When Sam Galsworthy and his business partner Fairfax Hall tried to set up the Sipsmith gin distillery in 2009 they experienced a long delay as they waited for approval. The hold-up was eventually explained by an official, who told them that no one had applied for such a licence since 1820.
How times have changed. Back then, Sipsmith joined Beefeater (the pick of the cheaper gins) and Thames Distillers as the places making London dry gin in the capital. Now, if you wander into an industrial unit in any given postcode, chances are you will find some enterprising types macerating juniper berries, from Little Bird in Peckham to Sacred in Highgate, while Charles Maxwell of Thames Distillers makes many more under license.
In fact, such is the variety that with World Gin Day approaching this Saturday, it is almost possible to sip your way around the Tube map. I challenged some of my favourite London distillers to come up with cocktails that would express something of the terroir of their particular patch.
Dodd’s is a crisp London dry-style gin made at the London Distillery Company — where they have recently developed a sideline in whisky too. Here’s a refreshing spin on the classic Bee’s Knees, which draws out the honey notes in the gin itself and finds use for “postcode” honey from Harrow.
Dodd’s gin BEEKEEPER’S BREAKFAST
40ml Dodd’s gin
20ml honey syrup*
12.5ml lemon juice
1 tsp 0% fat Greek yoghurt
2 fresh borage leaves
Set one borage leaf aside for the garnish. Shake everything else with plenty of ice, strain into a tumbler filled with more ice and garnish with the borage leaf. Imbibe through a straw.
*To make honey syrup, combine equal parts London Honey Company Harrow Honey and hot water and allow to cool.
Up in Highgate, Ian Hart and Hilary Whitney run an endearing and impressive two-person operation (with botanicals stored in a child’s wendy house in the garden). Their London dry is matchless gin — and they have also added a juniper-forward version, a rich vermouth and a Campari-style Rosehip Cup. Challenged to come up with a cocktail that would express the fragrant terroir of Highgate — that hilly zone where Ray Davies of the Kinks ambles and Karl Marx sleeps for eternity — they came up with this.
Sacred juniper gin ENGLISH GARDEN
50ml Sacred Rosehip Cup
25ml Sacred juniper gin
100ml Fever Tree elderflower tonic
Fresh mint sprig
Stir everything well in a tall glass filled with ice, garnish with the mint sprig and sip through a straw.
Made by Mark Holdsworth by the canals in Camden, Half Hitch is slightly darker in colour than your average gin, owing to the black tea and bergamot tinctures that he adds to the pot. He came up with this tribute to his home borough, a riff on the classic Bronx.
Half Hitch gin THE CAMDEN
60 ml Half Hitch gin
30 ml fresh orange juice
5ml sweet vermouth (preferably Sacred)
5ml dry vermouth (preferably Noilly Prat)
Splash of maraschino
Shake well with ice and double-strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange zest twist.
EAST LONDON LIQUOR COMPANY
A newish operation out east, the East London Liquor Company has a splendid on-site bar and off-licence. Here’s a savoury summer cocktail inspired by the Leaside Road allotment, combining both East London Liquor Company London dry gin and Kamm & Sons (a London aperitif made in a similar way to gin). It’s available at Graphic Bar in Soho as a World Gin Day special. Look out too for their Gin Off — a World Cup of gins that’s going on there all summer.
East London Liquor Company London dry gin LEASIDE WINDOW BOX
20ml East London Liquor Company London dry gin
20ml Sagatiba cachaca
20ml Kamm & Sons
10ml Lime juice
10ml Homemade chilli and celery syrup*
Shake everything with plenty of ice and strain into a cold cocktail glass. Garnish with a piece of celery.
*For the syrup, combine equal parts celery juice and golden caster sugar and a couple of sliced red chillies in a pan. Warm until the sugar is fully dissolved, strain and decant.
The distillery that kick-started the new gin boom. Here’s a lively summer tipple where fresh herbs combine with lime in a way that will surely put you in mind of the fragrant lawns of Stamford Brook.
Sipsmith London dry gin THYME FOR LIME
Sprig of rosemary (roughly 10 individual leaves)
Sprig of thyme
25ml lime juice
25ml simple syrup
50ml Sipsmith London dry gin
Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker and fill with very cold ice. Shake well and serve over ice in a highball glass. Top up with fizzy water.
A cheeky little gin, this one, made in the urban paradise that is Peckham. This bittersweet delight is one of the most popular cocktails at the Pedler in Peckham Rye. It is not a martini, technically (more of a juicy negroni) but rules in Peckham are regularly broken.
Little Bird gin PECK’EM MARTINI
25ml Little Bird gin
25ml Cinzano bianco
25ml grapefruit juice
Shake with plenty of ice and strain into a tall glass filled with more ice. Garnish with a grapefruit wedge.
Richard Godwin’s cocktail book, The Spirits, will be published by Square Peg in the autumn.