Tag: Microbrewery

The long road to Mother’s Ruin

Garage door at Sipsmiths Distillery

Behind one nondescript blue door on a quiet residential street in Hammersmith, a single garage is the home of the microdistillery producing award-winning spirits. Located on the site of a former microbrewery, Sipsmith is the brain-child of Sam Galsworthy and Fairfax Hall. Taking advantage of a little wintry sunshine, I went to meet the makers to learn a little more.

Through the blue door, the distillery is clear – the still is at the back, the ingredients in the middle and the office just a couple of steps in. The office was already a hive of activity when I enter. Although Sipsmith is still a relatively small operation, it already seems to be bursting at the seams with five core members of staff and the occasional intern. Sam gives me a brief introduction to Sipsmiths before handing me over to Fairfax.

Prudence still at Sipsmiths Distillery

The inspiration for the microdistillery came in 2002.

Sam was working for Fuller’s in America and Fairfax had just started an MBA there. During their time abroad, they saw an explosion in the popularity of microbreweries and microdistilleries due to changes in legislation and were both fascinated by the processes involved. Having visited many establishments and sampled the small-batch beers and spirits, they were surprised and impressed by the quality of the products. Sam and Fairfax soon found themselves drawn to the idea of opening their own distillery in London, the home of gin.

Back in the UK, the idea lay dormant and Sam continued to work for Fullers while Fairfax went to work for Diageo. But it wasn’t for very long because in January 2007, they both quit their jobs, sold their houses and put all their effort into making their dream a reality.

Of course it wasn’t as easy as simply leasing the premises, getting the equipment and creating the recipes to set up shop. They needed a licence for the distillery.

Botanicals at Sipsmiths Distillery

Given that the last licence issued in London for a distillery was for Beefeater almost 200 years ago, the application process was long and tedious. For one, the procedure was dusty and unclear, and then there was the slow rotation of the bureaucratic clog itself. Sam and Fairfax pushed on nevertheless. And finally, after almost two years, they were rewarded with the licence to open a distillery in December 2008.

Today the inconspicuous certificate hangs proudly by Fairfax’s desk. As he tells me the trials and tribulations of obtaining this document, the birth certificate of the distillery, he hands it to me. It looked like nothing more than a small piece of paper encased in a wooden frame but for them it meant a lot of hard work and persistence.

Sam and Fairfax commissioned a copper still from the family run still manufacturers Christian Carl. The still needed to be one that allowed them the flexibility to make different spirits and of a suitable size so they can make it in small batches. Copper was chosen because it purified the spirits during the distillation process, extracting sulphur, ethers and fatty acids, so it didn’t need to be filtered post-production. They also employed the skills and knowledge of drinks historian Jared Brown to craft the recipe for their barley vodka and dry gin.

On the 14th of March 2009, Prudence, Sipsmith’s new still, produced its first batch of vodka from British barley and soon afterwards, dry gin. It wasn’t until the end of June 2009, though, that Sipsmiths crafted the final product.

Their hard-work has certainly paid off. Sipsmiths have won 10 international gold awards in the 17 months since their first bottle was sold and most recently, they won the award for Best Newcomer in the Observer Food Monthly Awards. This last one is currently occupying pride of place between Sam and Fairfax.

Inside the still at Sipsmiths Distillery

These days Prudence sits at the back of the garage space reliably distilling spirits in small batches. So small in fact if you type the batch number on your bottle of Sipsmiths into their website, you can find a little anecdote about the day that the batch was produced. The small batches also helps to maintain the quality of the spirits produced. And to demonstrate, Fairfax offers me a sample.

For the vodka, only the first heart cut (the portion with the highest quality) is bottled producing a spirit which is smooth and rounded with a hint of sweetness. The second heart cut is distilled again with 10 botanicals including juniper berries, citrus peel and coriander seeds to produce the very refreshing dry gin. The Sipsmiths likes to drink theirs with two parts Fever-Tree tonic to one part London Dry Gin, just add ice and lime. The head and tail cut of the distillates are currently wastage although, Fairfax tells me, a Sipsmith vodka car is on the cards.

With that I leave the Sipsmiths to their business. As I step back out into the sunshine, I can’t help but smile and think of Hogarth. It’s barely 11am and there is just a hint of gin on my lips.

Sipsmiths is at The Distillery, 27 Nasmyth Street, London W6 0HA www.sipsmith.com

(First seen on Foodepedia)

A hop and a skip to malt at Sambrook’s

Sambrooks brewery pull clips

Sambrook’s Brewery, Battersea, is a place full of reinventions.

The brewery’s co-founder, Duncan Sambrook, was a City accountant before he threw in the towel to become a brewer in 2008. The brewery’s premises in Battersea was a television studio prior to having its double-panelled floors stripped bare, the walls resprayed with hygiene paint and 20 barrel-capacity brewing equipment installed, transforming it into a microbrewery in the heart of London. In some respects the whole operation is rather like the revival of the brewing industry, with smaller microbreweries becoming increasingly popular compared to larger industrial manufacturers.

Reinvention has certainly suited Sambrook’s. Since its first cask was tapped in November 2008, over one million pints have been served to thirsty punters across London. Junction, one of its two permanent ales has even won Beer of the Festival at this year’s Battersea Beer Festival. So on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I headed down to Sambrook’s to see what the fuss is all about.

When I arrived for the tour of the brewery I was met by Duncan Sambrook in a reception area decorated to look like a pub. On display at the bar were the pump clips of the cask ales produced by Sambrook’s – Wandle and Junction. The Wandle is named after a tributary of the Thames, from where Sambrook’s draws its water, while the name Junction is derived from Clapham Junction, Sambrook’s nearest station. It all feels very local, which is exactly the ethos that Sambrook’s is trying to maintain – a London brewer making beer for Londoners.

We were also joined by a group of beer connoisseurs from Brighton CAMRA who were very enthusiastic about the pint of Wandle to start the tour. It was light, slightly sweet and very refreshing.

Given that my last tour of a brewery was the Guinness factory in Ireland, I had expected huge containers for the brewing and even bigger warehouses to store the hops and malt. The kind of place where you start to feel drunk just by breathing in. Sambrook’s was tiny in comparison so it was surprising to learn that by brewing four times a week, Sambrook’s actually produces around 27,000 pints. That’s a lot of thirst quenching.

Unlike most breweries, Sambrook’s likes to mill their own malt. It’s so that they get “just the right amount of sugar” to kick off the process. That much at least will be drilled into you by the end of the tour.

The milled malt goes into a vat called the mash tun where hot water is sprayed on top to create wort, the brown sugary liquid used for the beer. The wort is then pumped into the copper where it is boiled; hops are also added for flavour and preservation of the beer. The resulting liquid is allowed to cool before it is fermented for six days.

So a week later you have your tasty Wandle or Junction, depending on the mix of malt and hops used, ready to be pumped into firkins, kilderkins or barrels and delivered by Sambrook’s drivers to any of the 120 or so pubs within the M25 that serve their ales.

The tour was a real insight into the world of microbrewing and it’s quite obvious that Duncan Sambrook is as enthusiastic about his brewing now as he was on day one. This is a man who is proud to welcome visitors to his brewery, where tours with tastings are run Mondays to Thursdays plus Saturdays. And of course it wouldn’t be right if we didn’t end the tour with a pint of Sambrook’s other permanent ale; the award-winning, darker, stronger and slightly bitter, Junction.

Sambrook’s is at Unit 1&2 Yelverton Road, Battersea SW11 3QG www.sambrooksbrewery.co.uk

(First seen on Foodepedia)

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