Sacred Gin is a microdistillery located in Highgate, London. It is unusual in that it distils its spirits under a vacuum in glassware rather than traditional pot stills. The story of Sacred Gin is really a story of ingenuity, know-how and true British creativity – moreover, it’s the story of Ian Hart, the distillery’s co-founder and distiller.
Operating out of the back room of a residential house, with a vacuum plant situated come storage in a wendy-house in the Hart’s back garden, Sacred Microdistillery was established in London in 2009 (at a similar time to Sipsmith). Prior to starting a micro distillery, Ian Hart was a city headhunter specialising in Quants with one of his biggest client being Lehman Brothers. Post credit crunch, business was slow leaving Ian with a lot of spare time to start experimenting and having studied natural sciences at Cambridge he drew on his love of alcoholic drinks and started researching the possibilities of distillation. Beginning with wine, Ian removed water from clarets using a two-stage rotary vane vacuum pump to find the higher quality wine within. The idea behind doing this was to create richer wines from lesser vintages and whilst the experiment worked, it would never be commercially viable. Thankfully for juniper fans, his sights soon turned to creating a contemporary gin.
Sacred Gin’s recipe is based on a formula from the time of the Dutch Gift of 1660. In the mid to late 17th Century, the Dutch spice trade was dominated by the Dutch East India Company and substantial new spice discoveries were documented by the Carmelite missionary Father Mattheus à St.Joseph. The Dutch dominance of the spice trade lasted for some decades and the famous and significant botanical Encyclopedia, Hortus Indicus Malabaricus, was published in 12 large volumes. Working through some of the better known botanicals (or more commonly associated with gin) as well as the more obscure ones – Ian drew from the encyclopedia to further understand how best distil the flavour from each botanical. After some months of trying, a breakthrough occurred and his gin testing audience persuaded him that a new recipe created at the start of 2009 was a unique new gin style. The name Sacred actually comes from one of the botanicals used to create the gin – Frankincense (whose other name is Boswellia Sacra, perhaps making the “sacred” link a little more obvious).
The method of distillation is highly unusual as there are no copper pots, baskets or large bottling plants in sight; Sacred is distilled under low pressure vacuum using a relatively small rota-vap’s (minute in distillery terms, quite big for those who have seen them in science laboratories). Each of the twelve botanicals are distilled separately using English grain spirit and then blended to make the final spirit, which is then bottled at 40%ABV (only a few hundred at a time). Each separate botanical is made with two or three fractions (i.e. distilled in two or three different ways). The initial fraction is collected under glass coils cooled with iced water (about 0°C), the middle is collected under a cold finger cooled to -89°C with dry ice (solid CO2), and the final fraction is collected under liquid nitrogen under a cold finger at -196°C. The separately distilled botanicals therefore produce 2-3 fractions each, which are blended as the final part of the process.
For those of a less technical disposition – the separately distilled, low pressure, low temperature distillation combination results in Sacred achieving bright, fresh notes throughout. Each botanical is a complex as it could be as a maximum amount has been taken from them in the various fractions and because of the low temperature, the flavours haven’t been cooked in any way (for example citrus can sometimes come across as marmaladey when in a pot still).
Whilst the scale of the production is possibly the smallest (for commercial gins) we’ve seen anywhere in the world – the gin itself is no shrinking violet. Fresh, balanced citrus and cardamom notes, Sacred Gin stands up to inspection. The juniper is clear but not aggressive and it carries well in a G&T and in a Martini, with a creamy texture that stands out.
The “Open Sauce” kits that Sacred create are as interesting as the gin. With twelve single botanical distillates available, it is possible to make your own gin at home, or simply add in more of a particular flavour to an existing gin to suit your palate. What they also offer, is a unique opportunity to explore single flavours apart from one another, allowing you the chance to discern which you like or don’t like. It is only by having the opportunity to do this that one can start to understand what each botanical brings to a gin and what one actually likes. Similar to the Bombay Gin Aroma Kit, empowering bartenders, customers and gin fans to explore the flavours within a gin (armed with some explanations as a guide) is a powerful tool and potentially a much bigger contribution to the gin category than just an individual product.
Where we feel these individual distillates have their biggest strength however is when used by bars and gin fans alike to create signature serves. For example, cardamom distillate layered on top of a G&T will dramatically change the drink and serving a little bottle on the side for a customer to mix in when they feel like a change in flavour is something that could easily catch on.
Sacred Gin’s ongoing partnership with Duke’s bar (London) shows glimpses of what the brand is capable of and with a wider assault on the US planned for early 2012, the year ahead could see awareness of Sacred Gin skyrocket. To add to this, we’ve also heard talk of a few new releases potentially including something organic and even an Old Tom.
Sacred Gin is a triumph, not just as a story of local production or one person’s ability to master various roles to create an award winning gin that is gaining momentum – but as an inspiration to all those who like to tinker. We hope that the story of Sacred will inspire others to see if they can make their own gin, or at the very least try and learn more about what they like in a gin and because of that enjoy it that much more. As a gin, Sacred delivers authenticity and elegance in a category increasingly saturated with distracting messaging and gimmicks; It’s a quality gin that we strongly recommend trying for yourself.
To find out more about Sacred Gin, visit their website:
Ian Hart is on twitter too: