Upclose: Master Distiller Jared Brown
Meet Jared Brown, drinks historian and Master Distiller of London's Sipsmith distillery, best known for their London Dry Gin. What he doesn’t know about booze isn’t worth knowing. In town for just one week, he gives Lindsey Ford the recipe for the perfect Hong Kong summer drink.
HK Magazine: Sipsmith’s London Dry Gin—how do you make it?
Jared Brown: This is a very traditional London dry gin, but it’s also just about the only one available today that’s not made from concentrate, but a “one-shot” method. I load the still with only enough botanicals to make that batch of gin, and then when it comes off the still I only add a bit of water. It still carries the flavor of London in that water. It’s juniper, soft pine and citrus, then a little bit of dry meadow flower, then it goes in to warm spice, and finishes again in citrus, but with lemongrass and pepper to it.
HK: It's been six years since you set up Sipsmith in 2009. How have you seen gin drinking change?
JB: It’s exploded. It took us three years before we got a license [to distill gin in London]. They refused to issue us one at first, because they said no one alive had ever done it. Since that time there have been eight new small distilleries that have popped up in London. But at the end of the day we’re not competing with each other—we’re competing with beer, with wine, we’re pulling people away from vodka. It’s a wonderful time to be in this industry in general, but also a great time to be in gin.
HK: What’s your ideal gin drink for Hong Kong’s sweaty, humid weather?
JB: A Gin Rickey. Pour a measure of gin into a tall glass of ice, topped with soda water, then squeeze in half a lime and drop that half lime in. That is the Gin Rickey as it was born in the 1890s in Washington, DC, and as it was when it became the world’s top-selling drink for about 15 years afterwards. This is my favorite drink for summer. It’s so light and refreshing and does a beautiful job of delivering the character of a good gin. One Wimbledon champion credited his win to not touching gin and tonics, but instead drinking Rickeys before the final match. They take sports way too seriously these days.
HK: What’s the hallmark of a great bartender?
JB: A great bartender knows that the most important element in a bar, the thing a bartender has to pay more attention to than anything else, is the door. When someone walks in, you have to look up, to smile, to let them know they’re welcome. You may be three-deep at the bar, you may be cranking out drinks, but you look up, and even if all you can do is look up, make eye contact and nod, and get back to work, that is the most important element of bartending. When you take away all of the art and science and showiness of making a drink, and you find someone who’s just great with people, you end up with a better bartender.
HK: What are you up to on your first trip to Hong Kong?
JB: It’s all about experiences, not the big tourist sights. Last night we went to Bar 42 in SoHo. I sat down and ended up with this miniature poodle in the bar—it just crashed out in my arms for the hour we were sitting in there. That is what I’m looking for. As Hemingway said, if you want to know a city, skip the churches and government buildings and spend a night in its bars.
Sep 8: Behind the bar at The Lobster Bar, Island Shangri-La, Supreme Court Rd., Admiralty, 2820-8560.
Sep 9: “The History of Gin” talk at 6pm, Restaurant & Bar Hong Kong, HKCEC, 1 Expo Drive, Wan Chai.
Sep 10: Behind the bar at The Pawn, 8-10pm, 62 Johnston Rd., Wan Chai, 2866-3444.