Gin – on a whisky blog?! What’s this un-aged spirit doing on here! Well, whisky may be my one true malty love, but I’ll always have room for a good gin, especially on a warmer than average Easter long weekend, like the one we just had.
For the diehard whisky fans out there, don’t tune out just yet – there’s an interesting little whisky connection in all of this, I promise!
And so we met
Sipsmith was established in the West London area of Hammersmith back in 2009 and so became the first copper-pot distillery to open in London in more than 189 years.
I first became acquainted with them in early 2012 after stumbling upon their London dry gin one evening at Sydney bar. I knew nothing about it at the time, but that first taste was enough for me to realise I was drinking something a little different. And I liked it!
A few months later this commemorative Diamond Jubilee bottle landed in my hands courtesy of a family member returning from the UK. I didn’t have the heart to crack it open at the time, but thankfully I didn’t need to as Sipsmith London Dry was launched nationwide shortly thereafter.
The launch coincided with a visit from one of the founding Sipsmiths – the ever charismatic Mr Sam Galsworthy – and I had the genuine pleasure of meeting him and hearing all about Sipsmith, Prudence and the gang first hand. It’s fair to say that they’ve had a Sipsmith fan in me ever since.
Things went a little quiet on the Sipsmith front, but when I saw that they’d recently released the equivalent of a cask-strength gin, I knew I had to try it.
The idea for VJOP (or Very Junipery Over Proof), harks back to maritime lore and the idea of higher proof, ‘navy strength’ spirits being regarded as the good stuff. Taken from the Sipsmith website:
‘In the 1800s, navy strength supposedly referred to any spirit that wouldn’t ruin gunpowder if it accidentally sloshed onto it during choppy seas. So long as the gunpowder remained ignitable, the spirit was fine to keep on board. Since then, navy strength gins have had to clock in at no less than 57% alcohol.’
And so the elegant bruiser that is VJOP, was born.
I’m a big fan of the overall presentation of this bottle. From the dipped wax seal, to the illustration on the label, the use of foiling and the die-cut juniper leaves that stick out to the side – there’s a lot of great attention to detail in this bottle.
In the interest of a fair review, I thought it prudent to taste VJOP side-by-side with its sibling, Sipsmith London Dry Gin, so here goes.
Sipsmith London Dry Gin 41.6% ABV
On the nose, I got some peppery juniper, a bit of rough spice (cinnamon and cloves), some young grassy hay notes and a fair amount of citrus peel. A very crisp nose on this.
I found the London Dry to be fairly thin on the palate, starting off heavy with the citrus but fading to a drying peppery finish. I didn’t get much juniper up front, but I felt that it showed through with a bit more peppery spice toward the end. Very solid and a good reminder of why I enjoy Sipsmith so much.
Next up, its big belter of a brother – VJOP.
Sipsmith VJOP Batch 001 57.7% ABV
Very fresh on the nose, but that bitey crisp edge is now smoother and almost creamy if you will. Loads of fresh peppery juniper, citrus, lemon myrtle, some fresh cedar and a hint of dried coriander. Overall, somewhat smoother and more refined. In my opinion, it doesn’t give away its whopping 57.7% ABV at all…
… Ah! There’s that ABV. On the palate, VJOP sets those saliva glands into overdrive! Big fresh juniper hit right up front, more viscosity with fresh zingy lemon zest and maybe a hint of celery? Very vibrant and lively with a much, much longer finish. Yum!
I don’t often drink my gin neat, so it’s only fair that I put VJOP to the test in two of my favourite gin-based mixed drinks – the humble Gin & Tonic and the classic Negroni.
Gin & Tonic
I’m no bartender, but this was a mighty fine G&T. The VJOP/Fever Tree combo makes such a fresh, clean G&T, not dominated by any particular flavour. Not too sweet, nice and boozy with those lovely crisp juniper and coriander notes lingering long after you sip.
For this classic, I mixed 30ml Sipsmith VJOP, 30ml Campari and 30ml of sweet vermouth (your favourite will do the trick – I used Dolin Rouge). Stir over a single chunk of fresh ice, garnish with a twist of orange after rubbing down the rim of the glass.
If I’m being honest, I’m often slightly let down by the Negronis I order when I’m out and about. Despite the three equal measure recipe, they aren’t always as balanced as I’d like, often being too heavy on the bitter notes, or too sweet for my liking.
This on the other hand really hit the spot. Still using the same three equal measure recipe, everything just seemed to balance in perfect harmony – drying peppery juniper, with just the right amount of bitterness and sweetness for my tastebuds. A strong concoction, but oh so tasty.
The whisky connection
Ok, so here goes – when the chaps at Sipsmith were in search of an inner London location to set up their distillery, they looked at a number of different places before finally settling on a quaint little blue and white garage in Hammersmith, north London.
As it so turns out, the former occupant of this very location was the late great whisky writer, Mr Michael Jackson, who still holds the title of writing some of the best-selling whisky books of all time.
Some final musings
In short, this is a belter of a gin.
I wouldn’t consider myself a true gin connoisseur, but I’ve tasted more than enough to know what I do and don’t like and Sipsmith VJOP is certainly up there with the very best in my opinion. I like my drinks fairly strong and defined and for that reason, VJOP really suits my tastes to a tee. It might not be for everyone, but if you’re a fan of a juniper heavy gin, or a rather boozy and heady gin-based cocktail, then I’m fairly confident this will delight.
I’ve heard that the very first batch of VJOP was a Japanese market exclusive, bottled at a moderate 47.7%. It proved extremely popular and was quickly followed by 52% ABV batch #2 which flew off the shelves just as quick. Thankfully, the 57.7% ABV version now looks like it’s here to stay.
If you’re in Australia, I’ve heard that there might be one or two bottles available at the Oak Barrel in Sydney, otherwise keep your eyes peeled for a bottle on the shelf behind your favourite bar or boutique bottle shop.
A big thank you to Jye from Hippocampus Memorable Drinks for uniting me with a bottle of this very special gin. I’ll be savouring this one ‘till the last drop. Simply delicious.