I knew that I had made a terrible mistake when I realised that my eyeballs had started to sweat…
Of course, years later, my wife would try to have me believe that the beads of precipitation streaming down my cheeks at an alarming rate were actually tears. I’ll leave you to be the judge of who’s telling the truth…
But what had caused the sweaty eyeballs I hear you ask? (hey – it’s my story, I’m sticking to it. My wife can get her own blog if she wishes to dispute it further).
It was 2004, and my girlfriend at the time (now my wife), and I were sat in a popular Italian chain restaurant on our first date. Sensing the opportunity to shake my ‘beta male’ facade and demonstrate my macho credentials, I had opted to order the hottest pizza on the menu. And then requested extra green chillis be added. I’m pretty sure that’s what girls are looking for right?!…
The first bite lured me in to a false sense of security, which was nullified soon after the second mouthful. By the third time of asking I had turned a visible shade of rouge and had forgotten what it felt like not to be eating molten lava. I also found out to my detriment that, much like a chip fat fire, throwing water on the situation only makes things worse.
Despite my wife’s kind protestations and offers of ‘just leave it Matt, it’s fine’ I continued to plough through. I can’t be sure that I had started hallucinating, though I do remember finding some comfort in my wife describing me to the waiter as ‘pretty, but stupid’. I later learned she had actually just said I was ‘pretty stupid’.
As we walked back through the city evening, my mouth wide open trying to grasp at a cooling breeze, I hoped that the effort had been worth it. And whether it be through sheer animal attraction, or most likely sympathy, there was a second date (obviously. As already stated, I have since put a ring on it). There was, however, to be no more hot chillis on my agenda.
Or so I thought…
You see, I was recently offered a date by another ‘bird’, who was offering to ‘spice things up’. And much like my first date, she had come baring fistfuls of chillis, practically daring me to step up to the plate. Her name? ‘Prudence’. Her occupation? Probably the most famous swan in the entire world… I was about to sample the latest addition to the Sipsmith range in the form of their Chilli & Lime Gin. I was going to be keeping my tonic water ice cold and close at hand, just in case I needed dousing down. I was already starting to get a little hot under the collar…
Sipsmith; Spicing things up
The Chilli & Lime edition is the latest expression to hit the Sipsmith range, having started life as an exclusive launch reserved for the ‘Sipping Society’ only.
For those not ‘in the know’, the ‘Sipping Society’ is a members only group of registered gin connoisseurs, who pay for the privilege of receiving bi-monthly releases of super limited and experimental Sipsmith gins, not available on the general market. If the core range, available to purchase all year round, is the ‘a la carte menu’, then consider the society as being the ‘seasonal menu’! It’s an opportunity to excite and delight members with expressions that push the boundaries and really embrace the pioneering spirit of the brand.
‘So how did you get your grubby mitts on it then?!’ you may be asking yourself? Well, Sipsmith have recently decided to re-release the gin to a wider audience, moving it from being a Society only gin, in to the ‘Sipping Series’; a section of the range that remains limited edition, but is accessible to a wider audience of gin fans. It’s a decision that was taken both based on the high demand of the ‘Sipping Society’ members wanting to see the gin again (given the once it’s gone, it’s gone nature of its original launch), alongside the palpable levels of ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out) of those not in the club!
Indeed, whilst the core range can’t continue to extend indefinitely, it’s a step that has been taken before, seeing both the ‘Lemon Drizzle’ and ‘Chocolate Orange’ gins enter the market via the same ‘Sipping Society’ route.
Word to the wise; for fans of Banana Bread, I suggest you keep your eyes peeled for the next ‘Sipping Society’ launch, currently underway!
Feeling hot, hot, hot!; Sipsmith Chilli & Lime virtual tasting 29/05
I had the absolute pleasure of being invited to the inaugural, socially distanced, virtual tasting session for the new Chilli & Lime Gin on Friday 29th May this year.
I had downloaded Microsoft Teams, the sun was shining brightly in that ‘perfect G&T weather’ kind of way, and my tasting glass was ready! There was just one problem. Despite being in lockdown, and in an irony that wasn’t lost on me, I managed to miss the delivery driver knocking at the door & my gin drop was sent back to the depot to await a redelivery the following week! Drat.
