“You can not be serious?!”. A line of sheer frustration and angst, screamed by an incandescent John McEnroe (AKA Jonny Mac the ‘Superbrat’) during his opening round of Wimbledon 1981.
The former Tennis number 1, who would go on to win Wimbledon that year (and a further 2 times after to boot) was utterly incensed by the apparent ‘bad call’ from the umpire, who ruled that his serve had gone out of play. And as a fun fact, it turns out from the replays that ‘Macca’ was right all along, and it was a duff call! Which just goes to show – if you shout loudly enough at people when you disagree with them, then you will eventually get your way. It’s a beautiful sentiment really…
But the truth is, I can sympathise with ‘the Mac-Attack’. As behind the innocence of my youthful exuberance belies a competitive spirit that you may not have been expecting. I really am terrible!…Whilst there is merit in always setting out to do your best, if I’m not THE BEST then prepare for a moody befitting of a bear with a sore head!
A few examples perhaps?…
Like I say. I’m terrible.
So when my good friends at Sipsmith got in touch to ask if I would be interested in sampling their latest limited edition Sipping Series expression, with a special link to the iconic Wimbledon Tennis Championships, I had to raise a smile. Finally, a side to sport where my competitive nature could be left at the door. Where the true ‘Spirit’ of what it’s all about can be embraced; the taking part. And by that, I mean drinking gin.
Sipsmith are proud to announce that they are the first official sponsor of Wimbledon 2021. And they’ve marked the occasion in the only way that they know how… Created using the 2020 batch of strawberries that had been destined for a Wimbledon tournament that sadly would not be able to take place, allow me to introduce Sipsmith’s latest creation; the Strawberry Smash Gin.
So now the only question left to answer; was I ‘in’ or was I ‘out’? Well, very much like THAT serve from my good friend ‘J-Mac’, I was ‘in’. Oh, you can bet your life I was in!
Sipsmith Strawberry Smash Gin; time to make a racquet…
After having launched the Strawberry Smash Gin to their exclusive members only ‘Sipping Society’, to rapturous acclaim, the latest expression in the Sipsmith armoury has become the second to be released under the limited edition monicker of the ‘Sipping Series’ title. This is now available for purchase on the supermarket shelves & online for the mass market to enjoy, in the build up to what we hope will be a summer of more recognisable normality.
Note to reader: The previous Sipping Series release was 2020’s Chilli & Lime Gin, which I reviewed here:
But the story of how the Strawberry Smash Gin came to fruit-ion is a heartwarming tale of turning a pretty horrendous situation in to a gin to really lift the ‘Spirits’. And on Wednesday 7th April, I was lucky enough to join Sipsmith co-founder and Master Distiller Jared Brown, Sipsmith R&D wizard Ciarán Russell and Hugh Low Farms 5th generation strawberry grower Marion Regan to hear all about it first hand, as we took part in a virtual tasting and cocktail experience to remember.
We all know how 2020 turned out right? With a global pandemic hitting us harder than a foul serve connecting directly with the groin area (‘new balls please!’), it’s fair to say that not everything went quite according to plan. Amongst the tragedy and heartache suffered by many, accompanied by multiple lockdowns, Coronavirus would go on to see the full schedule of entertainment and sporting events worldwide ground to a halt – including the Wimbledon Tennis Championships 2020.
This, amongst other things, raises an important question. Just what the hell are you supposed to do with the 1-2million strawberries, that have been grown specifically for indulging hungry tennis goers in the traditional ‘Strawberries & Cream’ deliciousness to which they have become accustomed? Step in Team Sipsmith, who would go on to take 500 kilos (or half a tonne!) of the little red berries, with something special in mind. And just for context of scale – that’s enough strawberries to create 41 batches of gin, with enough spares left over to fill a few faces as well! In a slight break from tradition, where they’d usually be sent to Wimbledon within 1 day of picking, the strawberries are now safely tucked away in cold storage around London in readiness for distilling.
