Apparently today is National Gin & Tonic Day. I don’t usually celebrate such days here on the blog (there seem to be a number of G&T celebrations…), but as it’s one of London’s most iconic drinks and a favourite tipple of mine, it gave me a good excuse to think of a way to share last week’s trip to Sipsmith’s Gin Distillery.
My friend Lyndsay and I have been trying to fix a date to catch up for ages, with neither of us remembering when it was that we last saw each other we knew one was overdue. Luckily for me, Lynz had booked in a trip to Sipsmith’s and she had a spare ticket. I was so excited to be free, I snapped up the offer. A few weeks later I escaped out of work a bit early to head further west to Turnham Green.
You probably know that Sipsmith is a popular distiller of batch-produced gin. Their latest and larger distillery is based in Chiswick. I have to admit the quaint, leafy streets of the area felt a bit at odds with a gin distillery. I imagine these places to be found in the midst of an industrial estate or at least somewhere that feels a bit more urban. But after stepping through the doors it felt completely at home with its surroundings.
Instead of giving too much of the tour away (the story of the brand is better heard on site), I thought I’d share five new facts about gin I learned whilst I was there.
1. The G&T was invented in the mid 19th century. Quinine, an extract from the South American cinchona tree, had long been used as way to cure and prevent malaria. (It was known to the indigenous population as the “fever tree” as it stopped people getting the chills. Hence the tonic brand ‘Fever Tree’.) In the 19th century, British Officers in India took to adding water, sugar, lime and gin to make the cure more palatable. And so the G&T was born. As we don’t need this as medicine today, the tonics we drink tend to include much less quinine and are often sweetened to make it less bitter.
2. From 1751 to 2006, the smallest still (the machine that makes gin) you could get a licence for was 1,800 litres. Back in the day London had a heavy gin consumption and it was being produced and sold all over the city. In a measure to reduce consumption, the government introduced a limit of only being able to produce gin (legally) if your still was 1,800 litres. In 2006, two years after Sipsmith hatched a plan to set up a batch distillery, Gordon Brown reduced the limit to 300 litres.
3. Sailors received a gin ration to fend off illnesses right up until 1970. On 31 July 1970, known in the navy as Black Tot Day, all free alcohol rations (a ‘tot’) for sailors were stopped.
4. It has always been the tradition for distillers to give their stills female names. There are three at Sipsmith – Prudence, Patience and Constance. Here’s one of them…
5. The amount of gin produced at Sipsmith in a year could be produced in one day at a large distiller like Tanqueray.
(The tasting wall at Sipsmith’s – where all their new flavours are tried and tested. I saw mince pie and cold coffee flavours up there!)
Sipsmith Distillery Tours run Monday to Wednesday evenings and Lyndsay tells me they book up fast. You can buy tickets through their website. It would make a great gift for any gin lover and could be a fun date option.
Are you partial to a G&T? Have you done any other distillery tours?