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A guided tour of Beefeater London ~ The massive distillery offers a fascinating look into the long history  and the art of London gin... plus a gin botanical petting zoo! featured post *tasteologie

A guided tour of Beefeater London ~ The massive distillery offers a fascinating look into the long history and the art of London gin... plus a gin botanical petting zoo!

June 10th, 2011

Still reeling from from the guided tour of the Beefeater London distillery.  It is like a Willy Wonka's gin factory.  The team at Beefeater invited us to check out what they've been up to over the last 150 odd years.  Since being founded in London by pharmacist James Burrough, the company has steadfastly maintained not only the tradition, but the same recipe as well. Still located in the city, the company remains one of the few distilleries making London gin in London.  After dining with an amazing view over the city it was a treat to get such an insider's perspective on the gin which is just as much a London icon as the  yeoman warder on its bottle.

I was led on a tour of the facilities by Beefeater's Master Distiller, Desmond Payne. Fortunately they had already been steeping the botanicals that make up the gin's flavor profile, so that by the time we wound our way around to the stills, we could actually see gin production in action.
James Burrough connected himself early on to the Yeoman Warders, or Beefeaters, who guard the Tower of London. A display in the lobby of the distillery shows some of the changes over the years.
Gin is defined as any kind of spirit whose predominant flavor is derived from juniper berries. Beefeater's juniper grows wild in the hills of Italy and is carefully selected each year for both quality and consistency. You can pick out the piney scents when you crush a few of the berries in your hand; it's astringent but also familiar.
Here are some of the 40 odd tons of this year's juniper berries in cold storage, waiting patiently to become Beefeater.
While juniper berries are the only required botanical addition to gin, they are just one of the nine components that make up Beefeater's flavor profile. Orange peel, lemon peel, almonds, coriander and others create the full rounded taste of the spirit. The showroom has them all laid out in boxes for you to try, like a botanical petting zoo.
Unlike many other gins, Beefeater steeps their botanicals for 24 hours, or, as I discovered, slightly longer when the distillers are away on the weekend. This releases a great deal of the ingredients' flavor, and makes it available to be distilled into the gin. Here one of the distillers checks in on a batch that will be ready to distill the next day.
As much as the process is driven by science and a tradition, it is still an art form. The flavor and properties of the gin change wildly throughout the distillation. The run smelled radically differently even in the short time I was in the distillery. Knowing when to make the cuts, is a powerful tool in the distiller's arsenal. The process of creating the perfect blend of flavors is equal parts sense, experience, and instinct. Desmond Payne, the Master Distiller at Beefeater, keeps his product in a very small window crafting consistent flavors year after year matching the nearly 150 year history of the brand.
Here is a video of the spirit locker, that gives the distillers access to gin straight out of the still so that they can evaluate it's process. The massive copper still produces a torrent of gin which is then blended with other batches in massive tanks and then diluted down (47% alcohol in the United States and 40% in the UK) for bottling. The whole process is amazingly fast compared to other spirits, but Desmond Payne and Beefeater London manage to keep the gin at precisely the right kind of delicious year after year so that there will be no surprises when it comes to mixing a cocktail.
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