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Beefeater Gin

It was in 1876 that James Burrough created Beefeater gin. To give you some context, Alexander Graham Bell was applying for the telephone patent that year. Devon-born Burrough, a chemist by trade, had purchased the Cale Street distillery in Chelsea for the princely sum of £400, back in 1863. He embarked on making liqueurs, fruit gins and punches and counted Fortnum & Mason among his customers.

About 13 years we see the first mention of Beefeater, named after the Beefeaters at the Tower of London, in the company’s papers. By 1897, Burrough had died aged 62 and left his sons to run the business*. The family company was in good hands and by 1908, the distillery had relocated to Lambeth. The new site, which retained the Cale Street name, was equipped with the very latest stills, allowing for increased production and gave the company access to a well supplying London water with the right taste profile for the company’s gins.

Beefeater poured out of Lambeth for the next 50 years. In 1958, the distillery had outgrown its surrounds and the Burroughs relocated to the old Haywards Military Pickle factory at Montford Place in Kennington – the very site the distillery occupies today. Beefeater was thriving during this period and an advertising campaigns from the late ‘50s show it was marketing itself a premium brand. “A little more to pay, a little more to enjoy”, reads a UK campaign from 1959. The following decade, Stateside success followed, with Beefeater making up “three out of every four bottles of gin imported into the US,” according to the company. In 1963, it was the only gin selected to be on board the maiden voyage of the QEII to New York.

The Burrough family sold Beefeater to Whitbread, the brewing giant, in 1987. From there it went to another behemoth, Allied Domecq, before coming under the ownership of Pernod Ricard in 2005 – as part of Pernod’s £7.4bn acquisition of Allied Domecq. Pernod didn’t just inherit two big brands in the world of gin with Plymouth and Beefeater, but also legendary master distiller Desmond Payne. After 24 years at Plymouth, Payne returned to London in 1995 to make Beefeater. He’s still there today and was recognised in the 2018 New Years Honours list, when he received an MBE, or Member of the Order of the British Empire, for services to the British gin industry.

Payne has been at the forefront of gin innovation at Beefeater, going against the ‘Dry’ terminology associated with its London Dry Gin to launch Beefeater Wet, in 1999. Described as “sweeter and more fruity”, it flavoured with pear essence. Almost a decade later the gin movement was gathering pace and as Beefeater’s ‘Forever London’ marketing campaign in 2008 cemented the brand at the heart of the London gin scene Beefeater 24 followed – a super premium brand extension, named after the 24 hours it takes to steep the gin’s botanicals. In 2013, Payne honoured the brand’s history with the release of Burrough’s Reserve, a sipping gin “rested” in Jean de Lillet oak barrels, giving it a straw-coloured hue.

The next year a multi-million pound visitor centre opened at the Kennington distillery, with Pernod Ricard claiming that it was the first gin distillery in London to have a visitor centre attached. Beefeater London Garden gin was launched as a celebratory distillery exclusive. In 2015, Crown Jewel followed, a gin that featured the same botanicals as the classic Beefeater with the addition of grapefruit as well as a 50% ABV bottling strength, a nod to the bartenders who lobbied the company for return of a higher strength Beefeater.
Then came Beefeater Pink in 2018, which saw the addition of natural strawberry flavour to citrus and classic juniper botanicals. The likes of Blood Orange and Blackberry have sinced join the flavour ranks and in answer to the low- and no-alcohol trend, the company released Beefeater Light, a 20% ABV product.

*James Burrough was also the great grandfather of Christopher Hayman, of the Hayman family fame who have been distilling gin under the Hayman brand for generations.

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