The Strawberry Smash, which takes the classic London Dry Gin as is its base, is distilled with the 2020 strawberry harvest from Hugh Low Farms in Kent, the exclusive grower for Wimbledon. And with the addition of English mint, this is bottled as the perfect sipper for “a truly sensational summertime gin”.
As Jared Brown is quick to eloquently inform us (I could literally listen to the man speak for days!), from research conducted for his latest book ‘The Distiller of London’, there is evidence to show that strawberries were used in the earliest known gin concoctions. Meaning that a strawberry based gin was always going to be right up Sipsmith’s street!
Come on Tim!…I mean Gin!…
Like a rally in full swing, Team Sipsmith went back & forth with their tasting trials, with recipes being sent to Jareds home in the Cotswolds to ‘play with’, until they landed on the recipe they ‘loved’.
And whilst strawberries are undoubtedly synonymous with Wimbledon, Brown and Russell explain how a number of other ideas were originally on the drawing board…
There are 2.2m cups of tea sold every year at Wimbledon, which led to an initial foray in to a potential strawberry tea gin. And whilst ‘Strawberries & Cream’ may be the summer feast of the traditionalist, boiling cream in a Still for 4 hours didn’t provide the results the team were looking for, as they quickly moved on! They even looked at playing on the perfectionism of Wimbledon cutting the blades of grass to size with scissors, aligned with Sipsmith’s own pursuit of exacting quality, by experimenting with distilling grass from centre court!
But the real stroke of genius came from Jared trialling the inclusion of fresh mint from his garden, which sealed the deal for the core foundations of the Strawberry Smash Gin.
But using strawberries in gin? Can they be serious?! Oh they are serious Johnny Mac. They’re very serious…
Strawberry Smash Gin; the view from Henman Hill
Let’s start with the presentation, because the first impressions are impressive to say the least!
Cleverly rested in a wooden strawberry punnet display box, marked ‘Freshly Picked For Wimbledon’, and framed by a wild strawberry patch, it’s an intriguing and exciting start! (though sadly this display was for the launch packs only).
The cocktail serves and little packet are strawberry seeds to plant at home are a classy touch. And excitement levels are ratcheted up further by the discovery of the invite to the exclusive aforementioned virtual tasting evening.
The bottle, as you would expect from Sipsmith, is stunningly beautiful.
The signature signet swan sits proudly at centre court, framed by two tennis racquets and balanced delicately on a bed of strawberries and English country garden.
The greens, reds and golds scream quality, with the vibrant artwork really accentuating the summer feel. And you still get all of the same beautifully embossed detail used across the Sipsmith range.
The purple wax finish on the bottle neck and stopper are a perfect tie back to the Wimbledon logo, that hallmark stamps the partnership of the two teams on the bottom of the label.
Sipsmith Strawberry Smash Gin to taste
Would this be a case of ‘love’ at first sip? Or would this be a ‘foul’ that would need ‘returning’? With my tennis whites on and balls firmly in hand (…wait, that doesn’t sound right) I was ready to ‘serve’…
On the nose, there is rather herbaceous start to proceedings. The classic coriander notes from the London Dry feel fragrant and crisp, with a whisper of menthol from the inclusion of fresh mint leaves. It’s nicely balanced against the equally classic citrus notes that bring a level of familiarity from the London Dry base.
I had approached the glass fully expecting, potentially even hoping, that the aromas would be pungent, thick and jammy with strawberries and sharp red fruits. But that’s not what I get here… The strawberry is delicately perfumed, with a far lighter touch. There’s an enjoyable sweetness, with an almost floral elegance.
Very pleasingly, it is a juniper, bitter pine profile that sits at the forefront of the neat gin and makes its presence felt immediately. It’s a welcome start that grounds you in classical territory and confirms you’ve nothing to fear from the addition of the flavour to come; this is a Sipsmith gin after all!
