Jared Brown, Sipsmith Gin Master Distiller and one of the world’s most respected drinks historians, underwear model and book publisher speaks about the early years, the inspiration behind Sipsmith Gin, the elements that make a good Martini and cocktail trends. This article is part of the ‘Looking Back’ series.
Corinne Mossati: How did you go from being an underwear model to a cocktail historian and distiller of the first gin to be made in London in over 200 years?
Jared Brown: The underwear model was completely by accident. I was in the gym working out and as I left the gym, I was approached. The gym owners were asked for potential models. I ended up doing a series of ads for Jockey briefs in 1982.
The cocktail thing started Halloween 1995. A friend had said the internet should be big, to get on it and build on website. So we put up a Martini website that snowballed. Six months in, they wanted us to turn it into a book, that’s how the book A Celebration of the Martini came out.
In 1992, we moved to Boise Idaho and put a 60 martini menu together. A guy was starting up North America’s first micro distillery restaurant. We were his first customers, and twenty minutes in, he mentioned the Martini book. He said, “My menus out of your book. I built your bar from your book.” We lived next to the largest natural food store. We picked up botanicals from their library of botanicals and experimented for months before we finalised the Bardenay Gin.
I’ve done my first distillation when I was 10. I froze cider repeatedly using freeze distillation to concentrate the alcohol. I had to learn how to make cider, put it out in snow, lift it in the day and check it.
Is distilling a craft in your family?
My father passed away when I was young and my mother was estranged from them so I didn’t meet them until I was in my late 30s. I met my father’s evil twin. He gave me the history and discovered my family had been in brewing for about three centuries. I’ve always had alcohol in my blood.
How did you get started with Sipsmith Gin?
It was at a negroni party at the Beefeater distillery. Geraldine Coates was talking to Fairfax Hall and they were approached by few people to start a new gin. They asked me what it would mean to create a London Dry. I said it would be a tribute to the masters of the spirit, and asked me to look at developing the formula. I made London Dry but wanted to understand its evolution. I distilled off a progression of the ancient formulas. I made these to understand where London Dry fits in the historical construct. I didn’t want to taste other modern London Dry and take it for granted that they were getting it right historically. It helped me to dial in Sipsmith to that point.
What is the inspiration behind Sipsmith VJOP?
Jared Brown: As a full time drink historian, I always find myself with questions. One major curiosity is in the three ways of introducing juniper into a London Dry, each gives you one part of the flavour profile. With long maceration, you open up deep savoury complex tones but in the process, you cook the lighter more volatile flavours. If you make without maceration, you’ll end up with beautiful mid-section of the spectrum of the juniper flavour but not the savoury deeper complex, not lightest and brightest. If you use a botanical basket, it gives you only the light notes out of the juniper, sweet citrus and floral and not the deeper notes. Here we are calling them all London dry, but they’re different expressions of the juniper. I wondered why no one combined all these to get the full flavour of the juniper into a gin.
I found that the higher the ABV, the softer the juniper becomes. I finally struck a balance at 57.7% for the VJOP. I didn’t set out to make a navy strength gin, but to bring all the juniper into one gin and the process proved the end the result. There’s no other gin style like it in history. Every London dry is made by one third of it.
In your opinion, what makes a good martini?
Fresh vermouth is the most important point. Once opened, keep it in the fridge for no more than 1 to 2 months. I see people respect vermouth better now. It’s the most under respected and under-served product behind bars today. The workmanship that goes into a bottle is so far above the price.
Also the serving size. Smaller is better such as 4 oz glasses because they keep it cold. Otherwise get a little carafe and nestle it into a glass of crushed ice so it stays perfectly cold and you can top it up.
One Martini that is dear to my heart is The Reverse Martini, 3.5 parts Noilly Prat to 1 part gin in an ice filled wine goblet with a large lemon twist. Julia Child taught me personally and dared me to find a white wine that would match this Martini. She’s still winning on that point.
And a bad one?
Aside from spoilt vermouth or 12 oz cocktail glass, anything other than a lemon twist on the side. I’m a big fan of the original martini which was a sweet martini garnished with a cherry.
To lessen the quality is to run the twist around the rim of the glass. The twist is meant to put aroma onto the drink it is sharp and bitter. Bartenders used to run it halfway around the rim, away from the customer, to put more in the nose. If you run it along the rim, you’re adding a sharp bitter component.
Ice is another key if making a martini at home. If your home ice is in a freezer with last month’s chilli fest, your martini is going to taste like that. The balance of spirit amplifies flavours. Use fresh ice and very cold ice, and generally shake, stir or throw with about 35% dilution to open up the flavour.
There’s been renewed interest in the gin category of late. To what do you attribute this interest, particularly amongst the younger age group?
It’s because their parents were drinking wine. It’s a rebellion through rediscovery and a retro trend of embracing of traditions and lost styles such with suspenders and handlebar moustaches, and the drink was gin.
Are there any cocktail trends have impressed you of late?
It’s wonderful to see the negroni becoming a ubiquitous aperitif. Back when I was starting out, there were very few bartenders that understood the negroni. It was the secret code, the cult of knowledge among bartenders and a test of an unfamiliar bar.
The biggest trend has been bartenders reaching back and studying the past. By the 80s people embraced wine, by the 90s it was craft beers. Now we see bartenders rediscovering that this is a profession and consumers are rising with that. Today people are paying more for a smaller glass because it’s better, made with more care. I love this trend. I love watching the profession return to bartending. This generation of bartenders will retire having earned more than doctors and lawyers.
Now we’re seeing simple complexity take its place as bartenders are going to foundations of classics, but with ingredients they would never have used previously, such as bitters that have been recreated, the rise of Cynar, Avernas and Amaros. Another trend I have the joy to see the back of, is the mastery of replication of standardised formulas. You walk into a bar to experience that bartender’s art.
Any last words you’d like to share with us?
Jared Brown: If I leave this world with people drinking better than when I came in, I’ve done my job.
“Jared Brown on Sipsmith Gin” is part of the ‘Looking Back’ series which takes a historical lens to key industry personalities. The article is based on an interview originally published on our sister website Gourmantic on August 20, 2014.