Beefeater’s birth can be traced back to 1863, when James Burrough bought a Chelsea distillery for the then grand some of £400 and started to produce his own distinctive style of gin. At first, the distillery continued with the production of liqueurs as previously started by its previous owners, further establishing its reputation and extending its customer base. The 1876 company stock lists show an increasing portfolio of gins with brand names such as Ye Old Chelsea and James Bourrough London Dry as well as Old Tom styles and a few others. By spending time experimenting, inventing and using new processes he discovered that blending a particular recipe of botanicals produced a bold, full-flavoured gin, which he named Beefeater Gin.
After the almost instant success of the gin, it was soon made the James Burrough Company’s flagship product. The original Beefeater recipe book dated 1895, specifies that nine botanicals are essential (juniper, angelica root, angelica seeds, coriander seeds, liquorice, almonds, orris root, seville oranges and lemon peel) to create the full-bodied and robust flavour so distinct in this gin. The flavour he produced still defines the London Dry style to this day and although the production moved home in 1958 (to Kennington, London), the method of steeping and distilling devised by James Burrough in the 1860′s along with the secret recipe he created remains virtually unchanged.
Unique to Beefeater’s production is the steeping of the peel of lemons and Seville oranges, whole juniper berries and other natural botanicals for a full 24 hours prior to distillation. This long process allows for a full extraction of flavour from the botanicals, capturing a wide range of volatile oils, all of which essential to produce their characteristically bold and balanced flavour. The distillation itself takes around eight hours to complete, overseen by master distiller Desmond Payne – with the spirit then taken to Scotland where it is blended and bottled at 40% ABV.
Beefeater is possibly the ultimate benchmark when considering gins and from a distillation, historical and flavour perspective, the very definition of a traditional London Dry Gin. On the nose Beefeater is both spicy and fruity, nicely balanced and clearly focused on the juniper. The palate is dry with a herbal bouquet and citrus notes complimenting the juniper. Beefeater deserves its position as one as one the gin categories leaders as, undisputedly, it’s a classic you can always rely on.
The name ‘Beefeater’ refers to the Yeoman Warders who are the ceremonial guards of the Tower of London. The decision to name the gin Beefeater was truly revolutionary at the time and it is one of the first examples of (gin) brands using an aspirational image and emblem, rather than a family name or location to position the product as the ultimate London Dry Gin. On a separate note; Not that geographical location has anything to do with the London Dry name tag (as this refers to the method of distillation and other such technicalities), the Beefeater distillery is one of only 4 currently still operational in London itself.
Beefeater has always had a major export trade thanks to its early marketing as a quintessentially “English” product, and the Burrough company have reputedly been exporting as far back as the 1900’s. Their vision and efforts to re-establish trade routes after the second world war are particularly notable and in 1957, a reputed 65% of Beefeater production was exported. With export firmly in mind, on the maiden journey of the QE2 ship to New York, Beefeater was the only gin aboard and by 1980, it broke the two million case (sold) barrier. Currently under the Pernod Ricard portfolio (it remained in the Burrough’s family control until 1987) it is exported to over 100 countries across the globe, with annual sales of over 2.3 million nine-litre cases. Interestingly there are only less than 10 employees at their sole plant in London producing all these cases!
The recent launches of the Beefeater Special Editions (Winter and Summer) and a move towards cross-marketing the gins in the Pernod Ricard portfolio has seen the original Beefeater London Dry receive more media attention over the past 18 months. Combined with the hard work of their brand ambassadors in the on-trade and polished consumer campaigns such as the Gin & Tales digital hub, the team have managed to breath new life into this classic brand. It’s hard to see how Beefeater would ever loose their position as the biggest, most well known gin, but with affection for the brand faltering of late (in favour of the tide of new gins released), it’s been a relief to see their fight-back not only start but actually deliver results. It is all too easy to overlook Beefeater simply because it is so widely available, well priced and has always been around. However, those that do, do so at their peril as you will miss out a classic gin that is a cut above many of the others out on the market.
For more information about Beefeater Gin, visit their website:
The Gin & Tales Website can be found here:
They are also on Twitter: @DrinkEnglishGin