Nasmyth Street, Brackenbury Village, and Sipsmith was born behind a pair of anonymous blue garage doors. It was an address which felt right. Fairfax realised that the former tenant, whisky expert Michael Jackson, was someone with whom he’d had an animated chat at a wedding. Before that, the building had done service as a pub’s micro-brewery. The signs were good. “Yes, John found us the original garage,” Sam confirmed. “But he played The new premises in Chiswick more of a role than that. He not only unlocked that space for us, but he began using our distillery as part of his pitch to other people thinking of buying houses in that road! We always tip our hat to John when we pass Horton and Garton’s offices; we really appreciate his help.” Five years on, with demand far outpacing Sipsmith’s capacity to supply, the swan-neck copper pots were moved from Hammersmith to Chiswick. There were 12 gin distilleries in the UK when we started... now there are 480 There are now four – Prudence, Patience, Constance and Cygnet – in a hangar behind the homes in Cranbrook Road. The role of Prudence in this good news story shouldn’t be understated. Mass produced spirits are made in stainless steel, which can produce harsh flavours which then need adjusting with filtering and additives. But Sipsmith’s copper stills have the effect of naturally removing harshness. Combine that with only taking the best part of the distilled product (the first and last parts of the process – the head and the tail – are removed) and you have a drink that does not need to be filtered. In a way, Prudence is the real star of this saga. It’s fair to say there has been something of a revolution in gin distilling since the first Sipsmith bottle was savoured by a public which had lost touch with its 18th century passion for the product. “There were 12 gin distilleries in the UK when we started,” said Sam. “Now, as a result of the law change, there are 480. I’m rather proud that we opened the doors and have enabled other people to do it.” Fairfax in the old Hammersmith lab