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Gin is the quintessential London drink and Savile Row Gin embodies the classic style of the capital, so to combine the two creates a product that just oozes elegance and crafted excellence. But the exquisite union nearly didn’t happen. Tim Newark meets Savile Row Gin founder and CEO, Stewart Lee

I had a heart stopping moment,” says Savile Row Gin founder Stewart Lee. “The whole project depended on getting the whole-hearted support of Savile Row tailors. At lunch at Brown’s I told Angus Cundey MBE about it, and for the longest ten seconds of my life, he took a deep pause…”

Affectionately known as the “Godfather of the Row,” Mr Cundey is Chairman of one of Savile Row’s most prestigious and original tailors, Henry Poole & Co. “He cocked his head to one side and then said yes, he thought it was a wonderful idea.”

It was only fitting then that I should interview Stewart Lee at Henry Poole to get the inside story of the exclusive coupling, surrounded by portraits of historic clients, including Sir Winston Churchill, and a framed facsimile of a cheque signed by author Charles Dickens for £15 of tailoring. A bronze imperial French eagle happens to hang behind the counter, a gift from Emperor Napoleon III, who was their first royal client when they opened their shop in the vicinity in 1828.

Founder Stewart Lee: brand enjoys a unique personality

“As publisher of Savile Row Style magazine, I’ve worked with the Row for many years,” says Stewart. “It was important I got the support of several prominent members of the Savile Row Bespoke Association, including key figures like Angus Cundey. I was determined to uphold their values of quality, their appeal to the public, and, of course, promote bespoke men’s tailoring. I think my magazine work enabled me to gain their trust for this new venture.”

Distilled in traditional copper pots under the expert eye of award-winning distiller Rob Dorsett, Savile Row Gin is a blend of 12 botanicals, with traditional juniper matched with the freshness of coriander and a unique citrus hint of kumquat. A key part of its distinct character is its witty glass design.

“You look at the bottle and you can see the broad shoulders narrowing down like a suit. You might think it would be easy choosing a bottle but we saw it as vital way of establishing the unique personality of the brand.” Next came the label.

“We used a Goudy Old Style serif font which is very much going back into the heritage of Savile Row. Then we thought about what does every Savile Row tailor possess as the distinctive tool of their trade? We thought scissors but then, of course, crossed needles and thread came to us and we’ve picked them out in gold foil on the label. We worked with top designer Micha Weidmann Studio to ensure the bottle epitomises Savile Row, not too loud, very stylish and elegant. We are very proud of that branding.”
The association will be further enhanced when bottles are wrapped in a gift bag packaging made of Winston Churchill pinstripe cloth cut and designed on Savile Row. On that detail alone, I can see it becoming the perfect present for any admirer of the great man.

Already, Savile Row Gin has attracted several key partners including Jack Barclay Bentley, Bonhams, and London Fashion Week Men’s, operated by the British Fashion Council. “Savile Row is an iconic brand and we want to work with other iconic brands in the area,” says Stewart.

Indeed, the gin’s first exposure to the public was at LAPADA, the high profile art fair in Berkeley Square in Mayfair. “I couldn’t believe my luck,” he recalls. “At first they said no way, they knew me but they didn’t know the gin. I’ve been the publisher to LAPADA for 15 years, producing their official catalogue before they were even in Berkeley Square. I gave them a nudge and nothing happened, then about four weeks before the fair they phoned me up and said though they’d not tasted it yet, I’d produced good publications for them and they trusted me to produce a damn good gin too!”

Stewart had the gin sponsorship for the fair and it turned out to be a gamble well worth taking.

“The immediate response to the drink and brand was fantastic. You’re always worried that you’ll see half-full glasses lying around, but everyone loved it and wanted more. We were delighted and deeply privileged to be launched there in the heartland of Mayfair in Berkeley Square, one of the most iconic squares in London and very fitting for Savile Row Gin”

Since then it has been served at leading events, including a drinks reception at Kensington Palace. “For our gin brand to be served at a royal residence was a real honour.”