Ever the professional, and with a penchant for living vicariously through the joy of others (that’s a lie – the FOMO was real!), I persevered and turned up with an empty glass and a smile!
The evening was to be hosted by the ever enigmatic Ben Peel, a previous Assistant Distiller who has now taken on an Ambassadorial role, to wax lyrical about all things Sipsmith. And having worked his way through the ranks, and various roles of the juniper juggernaut, he knows all about the effort that goes in to producing each and every bottle.
Beaming to us live from his London docked, self isolated, houseboat (I mean you don’t get much cooler than that!), the obvious place for Ben to start was to explain just why the team had decided that chilli, a less commonly used botanical, was to be pushed to the front and centre of this addition to the range…
The original idea was based around the Mexican celebration ‘Día de Muertos’ (Day of the Dead), which is perhaps more traditionally associated with tequila. And with the scene set for a South American inspired heatwave, what better citrus to pair chillis with than lime?! Particularly with lime being the signature garnish for the Sipsmith London Dry, the stock of which provides the base on which the Chilli & Lime is built on.
Now. If you’re going to make a chilli gin, you’re going to need chillis. That sounds like an obvious statement. But I mean you’re going to need A LOT of chillis! Luckily for Sipsmith, they came across an unlikely (and very convenient) neighbour in ‘Chiswick Chillis’… Having stumbled upon a bottle of the brands hot sauce in a local delicatessen, a team of swans (Sipsmith employees, not actual birds…) were soon knocking at the owners house address to learn more. After strolling through a chilli garden, packing even more heat than the hot air that comes out of Donald Trumps mouth, the team walked away with 20kilos of mixed chillis to start their experimentation.
The key challenge of working with such a hostile key ingredient is balance. The gin is comprised of 7 different types of chilli, and left in the wrong hands there could be the potential to create nothing more than liquid fire! Peel explained how “the science of flavour took a long time, looking to find that botanical relationship. To find the balance took 9 months of work!”.
And he’s not kidding when he talks about the effort that goes in to that ‘science of flavour’. It was key for Sipsmith to find a way to get the profile of the chilli just right, whilst still maintaining that classic juniper forward gin on which their reputation is founded. The distillers tasted all of the chilli botanicals, in all forms, looking to see how they would behave; fresh, dried, macerated…you name it, they ate it. And when you consider that, that includes chowing down on Scotch Bonnets…wow. That’s dedication to the cause! Though I’m sure the distiller who left the dehydrator running overnight, nearly smoking out his counterparts in a mist of chilli heat, wasn’t so popular amongst the ranks!
Whilst the ‘Sipping Society’ version was made using the ‘Chiswick Chillis’ crop, it was ultimately not feasible to extend the collaboration further due to the volume of chillis needed for the wider launch. But you will still find the same variety of 7 chillis used in the final product. The really clever part then comes in how these fiery little blighters are distilled. Having landed on the perfect ratios and format for each chilli, the distilling process then helps to remove the front line of the heat, but still allows the characterful notes to come through;
- Ancho: A fruity, smoked spice
- Guajillo: Green tea tannins
- Scotch Bonnet: A tangy spice, with sweet tropical notes
- Cascabel: Aromatic and nutty
- Pasilla: Brings a citrus/grape quality
- Arbol: Bright and sharp
- Carolina Reaper: The hottest of the bunch, sourced in dried form
So with the heat well and truly turned up, there was only one question left to answer…how does it taste?
Sipsmith Chilli & Lime Gin to taste
As with the flagship Sipsmith London Dry, and as you would expect from the Sipsmith team, there is a classic juniper and citrus front to the initial nosing. It’s a reassuring start, as there could well be a tendency to approach the glass anxiously wondering what affect such a fiery mix of lead botanicals would have on the gin. The juniper feels bold; it is unmistakable and in no way toned down or overshadowed by the use of chilli. The citrus feels amped up in this expression, with the lime providing a zippy zest that cuts cleanly through the vapours.
