'Sipsmith is all about the small details and the stories around them. The whole story of Sipsmith can be told by just looking at this bottle,' Sam says, sat on a leather stool next to the distillery’s long copper bar and turning one of his handsome bottles in his hand. 'So we have the copper with the label foiling, the swan,' indicating the beautifully illustrated centrepiece, drawn by Victoria Sawdon. 'And we have the distiller man there, that tells us that this is made the way it used to be, the way it should be, to remind us never to deviate or betray the roots of where we come from and all the intricate details, the foiling is always slightly different and the small details make the biggest difference.'
Meet Sam Galsworthy
We meet with the Sipsmith founder to talk about craftsmanship, shoes and how to make the perfect Martini.
Turn over a bottle of Sipsmith and embossed around the base you’ll find the legend Cygnus Inter Anates — Swan amongst ducks — both a nod to the majestic, swan-necked copper stills in which this gin is distilled, and a mark of the quality ethos which sets London gin-maker Sipsmith apart.
Founder Sam Galsworthy is a long-time wearer of Edward Greens, and so we joined him for a Martini and chat at his distillery in the Victorian back streets of Chiswick to hear something of his story, and talk about gin, shoes and life’s swans.
After working in the US for drinks conglomerate Diageo, and seeing the growth of the craft beer movement there, Sam saw an opportunity for a passionate independent distiller to make high-quality gin of character. Galsworthy, and his childhood friend and business partner Fairfax Hall, lobbied government for two years to amend Gin Lane era legislation banning smaller operators from distilling, before opening Sipsmith, London’s first traditional copper distillery to open in two centuries. It must be said, the distillery’s copper stills are things of beauty, hand-crafted by a family business in Germany.
Each one has a name - Constance, Prudence, Patience and Cygnet – and like the old machines in our own factory, they somehow seem to be imbued with personality, each leaving their own individual stamp. Copper, with its superb conductivity, gives a particularly even heat and helps to extract the sulphurs and fatty acids for a smoother flavour. 'It’s a living element and quite a remarkable one which plays an important role in the Sipsmith story,' says Galsworthy who likens the magical vats to the world of Willy Wonka
Over the years, Sam has found the market has become more educated to the little differences, and with it, people enjoy the subtle affirmations of taste and the connections that makes with others. 'Ten years ago when we started, You’d say "gin and tonic, please!" and you’d get the house,' Galsworthy recounts. 'But as more people have become more curious about their spirit choices - the stories the points of difference, the genesis of these brands - so, they now bar call. You hear, "Can I have a Sipsmith martini please?" The bartender goes "got you". He wouldn’t say it loudly. He’d just nod his head – a subtle distinctive nod of the head.
'That was the start of something very exciting when professional, advocates, connoisseurs, acknowledge subtly what has taken place and we talk about that here with our brand, that subtle humble pride-ridden knowledge. I’ve been in bars, seen it and I’d just get this total glow and warmth.'
And Mr Galsworthy finds a parallel with appreciation of shoes. 'The other day - I swear I was not making this up - I was wearing my loafers in Singapore and meet this Japanese guy. He says he has 15, 20 pairs of Edward Greens. Anyway, I was wearing a pair and he goes "arghhh, Edward Green" and nothing more needed to be said. It was: "let’s not spend time talking about it, because we know… we’re connected." It affirms one’s taste, it just does something internally.
'I was trying to explain to Fairfax [Sam’s business partner]. I’ll go to his house and he’ll pull out a 17-year-old Hibiki or a Yamazaki 21, something like that, and then he’ll want to talk to me about it. And I love it too. But my Edward Greens to me are single malts. I said, "You’ll not drink your single malts every day of the week, although I’ll wear mine, I’ll rotate them. But I guarantee that over a lifetime I’ll spend less on shoes than you will on your malts."'
Sam has several pairs of Edward Greens and turns to a different pair depending on the occasion. Today he’s wearing his Rosewood Country Calf Galways - as good and sturdy a fieldboot as you’ll find - a veldtschoen construction, with the upper pulled out over the welt as per the Afrikaans tradition. 'These are definitely my work boots. When I go internationally I pound leather. I need something with relatively thick soles, something to support, something that makes me feel really good and confident and strong. I will rotate between these and the chukkas. I do a lot of presentations and so I’ll probably wear a smarter shoe - the loafers.'
Sam grew up as the tenth generation on his family’s estate at Trewithen in Cornwall, developing a deeply held love of the great outdoors. 'This morning I walked from Shepherd’s Bush to a meeting in Oxford Circus that’s a good two miles so I deliberately didn’t wear loafers, I wanted something that was supportive and comfortable and it was for a meeting that I wanted to feel confident in.
'You’re cross-legged,' he says, looking down at his boots and pointing to the substance of the welt, 'and there’s that trim, that look and I don’t care what it does for someone else but I know even without looking at it. It gives me a sense of confidence. Functionally, it’s perfect. Emotionally, it does something for me. They are an absolute treat and I love them.'
Other makers that Sam has a strong affection for are Drakes' and Sir Plus. 'I’m quite classic in style,' he says. 'I don’t like to make a big statement, I’ve turned 40, but actually what I want is that subtle detail or quirk which makes it more characterful.' Sir Plus's Nehru collared signature jacket is a favourite and their Portobello Market back-story convinced Sam to pitch into a crowdfund.
Standing at the bar Sam mixes a drink. 'I’m a Martini guy,' he says, measuring out a shot of his classic London dry. 'There’s nothing I’ve found - and I’ve been on a journey of discovery - that has come close to the enjoyment I get from someone making it for me. You feel like you deserve it, you’ve worked a long day and you actually get someone whose role in life is to create this amazing drink.'
'I do like it with a bit of vermouth - I think it’s quite important - and I do like it with a twist and, actually, I wouldn’t have any quirk with it at all. It’s the martini through and through for me.'
Does he have any advice? 'The quality of the glass has got to be right. You can get glasses that are thick, but a martini isn’t thick. Martini is delicate. And, I think, the glassware has to reflect that making it a delicate, sensory, glorious moment.'
Sam’s favourite Martini is just around the corner from us at Duke’s Hotel in St James’. 'It’s the most magical experience. They freeze all of their gins to -21°C. They don’t stir it, they don’t shake it. They rinse the martini glass, which is frozen, they put the vermouth in it, they stir it around and throw it on the floor, they then pour gin fresh into the glass, and, oh my god, it’s absolutely unrivalled. But very few places do that, and that, for me, is just part of the theatre - and I enjoy the theatre of it, the story.' Let’s drink to that.
Read more about the Sipsmith story at www.sipsmith.com