Great drinks of Europe: Beefeater gin

PUBLISHED: 16:31 04 October 2017 | UPDATED: 16:47 04 October 2017

Beefeater gin.

Beefeater gin.

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Gin has undergone a remarkable resurgence in popularity in recent years, with many new brands and flavours emerging. There are some older producers, though, with a heritage even stronger than the gin they create.

One English name in the art of distilled juniper berries that can be traced back more than 130 years is Beefeater Gin. Its origins go back to the purchase, in 1862, of a distillery in Cale Street, Chelsea, by James Burrough – a pharmacist by trade – for £400 (£1,115 when adjusted for inflation).

At first the new owner continued creating the same liqueurs that the site had been producing under its previous ownership, so as not to alienate its established customer base. As the business began to grow, though, Burrough began to experiment. By 1876, the company stock lists showed a growing portfolio of gins, with names such as Ye Old Chelsea and James Burrough London Dry. Another new brand was called Beefeater, after the Yeoman Warders who guard the Tower of London.

The decision to name the gin Beefeater was profound at the time as it was one of the first examples of brands adopting images or emblems to represent its products, rather than a family name or location. (A gin does not have to be made in London to be classed a London Dry Gin, however. That term comes from the process of creating the drink rather than the location it is made in).

An instant success, Beefeater swiftly overshadowed the firm’s other brands – and those of rivals – and became the distillery’s flagship drink. In 1908, production moved south of the river, to Lambeth and then, in 1958, to Kennington, where it remains.

Beefeater has never been shy of its London production and heritage, using it to its advantage by advertising the drink as the ultimate “English” product, particularly overseas. By 1957, around 65% of Beefeater production was exported. The brand had become so renowned that it was selected as the only gin aboard the QEII’s maiden voyage to New York.

The method of steeping and distilling devised by James Burrough in the 19th century along with the secret recipe he created remains virtually unchanged to this day but in 1987, almost a century after its creation, the company was sold to Whitbread.

Beefeater London Dry Gin is considered the benchmark of gins and from a distillation, historical and flavour perspective, can be seen as the very definition of traditional London Dry Gin.

  • Written by Marc Betts

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