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Saturday Special: The 30 Tons of Strawberries Edition
When life gives you an excess of summer fruit, make gin.
What do you do with two million surplus strawberries? This is not a thought experiment. When the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the cancelation of last year’s Wimbledon tournament, London’s All England Lawn Tennis Club and Kent’s Hugh Lowe Farms — the exclusive supplier of all the strawberries for the tournament’s signature dessert of strawberries and cream — faced this very quandary.
A few miles away at Sipsmith’s London distillery, master distiller Jared Brown didn’t see the situation as so much of a problem. Sipsmith — the first distillery to open in London proper in nearly two centuries when it began operations in 2009 — had already entered into talks with Wimbledon’s organizers to become the official gin of The Championships. Why not turn Wimbledon 2020’s unneeded strawberries into Wimbledon 2021’s bespoke summer gin?
The resulting Sipsmith Strawberry Smash hit shelves last month and will remain there until supplies run out, and supplies will run out. Sipsmith makes very good London dry gin (bartenders love it, just ask one). And this special edition — which saw Hugh Lowe Farms strawberries and a bit of mint added to a slightly modified version of Sipsmith’s standard botanical recipe — lives up to Brown and Sipsmith’s reputation for producing superb, back bar-staple gins.
It’s important to note here that Sipsmith Strawberry Smash remains a dry gin. It is neither sweet, nor “strawberry flavored” (in the sense that strawberry vodkas or peanut butter whiskies are flavored). Brown incorporated the surplus strawberries right into the gin’s distillation, carefully layering notes of berry fruit, mint, and some additional citrus subtly atop Sipsmith’s existing botanical blueprint to create something rounder, fruitier, and a bit more refreshing than your typical London dry gin. It drinks just fine on its own if you’re the type that likes to experience your spirits raw, but it’s really purpose-built for summer cocktails, specifically those that nod to the traditional fruit of London’s most storied summer sporting event.
The link between strawberries and cream and The Championships isn’t exactly firmly established, but the origins of the relationship may reach back as far as 1509. During the reign of Henry VIII, Thomas Wolsey (later Cardinal Wolsey — he was an important guy, look it up) reportedly served the dessert when hosting tennis matches at Hampton Court Palace. This version of the story records that the sweet and airy combination proved an instant hit with those in attendance and soon became a regular feature of these gatherings. Many renowned historians believe that this is because the combination of strawberries and fresh cream is, objectively speaking, delicious.
Whatever the origin, by the time the first Wimbledon tournament was held in 1877, bowls of ripe summer strawberries drowning in fresh cream had become de rigueur. In a typical year, some 62,000 pounds of strawberries make the trip from Hugh Lowe Farms to London over the course of the two-week event, picked fresh and delivered each morning before play begins. Spectators consume those strawberries along with roughly 1,800 gallons of fresh Hinxden Farms Channel Islands pouring cream.
Nearly 150 years later, gin cocktails made with Hugh Lowe Farms strawberry-infused gin may just find their own place in the tournament’s traditions. Sipsmith hopes to make Strawberry Smash a regular annual release in tandem with the Wimbledon Tournament, for which it is now the official gin (Sipsmith and Wimbledon inked a five-year deal beginning with the ongoing 2021 Championships). However, the logistics have yet to be ironed out and — born as it was out of 2020’s very unique circumstances — there’s not yet any guarantee we’ll see another iteration of Strawberry Smash in the future.
All the more reason to grab yourself a bottle while you can. At roughly $40, Strawberry Smash is not the kind of rare that breaks the bank, and as of now it remains fairly readily available. You may even be able to get your hands on a bottle before tomorrow’s finals get underway, if you’re so inclined. But there’s no need to rush. This gin — dry, citrusy, herbal, with that top note of subtle summer strawberry — will drink very well for you all summer long.
Below, a simple and refreshing way to enjoy it (as pictured above). You can also find a range of somewhat more complex ways to deploy Strawberry Smash via Sipsmith.
Sipsmith Wimbledon Collins
2 parts Sipsmith Strawberry Smash Gin
The juice of half a lemon
½ part simple syrup
Lemon twist, to garnish
Freshly sliced strawberries to garnish
Combine gin, lemon, and simple syrup in a highball glass filled with ice. Top with chilled soda water. Garnish with fresh strawberries and a lemon twist.
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What We’re Drinking: Txakoli
Writing for Opening a Bottle this week, I argue that the Spanish Basque Country’s Txakoli wines are simultaneously “the most (and yet, least) Spanish of the country’s wines.” On the one hand, they are lively, refreshing, slightly bubbly, and designed from the ground up for social drinking over shared small plates. On the other, they hail from a wet, cool and coastal part of a country where the most renowned wine producing regions are higher, arid, and inland. Identity crisis notwithstanding, these wines are thirst quenching, seafood/salad friendly, incredibly affordable, and — most importantly — a lot of fun. Get the full rundown, along with a bottle recommendation and over-the-top serving suggestions, over at OaB.