Model David Gandy

David Gandy: the brand’s ambassador

As a publisher, he produced the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee official programme in 2012.

For Stewart, it is the realisation of a personal dream. “I was out with some friends and must admit it first came to me one evening over a few gin and tonics,” he laughs. “I’ve always loved gin and there are some amazing gins out there. It was just that eureka moment.

“My whole career has been in magazine publishing and I’ve felt for some time that I was looking for a new challenge. With my business experience and contacts, I felt I wanted this to be something social, something fun. Something I could grow and work with friends and business partners and they have already contributed valuable advice.”

Top male model David Gandy is a partner in the business and is lending his elegant good looks to promoting the drink, while fashion guru and style consultant Robin Dutt immediately appreciated the special combination. “Savile Row Gin has been specially crafted as a suit of quality must always be,” he notes. “A Savile Row suit is unique and Savile Row Gin has a distinct hallmark when it comes to an individual taste.”

Part of its genius is that it feels as though it has already been around forever.

“Savile Row as a moniker of sartorial elegance goes back over 200 years and is respected the world over,” says Robin. “Every tailor is unique and all are part of the Savile Row family.”

Stewart agrees. “A Savile Row suit will last a lifetime. I was once talking to Michael Skinner, Chairman of Dege & Skinner and he opened up his suit jacket and proudly showed me the label dating back to 1975. It looked as good as if it had been made yesterday.”

Dege & Skinner recently celebrated its 150th anniversary, tracing its history back to Jacob Dege, a German immigrant who came to London in 1855, quickly building a fine tailoring business in nearby Conduit Street. His son then met a young Englishman called William Skinner, whose family was trading in Jermyn Street and a tailoring legend was established. Just as Savile Row can trace its history back over centuries, so can gin. Originally distilled in Dutch cities in the 16th century, it became a quick favourite with English soldiers who liked a sip of it before battle, hence the phrase “Dutch courage”.

When Dutch King William became a British sovereign, gin became a fashionable drink in London. So much so that 7,000 gin shops rapidly opened across the capital in the 18th century. When a gin tax was imposed, there was rioting in the streets and the duty was later reduced.

Gin is still a vital part of Brand UK, just like Savile Row. “So highly regarded is this street around the world, that in Japan a suit is apparently referred to as ‘Sebiro’,” reveals Robin Dutt, “a delightful accolade.” Henry Poole and other tailors have already opened branches in China and the growing Asian market. Stewart must be hoping his gin literally follows suit.

He added: “The idea is to start in the heartland in Mayfair but then appeal to people across the country and then hopefully around the world—why not?”
The British Empire originally helped spread the classic pairing of gin and tonic. In tropical colonies, the anti-malarial quinine was dissolved in carbonated water to make tonic water.

For the perfect gin and tonic, Stewart recommends combining 50ml of Savile Row Gin with 150ml classic Indian tonic water, finished off with a slice of pink grapefruit and a mint leaf. “You could almost call it tailored perfection,” he quips. “Our gin is very smooth and I believe it’s a very good sipping gin as well.”

Gin is the quintessential London drink and

Giles Burke-Gaffney, buying director at Justerini & Brooks, tells Daniel Evans about his lifelong love affair with the sparkling tipple

The venue – The Library at the Café Royal on Regent Street – was suitably opulent. The quality of champagne on offer – from Dom Perignon 2009 to Bollinger, La Grande Annee 2007 – equally splendid. But the standout performer on the night was Giles Burke-Gaffney, buying director at Justerini & Brooks who provided just the right amount of expert guidance to give his audience the insight and understanding they needed to get the most out of their champagne-tasting experience.

