As a budding gin-o-phile, I’ve developed a reputation among my friends for offering long-winded, incoherent, but passionate testimonies to the glories of gin. Armed with half-baked history and indecipherable tasting notes (flowery…but not too flowery, right?), I will compel you to embrace gin as I have, no matter how many conversations/parties I must ruin. Folks, that’s unrestrained, wholly-ignorant love.
Alright, so I’d like to get smarter on gin. Now, I could head to the library or something quaint like that, but why not sit at a bar and have a world-renowned expert walk me through? So, when the folks behind one of my favorite DC bars Left Door announced that Mr. Jared Brown, noted spirits historian and co-founder of my favorite gin Sipsmith, would be visiting from across the pond, I cancelled all of my Saturday afternoon plans (sitting on the couch watching Netflix) and headed over to 14th Street.
Talking to Jared is like one of those annoying online Masterclasses, except without the obnoxious preening and with a lot more alcohol. Mr. Brown has forgotten more about spirits than I will ever know, and his presentation was a invigorating tour de force of history, technique, and botany. Throw in some exotic tales from a well-traveled spirits consultant, and my friend and I quickly came to realize we’ve wasted our lives working square jobs. We learned a ton about Sipsmith’s humble beginnings, processes, and founders, who were motivated by the challenge of making great gin, reviving a rich historical legacy, and celebrating creativity in spirits.
Mr. Brown walked us through the wild history of gin, an unwieldy trajectory governed by centuries of spirited alchemists and cranks. So many varients and mixes we’ll probably never see again (my favorite was “Strykefire”), traces of which can be found in old books and journals hidden in archives or behind walls; Mr. Brown’s tale of finding an old recipe in a two hundred year old journal in an attic was manna to the ears of a history geek like me. Another fun fact – while the sailors of the Royal Navy famously received a rum ration, the officers received gin, granting it a hint of class. Honestly, the historical narrative behind gin and its pregenitors was so engrossing, I wish I had brought a recorder or notebook; helpfully, Mr. Brown has a good collection of videos online you can peruse at your leisure.
We also drank through a full bank of Sipsmith offerings, including several that aren’t available in the US, regrettably. Started with the original, the London Dry, which I’ve come to love. It’s an even, perfect gin, with consistent botanicals, a current of summer, and a long string of warmth vice a sharp sting (per Mr. Brown, a good gin warms, a bad gin burns). One of my favorites was the Sloe Gin, which uses ripened sloe berries harvested from local English farms. I loved the richness in this one, a blueberry, plum-ish taste that synchs well with the gin heat and flower for a pleasant, accessible swallow. Then we turned the juniper level up to 11 with the VJOP (Very Junipery Over Proof) – the sip was definitely different, with a jarring up front of juniper then doesn’t let up. Really highlighted the soul of the spirit, I thought, although I’d hesitate to offer it to a gin novice. Better to seduce them, slowly.
The two “off menu” spirits included the London Cup, Sipsmith’s take on the cocktails that were all the rage in the 1800s. Using Earl Grey-infused gin and citrus, this is a gentle sipper that I wanted to enjoy on its own or pour into a punch. Our last tasting was the delightful Lemon Drizzle Gin, invented by Sipsmith’s wizards after they threw a lemon drizzle cake into the copper stills. Made by incorporating lemon peals with a potpourri of herbs and spices selected by Mr. Brown, this one was my favorite, with a cooling, full-bodied, almost creamy sensation that worked perfectly with the standard herbal notes. I was in heaven.
For a glorious finish, we were served a classic gin and tonic. Although the legend of British soldiers inventing the drink to ward off malaria in India (it’s the quinine the cures ya) is widely accepted as gospel, Mr. Brown commented that had yet to find any hard evidence behind that story. Apparently the soldiers of the Raj basically drank whatever came to hand, so it’s hard to precisely source the combo. Oh well, an obscured history never hurt the taste of a drink – kudos to the Left Door folks for churning out this really perfect G&T, with a perfectly blended, silky marriage of the botanicals and refreshing carbonation. A great cap to a wonderful day at class.