Last Thursday, my wonderful manfriend treated me to an evening of my favourite things – beautiful pubs, amazing food, history (oh yes), and most importantly gin!
Sipsmith have been running weekly tours of their gin distillery for a while now; however the Sipsmith Distillery Tour and Gin Palace Extravaganza which we embarked upon is a completely different bucket of booze – sure to have you gaily zigzagging home, arm in arm with a whole host of newly acquired friends.
We started out at the stunning Princess Victoria Gin Palace for a taste of Sipsmith’s Summer Cup, a fruity golden beverage very similar to another British favourite beginning with P… however, it foregoes squishy strawberries and browning apple pieces, for a fresh limey zing which won’t leave your teeth coated in sugar. After a couple of these, we trotted off to the dining room for a three-course meal laced with alcohol: vodka gazpacho, lavender and gin drizzled duck, and finally a little sphere of cucumber sorbet bobbing atop a posh gin jelly shot – which all the more inebriated men of the table enjoyed wibbling as much as eating.
The duck was utterly divine, surely the best duck I’ve ever tasted, especially in my state of gin-induced euphoria. I also highly approved of being allowed to eat a jelly shot and still retain my dignity (just), and will not rest until I’ve recreated that little green ball of sugary cucumber ice. In fact, I think a round of cucumber sorbet in a G&T could make a genius grown up alternative to the nostalgic but sickly coke float.
After three plates of spirits and a glass of wine, we’d got to know not the names, but the hometowns, jobs, relationship statuses and most importantly drink preferences of all of our dining companions. Although turning up to sit at three long tables with a load of strangers can seem intimidating, it made the whole evening into a chatty, giggly, buzzy party – by the time we got to the distillery we were all mates, snickering like naughty school kids at the amount of free booze being dished out.
Anyway, let’s set things straight: the Sipsmith Gin Distillery Tour doesn’t meet the traditional definition of tour. But after the Princess Victoria I for one couldn’t have been happier to turn up to a small garage on a residential street in Shepherd’s Bush i.e. no walking, hairnets or stairs required. It is a pretty insightful tour for your taste buds though; first the necessary G&T was handed out, and from there we moved onto Sipsmith’s Barley Vodka, then their London Dry Gin, Summer Cup, Damson Vodka, and finally the Sloe Gin. For me, the Sloe Gin was the favourite: berry-red, dark and syrupy, yet stirringly sharp with cinnamon and marzipan hints, it rings with the Christmas spirit.
However, most significantly, my sworn hatred for vodka has been contested and might just be about to change. I’ve found a vodka which is not just a perfume-turpentine concoction designed to burn and inflict agonising hangovers! Of course Grey Goose and Absolut are more endurable than Sainsbury’s own, but still bitter; whereas Sipsmith’s is slightly sweet and actually tastes of something – not surprisingly it reminded my countrified tongue of the smell of hay bales, deceptively wholesome for a 40% vodka.
Whilst we were trying our hardest to stay on our best behaviour, sip our drinks respectfully and not fall onto the surrounding metal kegs, the lovely James told us the story of London Dry Gin and Sipsmith. In his smooth TV presenter voice he explained how they struggled for, but finally attained, a license; introduced us to the beautiful brass beings Patience and Providence (don’t quote me on that, all was a little fuzzy by this point), and described how their curvaceous forms distil a vodka and the swan neck provides a gin; and how their blends vary from your rough supermarket alternatives.
By the time we picked up our goodie bags and poured out onto the pavement, I’d become quite attached to the overgrown chemistry set which is the Sipsmith Distillery. Still, there was no time for tears as we rushed home to make another few G&Ts from our complimentary kit of a plump lime, Fever Tree tonic and 35cl bottle of Sipsmith London Dry. Needless to say, Friday was a wipe-out.