SW4 Gin was launched in 2009 by Martin Price, using the expertise of renowned and respected gin distiller Charles Maxwell. Juniper focused, SW4 has a straight-up feel, both in taste and in presentation.
Distilled and bottled by Thames Distillers in Clapham, London, SW4 is a London Dry Gin designed to go well with tonic, but perhaps a little more unusually – wasn’t created specifically for the cocktail market. Martin wanted to create a gin in the style of the 19th century gins – a classic, complex dry gin that wouldn’t be overpowered by strongly flavoured mixers like tonic or ginger beer. To do so he approached Charles Maxwell from Thames distillery, whose family have been distilling Gin in London for 300 years. Their expertise comes through in the gin – smooth, balanced and whose notes divulge themselves without any harsh tastes popping out in the way you sometimes get with some poorly distilled gins. Taste aside however, the “Uncommonly Clapham Gin” sits uncomfortably with us as many gins are made in Clapham (by Thames Distillers) and as far as London boroughs go, Clapham is relatively posh… We’re not sure how this relates in anyway (an in-joke perhaps?) but do send us a mail if you do and we’ll update!
There are twelve botanicals used in SW4 Gin (Juniper, lemon, orange, coriander, savory, orris powder, cinnamon, cassia, nutmeg, almonds, liquorice root and angelica). They are macerated for approximately 12 hours in grain spirit before being distilled in small batches (around 500lts a time). There are actually two strengths of SW4 Gin available; one at 40% ABV (reviewed here) and another stronger version at 47%. There is a clear taste of difference between the two but at 47% ABV the gin remained smooth although we haven’t had the opportunity to explore the higher ABV at length yet and will refrain from any embellished tasting notes.
The 40% ABV SW4 Gin is heavy on the juniper, backed up with traditional botanicals that compliment the core notes with warming and smooth tones. There is a definite creaminess to the gin and as aforementioned, a dominant juniper flavour, but the lemon peel and cassia bring citrus and spice. The use of orange peel is discernable as the citrus has a warm tone to it, and the orris powder, cinnamon and nutmeg help give it a satisfying long dry finish.
Hearing Martin talk about the aims that he set out to achieve with SW4 it makes the product endearing: “When we worked in the spirits industry, it seemed obvious to us that there was an opportunity to develop good, honest and reasonably priced spirits that tasted great, were made with a craftsman’s passion out of classic high quality ingredients, and were fit for purpose. For example, to be a great gin, it has to mix well with tonic – full stop. Everything else is a bonus. Vodka has to be pure and smooth. Simple things, that many producers seem to have forgotten about in their search for a ‘marketing edge’.” We would agree with this, but the comment would only be really apt 10 years ago as consumer taste and gin knowledge has moved fast, especially with the amount of attention the Gin category has received.
The reality is that in the Gin category today, there are at least a dozen others who have the same ethos and ambition for their product – Sacred Gin, William’s Gin and Sipsmith to name a few… It’s to be applauded for sure but in a crowded market place; is getting just the basics right enough? Furthermore, basics need to extended to packaging, product availability, PR, Trade education and price point; and for as much as we would love to say that SW4 Gin does all of this with panache – the truth is more like a “well done but room to improve”.
SW4 Gin isn’t the easiest thing to get hold of (although this is changing rapidly), the packaging isn’t going to win any awards and the price point isn’t that attractive as a proposition, given that there are other gins around the same price point (£18-20). On non of these three points does SW4 Gin disappoint – it’s a good all rounder in these terms – but on non of them does it stand out as clearly superior either. It feels like a good no-frills straight-up gin and as such falls into that ambiguous middle ground of decent but unspectacular. Their website has undergone some work recently and looks much better for it; with good information available and recipes to the ready too. Hopefully with time the rest of the facets will also make their big steps forward as, undeniably, Martin and the team are truly lovely and genuine people who are all working hard to turn a dream into reality. The gin itself has a solid backbone and is at it’s best in a G&T, a fact that will appeal to many including ourselves. It’s early days for the team and there’s a long way to go before we’ll be able to see where the gin stands in comparison to others. They are on their way however and have the essential locked down – a good tasting gin.
We should also point out that Martin’s clear vision of a gin that’s at its best with tonic, meant countless hours researching quinine and its origins. With this in mind it makes sense how the colonial era becomes an inspiration and the partnership with the Candlelight Club (a regular pop-up cocktail bar in London with a 1920s speakeasy feel and a different bespoke cocktail menu each time) shows glimpses of how the team is starting to position their brand. We look forward to seeing it progress in years to come and hope that juniper lovers seeking out a solid gin to accompany their tonic, go that little bit further and reach for the SW4 – it’s an interesting proposition that will keep you in good stead (especially on Safari).
For more information about SW4 Gin, visit their website: