DESMOND PAYNE, MASTER DISTILLER AT BEEFEATER GIN
Beefeater Gin Distillery is located in Kennington, London, having moved from its Chelsea roots. Created by James Burrough, the London Dry Gin recipe remains unchanged since the 1800s. Yeoman Warders inspired the name of the quintessentially British brand. Produced in the capital since its invention, visitors to Beefeater Gin Distillery will get a glimpse at how the world’s most awarded gin is produced. Desmond Payne educated GTW on the key components of Beefeater Gin and provided more information on what visiting groups can expect.
WHAT DOES YOUR ROLE INVOLVE?
I’m very fortunate that I am involved from the very beginning of the process – from assessing the quality of our botanicals to judging cocktail competitions. I’m the Master Distiller at Beefeater, but a lot of what my job entails is more public related.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU ASSUMED THE ROLE?
I’ve been at Beefeater since 1995 – that’s 20 years this year. Before that I was with Plymouth Gin. We were part of the same group. I’ve been making gin for 47 years.
WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO GIN IN PARTICULAR?
I started off in the wine trade. That was my passion. I worked in Harrods’ wine cellar for a while, learning about bottling and labelling. I later joined a company who were wine merchants. They also owned a gin distillery in South East London. As part of my training, I spent time in the gin distillery and it just fascinated me. It was such an interesting experience, with all the herbs and spices and botanicals. I still like wine, I still drink wine, but gin is what I do.
HOW DID THE ENVIRONMENT COMPARE?
My experience with wine really helped me to taste properly – and smell – which is far more important. It really developed my sense of taste, which applies very much to gin.
HOW DID YOU REACH YOUR PRESENT POSITION?
I worked my way up from a Management Trainee and when the Master Distiller of Beefeater was retiring, they offered me the job. With wine and gin, it was fascinating to explore all the different flavours. Gin – compared to other spirits – is a very complex drink.
Gin can come from anything you like. It must contain juniper, but beyond that, you can use any botanical. It gives a huge expanse of opportunity.
HAVE YOU EXPERIMENTED WITH ANY DIFFERENT CONCOCTIONS?
My job is to make Beefeater Gin to the recipe and to the same quality and style. In my office, opposite my desk is hanging a portrait of James Burrough – the founder of Beefeater. He is watching to make sure I don’t change his recipe. In the last six years I’ve made six new gins, which says something about how gin is such a popular spirit.
WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR WHEN TESTING?
Juniper grows wild, so there is no real control over it. We assess each batch and blend them, so we can recreate the Beefeater style each year. It’s a balance of flavours, and if you get one of them wrong, you suddenly throw it out of balance. It’s about being consistent all the way through. If you’re making a brand like Beefeater, people expect it to taste the same all around the world.
WHAT CRITERIA DOES BEEFEATER GIN HAVE TO MEET?
Our association with the bartenders around the world is very important. I’m very much aware as a gin distiller that what I make is not the way that anybody drinks it. Gin is nearly almost always drunk with something else. People are increasingly developing new cocktails and new combinations of styles by combining fashionable flavours. If they’ve got a good quality, versatile gin to work with, then that helps.
WHAT’S CHARACTERISTIC ABOUT BEEFEATER GIN?
It should be a harmonious balance of flavours. When we put our botanicals into the pure alcohol, we leave it to marinate for 24 hours before distilling and that really integrates the flavours. Beefeater is the most awarded gin in international competitions – certainly over the last ten years.
HOW DOES BEEFEATER GIN COMPARE TO OTHER PRODUCTS ON THE MARKET?
For a long time, we were the only gin brand that was still made in London, but now there are four or five. The challenge for them is to get a well balance gin that the bartenders can work with. It’s tempting to choose an ingredient or flavour that nobody else has used, but it has to work along with everything else.
WHAT’S THE ENVIRONMENT LIKE ON A DISTILLING DAY?
We’re distilling five days a week. Beefeater is a big brand of gin – it’s more than 21/2million cases and more than 30million bottles – all made here in the distillery. There are five people here and they are constantly checking and checking and checking. Towards the end of the distillation, those flavours become slightly stewed, so we make a cut. There are no computers aiding us in this process, its very much hands-on by a small team of people.
ARE YOU INVOLVED IN GROUP TOURS?
In March 2014, we opened a Visitor Centre, which I was very much involved in. It tells the fantastic story of early distilling in London, and tells the story of the Beefeater brand. I don’t do the tours, but I trained all the guides. In terms of group visits compared to ordinary visitors, it’s the same experience. We’re getting increasing numbers coming through. Partly aided by the fact that at the end of the tour, they get a Beefeater gin and tonic.
WHAT CAN PEOPLE EXPECT FROM A DISTILLERY TOUR?
The first part of the tour is self-guided. You can take an iPad and delve into far more information. People take anything from 20 minutes to an hour completing that. Upstairs, there is a huge glass ceiling where visitors will see all the botanicals – from juniper berries to orange peel – to really understand where the flavours and aromas come from. Above, through a glass ceiling, you can see the equipment working. We’re not a museum; we’re a working distillery. We’re central. Within a mile is the Imperial War Museum and Tate Britain, so it’s quite accessible.
Beefeater Gin Distillery is open between 1000hrs to 1800hrs Monday to Saturday. Online booking is recommended. For more information visit www.beefeatergin.com