That this gin was first created for the Sipping Society seems fitting. As the first thing I note on tasting is that it is beautifully smooth to sip neat. With only a slight sting in the tail, to let you know you’re drinking something ‘grown up’, it’s a delight to sample and savour in its raw form, to fully appreciate the refined and silky finish.
As with the nosing, my expectations of a ‘Strawberry Laces’ slap in the face are abolished immediately. There’s a restrained subtlety to the flavour profile, which I must say is to its absolute credit. When taking the strawberry route, there is always a risk of entering soapy and synthetic feeling territory; I’ve seen it done when left in heavy hands. But that is thankfully not the case here! As explained by Jared Brown, the distillation pulls forwards the flavour of the fruit, without retaining all of the sugars – therefore you’re not going to enter coma inducing sugar rushes here. Just a soft and natural feel of sweetness.
Hints of red berries arrive on the tip of the tongue, and develop across the palate as the gin evolves and is left to sit in your mouth. The full effect of the strawberry profile grows and becomes more evident on the back of the throat. The red fruits are expertly supported by the lemon citrus of the flagship gin, with the zest and oils elevating the bright and vivid feel of the liquid.
The strawberry flavour actually grows in strength as the gin is left to open up, and your palate adjusts to seek out the red fruit hit that you’re craving. Whilst it’ll partly be down to the mind wanting to find it, I do pick out a delicate vanilla tone to the background of the neat spirit, which could have you kidded in to picking up vibes of strawberries & cream.
The gin is light and floral, evoking imagery of a fresh spring breeze. It’s supported by rose like notes, that build on the sweet, perfumed character of the neat spirit. The finish is cut straight in half by the mint, with the menthol giving a refreshing warmth to the longevity, with a cooling effect to the aftertaste – it has me hooked, and returning to the glass over & over again.
There’s still a really enjoyable heat to gin, with a crack of black pepper helping to provide a dryness to the finish, and longevity to the experience. And as we all know, strawberry & black pepper is a match made in heaven.
If I’m honest, had I not known it was strawberry from the label, I can’t hand on heart tell you that I would have named strawberry as a key botanical. Which, when you take the theory of ‘if it’s on the label makes sure its prominent’, it could be interpreted as a little disappointing. But that would be to do the gin a disservice!
This was never supposed to be a sickly, strawberry punch in the gut, supported by sticky hallucinogenic colour schemes and ‘sparkly bits’. This is an example of taking a classic gin, in the form of the Sipsmith flagship, and making a very special tweak to celebrate a botanical that epitomises the English country side & a competition synonymous with summer. Whilst all the while ensuring that it is executed in a way that remains true to classic gin making sensibilities. I must say, it has been beautifully done.
Strawberry Smash Gin; it’s my serve!
This is a gin demanding of a perfect ‘serve’, one that is both suited to a hot day in fancy clothes, watching tennis, as well as for when you’re knocking about the house in your pants moaning that it’s too warm outside!
(Pssst. And if you’re not a huge tennis fan, just sub out the tennis for an extra slug of gin. I won’t tell anyone!)
Here are two serves I particularly enjoyed…
In a classic G&T, you simply can not go wrong. Piled high with ice, garnished with fresh strawberries (and a slice of fresh lime if you feel so inclined) and you’re on to a winner, worthy of any centre court!
The light tonic allows the gin to take the spotlight, lifting the strawberry notes slightly, whilst also allowing the classic and expertly crafted nature of the spirit to do the talking. You can picture the Wimbledon crowds clinging to these bad boys to take the edge off during a tense showdown!
Served in a classic Dry Martini, I went 5:1 ratio, provides an elegant and delicate appreciation of strawberry and red berry sweetness within a cocktail of stunningly classic groundings. The lemon twist enhances both the citrus and red fruit elements of the gin, whilst also holding true to the core fundamentals of the recognisable joy that is the Sipsmith London Dry. It’s not a heavy weight fruit forward twist on the Martini – it’s actually a very familiar friend, with just a kiss of strawberry sweetness.