As we sat and chatted over what I think was the third champagne on the list – a Ruinart, Blanc de Blanc, NV – Giles told me what he thought it was about the sparkling tipple which particularly appealed to so many people. “Ever since the times of King George III in 1761 [to whom Justerini & Brooks would make regular deliveries], champagne has been associated with fun and celebration,” he said.

“Perhaps it was, at first, an appreciation of the time and craftsmanship invested in making champagne that sparked its popularity, or maybe it was just the pop and the bubbles! But, as much as life and champagne have changed over the years, there is as much skill going into the making of champagne as ever. It has been cherished throughout the ages, from Dickens to Wilde, and from Churchill to James Bond.

“The UK has been one of the world’s top markets for champagne for some time now. Our passion for bubbles and brands has seen extraordinary growth in consumption which, combined with our great curiosity, has seen an expansion in the variety of champagne being offered. There is a wider and more diverse range of champagnes available in the UK than ever before and quality is at an all-time high. Rosé, vintage, luxury cuvees, single vineyards, extra brut or even bone dry nondosage styles have all been penetrating the market.”

Justerini & Brooks is the oldest continuous royal warrant holding fine wine and spirits merchants in the UK. Established in 1749 in London, it has a portfolio over 3,500 wines from the finest estates, domaines and chateaux. Particular strengths are Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Rhone, the Loire, champagne, Italy and Germany Giles adds: “We cellar over £200 million of wine on behalf of our clients in our storage facility – Cellarers Wines Ltd – and have a broking platform where we value clients’ bottles or entire cellars and sell them on their behalf.

“As buying director, I run a team of six. We scour the world tasting wines from well over 300 wine growers a year, the aim being to check up on our existing sources and discover any hidden new winemaking talent out there. We divide and conquer. I personally look after some of our key regions across Europe, including Burgundy, the Rhone and Italy. Travelling throughout the year, I spend much of my time in vineyards and cellars, tasting over 30,000 wines in the last five years alone. We share our finds with the teams in London, Edinburgh and Hong Kong, working jointly with them on marketing strategies to sell directly to the customer.”

I ask Giles what he would recommend to someone if they came to him and said they were not a regular champagne drinker but would like to try some. “I would suggest our Justerini & Brooks 250th Anniversary Cuvee,” he said. “It was created for our 250th anniversary in 1999 it is made from excellent quality Pinot Noir fruit from the Bar region. It’s opulent, fruity and smooth – delicious from magnum [and won’t break the bank]. We serve this at our St James’s Street lunches and dinners and it always goes down well. It’s a crowd-pleaser, popular at weddings and parties. For something more cerebral, I would suggest one of the Philipponnat Champagnes – be it their brut tradition, Blanc de Noirs or the jewel in their crown Clos des Goisses, the 2007 being the current release. There are also some truly wonderful growers’ champagnes out there, Egly Ouriet being one to look out for if you like champagnes with rich, toasty, red fruit flavours. His old vines Les Crayeres blend is memorable.”

Giles knew from quite a young age that he wanted to work in the wine trade. “I have been fascinated by wines ever since my father, a barrister, starting sharing wonderful old bottles of claret and burgundy with me,” he said. “Not only were they delicious but they all tasted different and each had a story to tell. I find the skill, their understanding of nature and determination of fine wine growers completely inspiring.

“I was lucky enough to begin at Justerini & Brooks in 1997 as a cellar hand. Our spiritual home has always been Piccadilly – for more than 200 years we had a shop in this area before moving everything to – so, when I began, I was selling from our office in St James’s Street. I was always spell-bound by the amazing aromas while decanting wines for the lunches that took place in the dining room at St James’s Street and now, 20 years later, I still have a great passion for the job.”

Three of the best: Philipponnat Close des Goisses (left), Egly Oriet (middle), Philipponnat 1552 (right)

Over time, Giles honed his palate – “With great enthusiasm,” he admits – and wine knowledge under the tutelage of the-then buying director (now chairman) Hew Blair, before taking on the role himself in 2012. “However the learning never stops, there is always something new to discover,” he adds. “Our customer base is such a broad spectrum. It is such a wide-ranging list of people from entrepreneurs, city folk and lawyers, to actors & actresses and sports people, particularly polo players.” (The company’s headline sponsorship of British Polo Day might explain that one.)

