A lean-to garage in Ravenscourt Park, an unassuming residential suburb in London's west, seems an unlikely setting for a copper still, but it's perfect for the artisanal barley vodka and dry gin being produced by two men whose names make them sound like the leads in a Merchant Ivory film Stamford Galsworthy and Fairfax Hall.
Both cut their teeth in the liquor industry Galsworthy as a sales-and-export executive with Fullers Brewery and Hall as a strategist with Diageo before setting up their new independent distillery label, Sipsmith. Their knowledge of the drinks business, combined with a passion for distillation, helped them spot a niche in the U.K. market for microdistilleries producing small-batch artisanal spirits. "We wanted to bring back the art of handcrafted spiritmaking," says Galsworthy. "So we developed a business plan, quit our jobs, sold our houses and went on the hunt for the first distiller's license granted in London in a generation."
Two years and volumes of red tape later, Sipsmith was launched this past June. The centerpiece of the operations is the elegant, gleaming copper still, nicknamed Prudence by the founders. Custom-made by Christian Carl, a small family-run distillery maker in Bavaria, the still is the first in London for 189 years and was assembled on-site in the garage, which also doubles as a tasting and sales room.
The coziness of the space, Prudence's affable bulk and the small run all conspire to create a very intimate drinking experience. Each week, Sipsmith produces around 200 bottles, filling the small garage with heady, fruity aromas. The dry gin blends 10 botanicals including almonds, Seville orange peel and licorice root; while the vodka gives off a sweet, buttery vapor. Galsworthy and Hall constantly experiment with blends; the most successful to date is a vodka that smells and tastes exactly like English mustard.
With little fanfare, Sipsmith is making its mark with London's tippling set. Bottles labeled with the logo of a swan a reference to the name for a particular pipe on the still are showing up at the city's smartest bars, restaurants and shops, including the Met Bar, the Dorchester and Harvey Nichols. Clearly, Galsworthy and Hall are making up for lost time. See more at www.sipsmith.com.