It pairs beautifully with the peach like stone fruits of the Cocchi Americano Bianco vermouth and seems to become sweeter as the cocktail evolves and warms, bringing the strawberry a little more to the fore. It’s a delight.
Strawberry Smash Gin; ok, ok it’s your serve…
As part of the live tasting and cocktail event, we were then shown three cocktail designs from the Sipsmith team, to demonstrate the versatility of their latest creation.
The recipes for each of the cocktails (a Spritz, a Collins and a Gimlet) and my thoughts are below.
• 50ml gin
• 25ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
• 50ml Soda water
• Prosecco, to top
• Strawberries, to garnish
The Spritz is lively and fresh, bursting with fresh citrus flavours and zing. The longer serve, with the soda water, makes this an absolute must for summer sunshine sipping.
Whilst I admit that I found the strawberry was a little muted by the mix, the boozy Prosecco kick adds a little finger lifting sense of indulgence to the drinking experience.
• 50ml gin
• 25ml lemon sour mix (made with equal parts lemon juice and sugar syrup)
• Lemon and strawberries, to garnish
• Soda water, to top
The classic Collins serve is a bit more of me! It carries a slightly elevated level of sweetness, courtesy of the lemon sour mix, which allows the strawberry to shine a little brighter than the Spritz, through a citrus haze.
The sharpness is dialled down, as is the sense of booziness, whilst all the while letting you know you’re enjoying something that will perfectly complement the summers weather (assuming we get some!). Dangerously drinkable…
• 50ml gin
• 25ml homemade strawberry cordial (made with strawberries, sugar and citric acid)
• Mint leaf, to garnish
Stop the clock. We have a winner. For me, this is the pick of the bunch! When served in a Gimlet, it is absolutely delicious.
You get a citrus slap in the chops, perfectly balanced out by the red berry lush sweetness of the ‘smash mix’ cordial – which, by the way, is absolutely stunning. I’ll be making more of the cordial at home, and will be enjoying it intravenously going forwards. Just wow!
This was, surprisingly, my first ever Gimlet. It won’t be my last. Perfect for showing off when entertaining this summer, or for just supping alone!
Game, set and match
You probably sensed this was coming…but yes, it’s ‘Ace’! (sorry, not sorry).
There was ‘no trial run’ requested by Wimbledon in setting up the partnership with Sipsmith – from the very first discussions, an initial 5 year stint was offered, based on a unified passion for their respective crafts, creating a perfect match up.
And as for the relationship with Hugh Low Farms? Well, Sipsmith have already got their order in for this years crop! And with Hugh Low having grown enough strawberries this year to cater for a full Wimbledon attendance, Jared has already committed to taking on additional fruit should they need to step in, in the wake for any unanticipated further restrictions! Such is the demand for the new gin expression, with a lot of excitement also coming from abroad, the volume of the strawberries available is the only limiting factor to the amount of bottles that Sipsmith can produce.
But will next year’s ‘Strawberry Smash Gin’ be more of the same? Well, cards are being played very close to chests at the moment, but with Ciarán admitting he has hundreds of strawberry related recipes up his sleeve, keep your eyes peeled for different variations on the expression to follow… a grass stained, tea soaked, creamy number could be coming to you soon!…
(No, now I’m not being serious John!…or am I?…).
Many thanks to the Sipsmith team for my complementary bottle of the Strawberry Smash Gin and the cocktail making kit!
The Strawberry Smash Gin is available to buy now in the UK, and will be available in the US in July. And if you want to learn more, Sipsmith are hosting a Strawberry Smash customer virtual experience on 22nd April; the experience costs £40 and includes the kit for two people to craft two Strawberry Smash cocktails each. Tickets can be bought up to a week before the experience on their website: http://www.sipsmith.com/tours (via DesignMyNight)
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 don’t forget to stop by @theginshelf across all social media platforms for more blogs & event updates. Stop by, say ‘Hi’ & chat gin!