Having made headlines by commissioning London’s first new copper still in 189 years, Sipsmith is now seeing its liquors listed in multiples. Simon Creasey reports


Two years ago the first new copper pot still in London for 189 years fired into action to a fanfare of publicity.

Christened 'Prudence', after Gordon Brown's favourite watchword, the still was custom-built for the Hammersmith, west London, gin and vodka micro-distillery Sipsmith.

After the initial flurry of media coverage things went a little bit quiet for the company but behind the scenes its founders have been working furiously to great effect. Last month Booths started stocking Sipsmith gin and in June, 11 Waitrose stores throughout London will follow suit.

These are the first significant listings for these small-batch liquors that are "quintessentially English", according to Sipsmith co-founder Fairfax Hall.

Hall, a former Diageo employee, set up the business in 2008 with childhood friend Sam Galsworthy, who used to work for Fuller's. The duo wanted to get back to the artistry of distilling and the ethos of small-batch production. "We wanted to create a truly handmade spirit in the way it's always been done," says Hall.

So they set about building an artisan business with 'alcohol alchemist' Jared Brown. Commissioning a still from Christian Carl, Germany's oldest distillery manufacturer, was a no-brainer for Hall. The bespoke design, with a unique set-up of a pot and a column, allows Sipsmith to create "one-shot" distillation barley vodka and London dry gin.

To ensure its product is of the highest-possible quality, the company only uses a small percentage of the alcohol it produces. Take its 40% abv vodka.

Three different types of liquids are produced during the distilling the heads, heart and tails and Sipsmith only uses 40% of the heart, which is mixed with English spring water collected from the source of the Thames. The rest of the liquor is thrown away.

The outcome is an "unparalleled" intensity of flavour, with both the gin and vodka championed by barmen at top London bars. Despite the labour-intensive production, the products seem pretty affordable at about £24 per bottle.

"A lot of people are surprised by the price," says Hall. "We want to champion the fact that everyone has the right to enjoy this quality rather than set it at a level that's unachievable."

The price point was clearly attractive to Booths and Waitrose who recently struck deals to stock Sipsmith's gin. As for selling into other retailers, the company is limited by the scale of its production ethos.

"We're a tiny company we can't support listings in 600 stores in the UK," says Hall. "We only do 200-300 bottles per batch so for the time being we want to make sure we're providing the right level of support to people stocking the product."

Hall admits that in a few years he would like to "get a sister for Prudence" it's traditional for distillers to name their stills and they're always female and step up production, but for the time being he's happy to experiment with flavoured varieties as limited-edition runs.

The company has already produced a fiery Colman's mustard gin and a Wasabi gin that featured at a pop-up restaurant event that it recently ran at the distillery. It also made a mince pie flavoured gin for London's Oxo Tower for Christmas.

"It took 50 hours to make 28 bottles and it was amazingly successful it flew out of there," says Hall.