The classic scents of coriander and rooty liquorice warmth bring with them a sense of familiarity from the original base on which the gin has been built. There is very little sweetness on the scent, save perhaps a suggestion of cassia warmth.
But where the chilli and lime comes in to it’s own is on the longevity of the aromas.
There is a fruited and savoury spice to the neat spirit, which seems to linger on the back of the throat when a you inhale deeply, with a dry finish of a white pepper dusting across the nostrils. There’s no feel of aggression or concern that the liquid will bring with it a burning or unpleasantness. Instead, it feels well balanced and considered, with the essence of the chilli proudly displayed and the suggestion of heat delivered in a subtle and rounded manner.
When sampled neat, the first flavours I get across the palate are those of classic juniper and coriander. They feel big and commanding, and provide a much more classic start than I had been expecting. It plasters a huge Cheshire Cat style smile to my face that’s hard to shake. But as soon as the first sip is taken, you get a feel for what the chillis are bringing to the party!
The Scotch Bonnet and Carolina Reaper bring a tangy and light ‘sting’ on the front and side of the tongue, similar to the effect of eating a mildly spiced food. The chilli spice then drives an incredible longevity, with the heat on the back of the throat continuing down in to your chest and refusing to give.
The gin feels bright and lively, with a fine balance struck between naturally sweet fruit tones and more savoury vegetative notes. A good spirit warms, a bad spirit burns; and you’ll get no unpleasant alcohol (or chilli) burn here. The combination of chillis work to deliver an aromatic character, with any concerns of gimmicks or excessive heat left at the door!
There is a light and fruity smokiness that dances across the taste buds. We’re not in to ‘blowing smoke rings’ territory here, instead it’s just cut to the right level to bring new dimensions and layers to the flavour profile.
The character of the Guajillo chilli is an odd, but very welcome, addition to the gin! The Sipsmith team describe how it brings ‘Green Tea’ tannins and I can fully appreciate what they mean; there’s a smoothness to the mouthfeel that works wonders against the incredibly dry finish.
Given the almost ‘no brainer’ pairing of the chilli and lime, I can think of no better citrus to cut through against what could have been an overly dominant spicing. The sharpness helps to reign in and harmonise some of that raw chilli power. As a citrus forward gin fan, it’s a rewarding experience!
It will come as absolutely no shock to you that this makes for a cracking G&T. Pile the ice high, serve alongside a premium light tonic, and dual garnish with a slice of chilli and a wedge of fresh lime for the win!
You give me chill(i)s…
Now, of course, Ben didn’t let us onboard his houseboat to stop at sampling the gin neat (as good as it is!). Oh no, no, no.
You see the beauty of the Chilli & Lime Gin, is that it not only comes packed with flavour – it also comes bragging a broad sense of versatility. Which we were about to find out to our benefit!
In playing catch up on the cocktail making (missed the Postie, remember?), I had the advantage of learning from the best and putting it in to practice a few days later. Ben and the team took us through three cocktail serves, all supported by a set of handily concocted pre-made mixers by the lovely folks at Sipsmith & their friends (a delightful array of mixed vermouths, liqueurs and juices)!
So allow me to give you the guided tour through the cocktail menu & the ‘how to’, as I tried to replicate Bens cocktail shaking demonstrated from the confines of his ‘poop deck’…
Chilli & Lime Spritz
- Grab a balloon glass or a large wine glass and fill it with ice
- Add 35ml of Sipsmith Chilli & Lime Gin
- Pour over 50ml of the Spritz pre-mix
- Top up with a premium tonic
- Stir well
- Garnish with a slither of chilli
To taste there’s a bolstered sense of juniper, intertwined with a wine like sweetness from the vermouth in the mixer. There’s a gently fruited chilli heat, from both the gin and the garnish, against an ice cold citrus wash of lime. It’s bright and lively, with a satisfyingly dry finish. It conjures imagery of summer; give me a hammock and panoramic ocean horizons…and one of these!
