Gin master Jared Brown made his first spirit at the age of 10, freeze-distilling apple brandy in upstate New York after reading about the American colonists. (For the record, it wasn’t very good.) More than four decades later, the author, historian and former underwear model is a master of the craft, teaching a new generation of makers at Sipsmith distillery, the first to open in London’s city limits since Beefeater in 1820. The guy knows his stuff.
On how to pick a good gin:
“The first thing I want to find when I nose [smell] and taste a gin is sweet pine and soft citrus: that’s the predominant character of juniper.”
And on how to avoid a bad one:
“Good spirits warm, bad spirits burn. If you’re getting acetone, it isn’t good. Doubly so for gin, because it throws the botanicals out of whack, and nothing can recover that. I find gin under 37.5 [alcohol percentage] can’t deliver the botanicals – the optimum is between 42 and 43.”
On how to properly taste gin:
“A small white-wine glass is preferable, and if it’s an overproof gin [a batch with higher alcohol concentration], I won’t swirl. I’ll blow into the glass before I nose it, because the concentrated alcohol can burn the olfactory. Personally, I like to do a straight taste first. Then I cut the gin with water by a careful measure of half. The flavour is closed a bit at proof – adding water opens it up; it’s similar to letting a wine breathe.”
On respecting history
“I’m a staunch traditionalist, and I should say that up front.” Sipsmith’s London Dry Gin uses the traditional recipe: juniper; coriander seed; angelica, liquorice and orris root; ground almond; cassia bark; cinnamon and orange and lemon peel. Brown is unabashedly skeptical of makers who play too much with the formula. “Why bother to call it gin? There’s a lot of room for new discoveries and products, but making gin is about paying respect to the masters who created the spirit.”
And the importance of juniper:
“Juniper is to gin what Placido Domingo is to opera. The other ingredients are the chorus, just there to highlight its nuances in different ways.”
On the best way to drink gin:
“The Gin Rickey, a sadly forgotten drink from the 1890s. It’s so simple: gin, soda water and about a half a lime squeezed in, served on ice.
I absolutely love the current trend towards simplicity. It doesn’t take an education to understand when something is good. If it’s not, I don’t care how much forethought or backstory or historic precedent there is, fix it.”
On what to drink during the day:
Morning: “The Ramos Gin Fizz was born as a breakfast drink.”
Evening: “It’s got to be a Sloe Negroni: gin, Campari, sweet vermouth – and a measure of Sloe Gin. Like any great ingredient, it disappears. And then the Campari pops up in a red velvet smoking jacket; the vermouth has a grand in its pocket; and the gin is just leaning smugly back in a leather armchair.”
“Most people’s hangovers don’t come from alcohol. Sit down and have seven Coca Colas tonight: tell me how you feel tomorrow. Stop blaming the alcohol!
A Bloody Mary is wonderful with gin. In 1928 it got written up as the new drink to ‘keep the Brooklyn boys from marching across the transom’. One of the worst metaphors for a hangover I’ve ever come across.”
On making a Reverse Negroni with iconic chef Julia Child:
“She introduced me to it years ago. Three-and-a-half parts Noilly Prat Vermouth to one part gin, in a wine goblet filled with ice and a large lemon twist. If you want to mix it like Julia did, do the second [round] two-to-one, the third one-to-one. Then she’d just put the gin bottle down on the table and top up the empty glasses.
She dared me to find a white wine that paired better than it with firm fish like swordfish or halibut. To this day, if I’m sitting down to a fish course I’ll order both, and she’s still winning.” Brown pauses for a moment to muse on Child’s magnanimity. “She was remarkably forgiving when the wife blurted out that the first time I met Julia, I mistook her for Dan Ackroyd in drag.”
On his penchant for gardening at home in the Cotswalds:
“Gin is a botanical spirit. To make it, you’ve got to start with dirt under your fingernails. This year I’ve got about 150 different plant species going. Two years ago the garden was decimated, not because of the weather, but because we got three adorable chickens, and they just ran rampant. But I think I’m back to 17 types of mint.
I go to the Mediterranean and I work the juniper harvests; I track citrus every year from Sevilla to Morocco to Dubai, to really get to know it. A lot of my work is applying knowledge that comes from gardening.”
On the recent resurgence of interest in craft sprits:
“I think there’s some outstanding spirits coming out of Australia now. It’s wonderful to see what’s been happening these days. It happened in food a while ago, and then in wine: a precipitous rise in consumer sophistication.
People used to choose restaurants because they gave you the biggest serving. The same with wine, and with cocktails. Then in 2001 in New York came Sasha Petraske with Milk & Honey. The guy comes out charging more for a smaller drink, and people would wait a month for it. That for me was the turning point. Thanks to social media, the speakeasy movement exploded globally from there.”
And on what it it’ll take for cocktails to catch up with the food scene:
“Time. And I really am very confident that it’s going to catch up.”
Jared Brown was photographed in The Garden at The Grounds of Alexandria in Sydney. He is in Australia for a series of events this week:
Tuesday September 1: A guest bartending shift at The Barbershop, from 6pm–7pm.