Sacred Distillery: Ian Hart Q&A

Ian, please tell us about the Sacred journey, where did it all begin?

I had been working as a head-hunter in the financial sector for some years and as we all know, from the end of 2006 onwards, the global banking system steadily became a vast trainwreck. No one was hiring and I quickly had to find another way to make a living. I have always been interested in distillation, it’s the sort of thing I liked to do in my spare time as a kid - although back then I distilled things like nitrogen oxides or chorine oxides – unusual gases, rather than gin! As I have a large collection of Bordeaux wine, it occurred to me to use vacuum distillation equipment to remove water from some of less successful vintages to create a richer wine. Technically, it was a very successful exercise but it was also very time consuming and at the end of the day, it was someone else’s product. However, I really enjoyed the distilling process and as I’ve always appreciated a good gin and tonic, I thought I’d try my hand at creating my own gin – something a little bit different. And as a Londoner, I also liked the idea of producing what is traditionally a London product, actually in London.

What’s your favourite part of making Gin?

Probably when the first distillate comes through – they have a very high abv and are crystalline clear.

How long did it take to perfect your classic gin recipe?

I started experimenting with recipes in the autumn of 2008.  Every Sunday night we used to take our latest gin recipe into our local pub, The Wrestlers, for people to try – which was incredibly generous of the landlord, Martin Harley as of course, when people were sampling our gin, they weren’t spending any money! Then one evening in early 2009, everyone at the Wrestlers was unanimous that our 23rd recipe was a great gin – and, importantly – unlike other London Dry Gins and Martin said that if we bottled it, he would put it behind the bar. That gave us the impetus to bottle our first 2500 bottles.

Not long after we had that first bottling run we were lucky enough to be listed by Gerrys Wines and Spirits in Old Compton Street and Fortnum and Mason. That kind of endorsement was hugely encouraging and persuaded other retailers to take us seriously.

What size and what type of still do you use, can you tell us a little about it?

We are unusual in that we don’t use a copper pot still but we distil under glass using vacuum distillation.  This means that air is sucked out of the glassware with a vacuum pump which reduces the pressure, so that distillation occurs at a much lower temperature (35-45°C) than pot distillation (85-95°C).  As the temperature of distillation is dramatically lower than the temperature of traditional pot distillation, the distillates are lusher and fresher - think of the marmalade flavour of cooked oranges versus fresh cut oranges.

All our stills are bespoke – designed by me and made for us by a glass manufacturer in York.  The design is constantly evolving as I am always looking 

How often do you distil, and how long does one batch run take?

I would say it takes approximately three months to produce a bottle of Sacred and I distil pretty much every day unless there is a physical reason to stop me from doing so such as an all-day event or I am travelling. However, before I can even start distilling, each botanical will have been macerated separately in English wheat spirit at 50% abv for for a minimum of 4-6 weeks with no air contact.  This is a seriously long time! Most distilleries macerate overnight with plenty of oxidative air contact which has a very detrimental effect on the freshness of the botanicals. After maceration the botanicals are also distilled separately to retain as much of their individual character and depth as possible and are then blended together to create our gins and other products.

What is your favourite way to drink Sacred Gin and do you have a favourite Sacred cocktail?

That is a bit like asking to name your favourite child!  There’s a very special place in my heart for a Martini, as served by Alessandro Palazzi at Dukes Hotel and recently I’ve been drinking quite a few Scarlett Sloehanssens, a drink devised by a bartender from the Strait and Narrow in Lincoln which is made using – guess what! – Sacred Organic Sloe Gin and is named on honour of – well, I’m sure you can also work that out for yourselves!

Will you please share that cocktail recipe with our readers?

Sacred Martini as served by Alessandro Palazzi, Dukes Hotel, London SW1

Coat the instide of a chilled glass with a few drops of Sacred English Dry Vermouth.  Pour in 2 shots of Sacred Gin directly from the freezer.  Take a lemon and pare a long slice of zest, avoiding the pith.  Hold it over the glass, pith side upwards and squeeze widthways os the surface of the drink is coated in oil.  Rub the rim of the glass with the zest and drop into the martini.

The Scarlett Sloehansson

Add 50ml Sacred Organic Sloe Gin, 10ml Sacred Rosehip Cup & 10ml Solerno (Blood Orange Liqueur) to a mixing glass, fill with ice and stir until well chilled. Take a chilled glass, add a couple of dashes of absinthe, tilt and coat the glass, and strain from the mixing glass. Garnish with a long pared lemon zest, twisted over the glass to express the oils. 

What’s next for the distillery? What do you see as key to staying ahead of the game? 

I’m not sure entirely what’s next for Sacred – we are busy playing catch up as the  past year was one of great change.  As you may have been aware, since 2009, the distillery was based in our house but in last year we realised that the time had come when we need to increase production (and we really are very tight for space now, there are boxes all over the house!), so in August moved into an additional premises above the Star Pub in Chester Road - about 100 yards from Karl Marx’s grave – and have taken on two apprentice distillers.

One of the many benefits is that not only do we have a little more room to flex our muscles but we can host distillery visits, gin blending sessions and cocktail masterclasses and we also have a small bar which is open from 6.00-11.00pm from Thursday to Saturday so if you are ever in the area do drop by for a drink!

Sacred is a wonderful range of drinks, not only gin, what inspires your new recipes?

Thank you!  Our vermouths - we produce three, Sacred English Dry Vermouth, Sacred English Amber Vermouth and Sacred English Spiced Vermouth - seemed quite a natural progression as vermouth is a traditional complement to gin.  Sacred Rosehip Cup was created specifically to use in a Negroni although it has proved to be extremely versatile and has been used in many cocktails.  Sacred English Peated Whisky and Sacred English Whisky Liqueur were the simply the result of my curiosity in that category.

Do you have any new products in the pipeline?

We are about to launch an Old Tom Gin which I would describe as having bold notes of juniper and naturally sweetened in the traditional manner with liquorice root – we also think that the label design is pretty special too!

The gin scene is growing at a spectacular rate, what other products out there do you enjoy?

BTW tonic water which goes particularly well with Sacred Pink Grapefruit Gin!

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