Local, seasonal, local, seasonal, local, seasonal. This is the mantra, repeated in every self-respecting restaurant in London. Funny isn't it, how we tend to conveniently overlook where your local Thai takeaway gets its pea aubergines from, but God help any British restaurant serving raspberries in February from the wrath of self-righteous foodies. Strange also that while we're expected to turn our noses up at Peruvian asparagus or Dominican bananas, the same rules never apply to wines and spirits. You can pair a New Zealand Riesling with your Cornish scallops, serve an Argentinian Malbec with your Scottish beef, and offer a White Russian made from a Mexican coffee-liqueur for a digestive, but try and pour it over Israeli strawberries and your name is dirt. Hey, I don't make the rules.
But if you do want to buy local wines and spirits, there are options. Chapel Down wines are getting a great name in some pretty prestigious London establishments (Launceston Place had a bottle of the dessert wine "Nectar" on their list last month), Beefeater, a producer of London Dry Gin actually based in London (Kennington to be more precise) is long-established and has been turning out the same product since the 19th century. And now, the best part of 150 years since a new licence to distil gin has been granted in the capital, it finally has a rival.
Sipsmith's is a brand-new company based in a secret (and modest) location in West London, making hand crafted gin and vodka in small batches. Inside what amounts to a small shed on a suburban street near Hammersmith, looking like something out of a Victorian science fiction novel, is a 10 foot high gleaming copper still called Prudence. This machine makes all of Sipsmith's gin and vodka, and huge glass bulbs hold the product ready for bottling or distribution. The magic all happens in this fantastically unlikely space, the five-hour distillation procedure handled by the Sipsmith's founders Sam and Fairfax, who personally taste and monitor each batch, and manually apply the botanics (including coriander seeds, lemon peel, liquorish and of course juniper berries, amongst others) to the still.
A labour of love doesn't even begin to describe the two-year struggle Sam and Fairfax had to sort out the legalities and practicalities of starting the first new London distillery since the 1850s, but the results speak for themselves. The gin is fragrant and satisfying, smelling like a fresh country meadow. The vodka is similarly accomplished - clean, smooth and buttery, and silky on the throat. It's very, very good stuff. The only issue now is where to find it - being such small producers you're not about to start seeing it next to the Bombay Sapphire (or even Beefeater) in your local chain pub - but you can do worse than starting at a lovely gastropub just around the corner from the distillery called the Anglesey Arms. There are worse ways to spend an evening than with a Sipsmith's gin and tonic and a selection of items from the bar menu.
While I'm on the subject of local, seasonal food, I should say something about Good Natured Fruit, who were kind enough to send me a couple of punnets of their strawberries to try earlier in the week. I have long been of the opinion that British strawberries taste a whole lot better than the great big watery ones that you see from Spain, and these were indeed very tasty, especially when washed down with sugar and cream in Wimbledon week. I'm also told they make excellent jam, although I unfortunately haven't yet got around to testing this theory despite the large pack of jam sugar (that's white sugar with added pectin to help the jam set) I received from the same people. It says something about my motivational levels in this current heat that I can't be bothered to make jam even when sent all the ingredients for free. Meh, maybe next week.
So, best of British to Sam and Fairfax, good luck Andy Murray, and a long and happy summer to everyone else. Enjoy the strawberries and cherries and broad beans while you can, and do keep an eye out for some English wine - some of it's not at all bad. Just go easy on the Kahlua, OK?