Chilli & Lime Mojito
- ‘Clap’ your mint leaves to open the flavours and add them straight in to a highball glass (or tall glass of your choosing)
- Add 50ml of Sipsmith Chilli & Lime Gin
- Pour in 35ml of the Mojito premix
- Add ice (cubes or crushed)
- Stir well and add more ice as needed
- Top up with soda and garnish with a slither of chilli and a sprig of fresh mint
A gin Mojito; who knew?! This is sharper than the rum equivalents that I remember, though the tartness is refreshing, with a toned down and more natural sweetness.
The lime & mint bring a lively freshness, making this bright and zingy, while the lingering heat of the chilli brings a subtle spice to the finish – an incredible accompaniment to a hot summers day.
My only ‘note to self’ is that I’d perhaps look to make the cocktail with blitzed ice next time round, rather than cubed.
Chilli & Lime Margarita
This can be made shaken or frozen. If you’d prefer the frozen style, add all your ingredients into a blender with an ‘ ice crush’ mode and hit ‘GO’!
- Salt rim the glass (using the fresh lime juice)
- Add 45ml of the Margarita premix (a mix of Triple Sec & lime juice) in to your cocktail shaker
- Throw in 35ml of Sipsmith Chilli & Lime Gin
- Pack your shaker with ice
- Shake it like a polaroid picture (for around 30 seconds)
- Strain in to your glass
- Garnish with a slither of chilli and a wedge of fresh lime
I am starting to wonder whether my delivery was actually held up at customs, owing to the ‘little bag of white powder’ (salt!) that accompanied this set up! But good things come to those who wait…the Margarita is my pick of the bunch.
There’s an elevated sweetness from the mixer, with the kick of lime & orange zest of the Triple Sec. The fire of the chilli garnish sits on the lips and lingers on the back of the throat, whilst the salt crusted glass is a savoury drive to keep going back for more! This harks back to the ‘Day of the Dead’ ideology previously mentioned, leaving you yearning for Mexican sandy beaches.
Chilli & Lime (mini) Negroni
In a break from the provided menu, I went a little rogue. But in branching out, I HAD to know how this gin would work in a Negroni! I wasn’t to be disappointed.
There’s a welcome sense of smoke from the dried chillis, with the fruited notes of the peppers working wonders against the bitter and pithy sensations of the cocktail. The spice of the gin brings a delightfully long finish. And whilst that warmth lingers on the back of the tongue, it is at the same time silky smooth.
The citrus feels bright, and the sweetness of the vermouth helps to elevate the warmth of the gin. Perhaps most pleasingly of all is that the juniper still stands up to the test, not allowing itself to become lost in the glass.
In one sense it’s a classic. But then it has tricks up its sleeve to add an additional kick. It’s a match made in heaven.
Sipsmith; It’s the spice of life…
To say I’m impressed is an understatement. When you read ‘Chilli’ on a bottle label, it’s easy to jump to conclusions that ‘blow your head off’ gimmicks will be at play. With Sipsmith, nothing could be further from the truth. This is an expression that has been delivered with aplomb. Each chilli has a part to play, and it’s inclusion has been painstakingly researched and trialled to deliver an end liquid that pays homage to the character of the ingredient itself, without ever forgetting the classic sensibilities of the gin making process.
Clever, sophisticated and innovative. It holds a calm and confident exterior, but the hard graft below the surface is what has helped deliver superb results. Very swan-like indeed.
Sipsmith Chilli & Lime is available to buy now, both in stores and online, for around £29.
Many thanks to the Sipsmith team for my complementary bottle of the Chilli & Lime Gin and the cocktail making kit, with mixers courtesy of ‘The Cocktail Delivery Co’, ‘The 43 Club’ and Sipsmith.
Get following the swans over at Sipsmith across social media and head to their website for more information on how to join the ‘Sipping Society’ if it sounds like a bit of you!
And a big shout out to Ben Peel for the cocktail making masterclass, and for having us onboard! You can find him over on Instagram with the handle @botanicalfanatical for more drinks making wizardry!
And don’t forget to stop by @theginshelf across all social media platforms for more blogs & event updates. Stop by, say ‘Hi’ & chat gin!