As the evening comes to a close and with only time for one more glass – a Philipponnat, Cuvee 1522, 2007 – I wonder whether I have chosen the wrong career, I ask Giles whether his job, which seems to revolve around travelling the world drinking and talking about champagne, has a downside. “Very few,” he admits. “You get bored of airports and missing out on family time is a potential pitfall but I love it.”

Giles Burke-Gaffney, buying director at Justerini &

It’s always a win-win with gin, says Robin Dutt

THIS IS NOT A LIE. MY first alcoholic drink was gin. Those who know me are apt to see a vodka martini or a flute of champagne in my hand. But it was gin that seduced me. No tonic was involved at that time. It was the occasion of a school trip to the National Theatre and my dear friend (still is) insisted on buying me something to drink. I thanked him for his kindness and opted for a Coca-Cola. “No, Robin. A drink.” I knew what he meant and, pretty soon, two rocks glasses of gin and fizzy bitter lemon were bejewelling the plain table top in almost Art Deco tones of soapy blue. As we were both only 16 or so, it felt grown up and mischievous.

Gin is a taste you don’t easily forget and, unlike many drinks, most have a clear opinion about it which runs predictably from loving to loathing. Originally created as a herbal medicine (in the way that vodka can be resorted to as an almost first aid for a minor cut) its origins can be traced to the Middle Ages and based on an older Dutch liquor called jenever, deriving from the Latin, “Juniperus”, for Juniper. The essence of this essential berry is omnipresent in the drink and the first whiff as you open a bottle is this. It was a concoction which was apparently drunk before battle to calm the nerves and perhaps that is where the still-used term, “Dutch Courage” comes from. The other popular phrase “Going Dutch” doesn’t have quite the same appeal.

Although not an English invention, it didn’t take the English long to adopt it as the go-to, must have slurp of the day, night and any time in between and, indeed, between 1695 and 1735 literally thousands (around 7,500 in London alone) of gin-shops existed, a period typified as that of the “Gin Craze”. And craze is a good word to use. William Hogarth’s Gin Lane shows gin sodden denizens in a slice of desultory 18th century life displaying the effects of imbibing too much. It also features a baby about to take a headlong plunge from its drunken mother’s arms into an external stairwell, the ominous skeletal man hard by, a crumbling building and the only person prospering, the undertaker. But all this at a time when it was safer not to drink the water. And it is as well to remember gin’s seductive but slow powers in the popular drinkers’ mantra (often ignored, of course, when ordering a gin martini) ‘One Martini, two Martini, three Martini…Floor!’

The sheer variety of gins available is staggering and it seems that, at this very moment, we are enjoying another “Gin Craze” revival. And, while there may not be thousands of specific gin shops, the ancient, classic, modern and explosively contemporary varieties are jostling for centre stage and their time in the bar spotlight or, indeed, the must-have drinks at the openings of fashion boutiques and art gallery evenings. Despite the incalculable varieties, the various ingredients (the botanicals) are responsible for crafting the character for every taste, every style. These, and the liquid’s mercurial clarity, ensure that each gin has legions of fans but then some, a select cognoscenti few. And, despite its foreign origins, the appellation, “London Dry Gin” has a defined meaning and provenance the world over.

