News / City Life

Quit your job, become a... distiller

Rob Greig

Kit Clancy, 28, assistant distiller at Sipsmith 

What led you into distilling?

'My background is in the wine industry, which isn't a typical route. I worked as a sommelier and in wine production, which trained my palate for this job. Plus I've always been a lover of gin.'

How do you actually distil the gin?

'Basically by vaporising grain spirit and botanicals in copper stills to collect different alcohols. After I've loaded and heated the stills, I monitor these alcohols through tasting and smelling. The gin comes off the still at about 82 percent, which is way too alcoholic for consumption, even by hardier drinkers! So it gets reduced to bottling strength.'

What the hell are botanicals?

'Plant-based ingredients used for flavour. Gin is essentially a juniper-flavoured vodka - to be legally labelled gin, it has to include juniper. In our London Dry variety we use a big range of botanicals: juniper, coriander, orange and lemon peel, cinnamon bark, almond and liquorice root.'

So how much gin do you knock back - sorry, taste - during a day?

'A decent amount, but I don't swallow any. Tasting is a very important part of my job, but to make sure I don't get tipsy I spit it back out. Before tasting, you need to give it a big swirl, stick your nose right in there and give it a good old sniff!'

How far can you go with creating weird new flavours?

'Very. In our lab we made a Christmas-tree gin with pine. We've done a ham-and-pineapple gin and a Marmite one, which I wasn't a fan of. There was a near-disaster when the guys tried to make a mustard gin. What they actually produced was, in effect, mustard gas. The distillery was evacuated and that one wasn't made again.'

Help us out and settle that age-old conundrum: how do you make the perfect gin and tonic?

'Fill your glass with ice, pour in a double shot of good gin, top up with tonic, garnish with lime, give it a good stir - that's very important - and enjoy. Responsibly, of course!'

Hours: 45hrs p/w

Starting salary: Around £25,000

Qualifications: Scientific background useful, plus good sense of taste and smell

Interview by Tristan Parker

Or why not become a wig maker?

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