Few drinks are as synonymous with a city as gin is with London, and in London there is only one major brand of gin still distilled within the city limits — Beefeater.
Beefeater aside, Gin has a major part in London’s history. In the 1700s the town experienced a phenomena known as ‘The Gin Craze’ when citizens were hooked on the drink as an alternative to the city’s unfiltered water.
You can imagine how that turned out.
It took some doing, but the government managed to bring the craze under control by charging distillers licenses to operate and sell their wares. That’s when the cream rose to the top, and at the top still is Beefeater, the award winning brand known for the iconic Tower of London guard on its bottle.
In 1863 founder James Burrough bought a distillery that had been operating since 1820. From that point on Beefeater’s recipe and process has remained mostly unchanged, safeguarded by master distiller Desmond Payne.
Payne and his staff showed Business Insider around the London distillery Beefeater has occupied had since 1958, shared their gin-making technique, and let us poke around the stills.
But not too close, obviously.
Disclosure: Our trip to London, including travel and lodging expenses, was sponsored by Pernod Ricard, which is the owner of the distillery. Enjoy our tour with that in mind.
Beefeater founder James Burrough started distilling in 1863, having bought an operation that had been in place since 1820. Beefeater has been at this location since 1958.
This is Desmond Payne, Beefeater's current head distiller. He's holding a copy of 'Gin Lane', the iconic drawing depicting the evils of the gin craze in 1751.
Gin purists will tell you that the most predominant flavour must be juniper. These are bags of juniper berries Beefeater buys from Tuscany.
After juniper, distillers have a licence to do what they wish. Beefeater is made of 8 other botanicals including lemons and Seville oranges, whole juniper berries, angelica and coriander seed, ground almonds and more. Payne oversees their selection.
Then, and this is a difference that separates Beefeater from other brands, the botanicals are seeped with alcohol in stills for 24 hours.
After 24 hours, the botanicals are redistilled in the alcohol.