Botanicals is a word which in itself is responsible for carving any gin’s identity. For the old school imbibers it cannot be anything but, for example, Gordon’s and, for those who find the presence of dancing herbs on the tongue to their liking, Bombay Sapphire may spring to mind. The Botanist is made with 31 botanicals (22 native to the island of Islay). Hendrick’s has long charmed cocktail fanciers with its cucumber and rose, the garnish – always a slice of the former as long as the high ball, emerging triumphantly through the ice. Sipsmith is from the first copper distillery in London since around the beginning of George IV’s reign. Horse Guards is quite new and the word that is used to describe it is “smooth”. That is its only necessary credential. And you will discover countries of origin as diverse as Canada to Uganda, New Zealand to Germany, the Philippines to America. There are notable gins from France, Italy and Belgium too. And, once again, England, of course.

But, even in the gin-soaked glory days of the past, presentation and public perception of a product was really not even thought about. An earthenware jar with a single curved handle was indistinguishable from another such vessel. Now, as with all drinks, the identity has to be announced from the bar shelves to the bar guests. Shape of bottle, size of bottle (to fit most bar shelves although some are purposefully over-sized), magnetic label colour – red somewhere is often employed, the authority of mono or duo chrome wording, the colour (or not) of the bottle itself, an engaging hand script, the visibility or invisibility of the liquid within and of course, perhaps most importantly, the name. One that becomes generic. And then there is the huge importance of a cocktail name – that sticks, in the way that a Bloody Mary for vodka does. By the by, if using gin instead of vodka it is known as a Red Snapper. But, Fallen Angel, French 75, Moon River, Old Etonian, Satan’s Whiskers, Vesper, Gibson and The Last Word are all, of course, individual, each moniker conjuring a sense of taste, space, time and idea, long before glass has reached lip. Arguably, gin cocktails have the most enigmatic of all alcoholic beverage names. Often they sound like sensory or historical or mischievous adventures.

The gin arena is vast and competitive. But, because of the choice available, with more on the way, almost seemingly every day, there is room for all. But they do stand or fall ultimately. Fashion, while fickle, is a factor. Those brands that can equate with a lifestyle or time or provenance, treat these aspects as preciously guarded hallmarks. Gin is the liquid heart. What exactly characterises it? Sometimes, gins come back from the brink of near extinction because of fashion or companies being bought. New ones are often readily welcomed and give the enthusiastic barman more tools for his alchemy making.

While the definition of a spirit in gin’s case is the prosaic, “a strong, alcoholic drink”, it may be well to look at the other meanings of spirit – not usually applied. “Something’s characteristic quality”, “a person’s mood”, “courage and determination”.

Somehow there is something of a flow between the same word, used for two completely different things.

It’s always a win-win with gin, says

The creation of Mayfair and St James’s as the fashionable centre of London was guided by Henry Jermyn who was given the task of transforming the area still scared with battlements from the Civil War by Charles II upon his restoration in 1660. Jermyn was made the 1st Duke of Albans in thanks and became known as the Father of the West End

The area’s links to bespoke tailoring can be traced back to 1622 when the freehold of this parcel of land was purchased by William Maddox, merchant tailor of the City of London, but it would be another century before his dream of creating a tailoring utopia would be realised when Dorothy Savile come to prominence. Savile Street – which became Savile Row in 1810 after it was cut off by Regent Street – was Dorothy’s personal vision.

The Daily Post reported on 12 March 1733 that “new buildings were about to be built on Savile Street in Mayfair.” It was in 1735 after the Countess of Suffolk, mistress of George II, took up residence at No 15 Savile Street – now Henry Poole & Co – that Savile Row became famous. Another famous tenant who made his home on the street in 1735 was future prime minister William Pitt. Not all existing houses were knocked down but were, instead, cosmetically “Palladianised”, in keeping with Dorothy’s plans.

The British Archives refers to Dorothy’s clever street design to ensure the area was quiet and free of through traffic such as dust carts. “The limitation of space tended to the conspicuous closing of each street by a cross street which permitted each vista to be closed with neatness and effect and prevented through traffic.” It goes on to note that, in 1751, “Savile Street was home to artists such as playwright. Sheridan and at least three gentleman’s tailors were operating.”

The creation of Mayfair and St James’s