The Chelsea Distillery is a name that many of you have probably never heard of, but back in the 1820’s, it was big business, and started one of the world’s most famous gin brands – Beefeater.
I’m surprised I’ve never covered Beefeater fully before, and with a presence in most bars, it makes perfect sense to start 2014 off with a look into nearly 200 years of history.
The Chelsea Distillery, located on Cale Street, London, opens under the control of the Taylor family in 1820, but it wouldn’t be until 1862 when the trained pharmacist and tea merchant James Burrough bought the distillery from John Taylor for the sum of £400. The distillery was renowned for its production of liqueurs, and James carried this on to further establish its reputation and customer base (which included Fortnum and Mason). With this, a year later in 1863 saw James Burrough create some of his own distinctive styles of gin.
By 1876, the company stock lists showed an increasing portfolio of gins with brand names such as Ye Old Chelsea and James Burrough London Dry, as well as Old Tom styles. 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 ultimately named Beefeater Gin, named after the Yeoman Warders of the Tower of London, also known as ‘Beefeaters’, who have guarded the historic landmark for more than 500 years.
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, specified that nine botanicals are essential (juniper, angelica root, angelica seeds, coriander seeds, liquorice, almonds, orris root, Seville oranges and lemon peel), and used his unique method of steeping the blend of botanicals in the grain alcohol for 24 hours prior to distillation.
In 1908, Beefeater production moved to Hutton Road in Lambeth. The distillery is named after its forerunner, Cale Street to retain its heritage, while production is increased due to the purchase of the latest distilling equipment and demand for the brand. With production increasing even further, Beefeater moved to its present home in Kennington back in 1958 and enlisted English still manufacture John Dore to create a new larger set of copper stills mimicking those of the former Chelsea Distillery.
Five years later, Beefeater accounted for three out of every four bottles of gin imported into the USA and became the only gin on board the maiden voyage of the QE11 to New York. Beefeater remained in the Burrough’s family control until 1987 when it was sold to Whitbread. Another part of the family tree of James Burrough, Christopher Hayman (James was his great-grandfather) joined James Burrough Limited in 1969 and was responsible for the distillation and production of Beefeater until its sale. He retained part of the business and now carries on with Hayman Distillers.
The appointment of current Master Distiller Desmond Payne happened back in 1995 to replace Brian Martin, and 10 years later in 2005, Pernod Ricard acquired Beefeater Gin which resulted in a massive programme of reinvestment to the brand. Today, it is said to be the only globally recognized gin to still be made in London.
2009 saw Desmond Payne, the world’s most experienced gin distiller, create a new expression from Beefeater, the now award-winning super-premium gin Beefeater 24. Desmond stumbled upon a fragment of an old price-list from James Burrough and saw listed products from his days as a tea merchant. With this inspiration, Mr. Payne decided to steep together ten botanicals (grapefruit peel, Seville orange peel, lemon peel, juniper, coriander seed, liquorice, angelica root, angelica seed, almond and orris root) with rare Japanese Sencha tea and aromatic Chinese Green tea for 24 hours. The spirit is then distilled in traditional pot stills for 7 hours.
So, with a stellar history, how do they fare? Well below, I give to you my tasting notes –
Beefeater London Dry – 40%
A light citrus creates a soft hit on the nose, with juniper following slowly after with a very light hint of spice. A long aftertaste after a more dominant hit of lemon citrus on the palate.
Beefeater 24 – 45%
Soft on the nose with plenty of grapefruit coming through. Incredibly soft on the palate, with small bursts of liquorice, grapefruit, orange and the heat from coriander. Creates a long, lingering finish with a little tingle to remind you.
Both stunning on their own, but equally you could ask your bartender for one of these –
Punch Bowl and Cups
60 ml Beefeater London Dry
30 ml Lemon juice (fresh)
30 ml Sugar syrup
15 ml Lemon sherbet
120 ml Green tea
8 Fresh raspberries
Dash orange bitters
Dash Maraschino liqueur
Put all the ingredients in a shaker and muddle gently. Then shake with rock ice and pour over ice in a glass. Garnish with a sprig of mint, fresh raspberries and a wedge of lemon.
These quantities serve 2 but can be easily increased for larger groups.
24 Fruit Tea Cup
Large Wine Glass
60 ml Beefeater 24
20 ml Lillet Blanc
15 ml Lemon juice
75 ml Earl Grey tea (chilled and sweetened)
Build all ingredients over ice in the glass and garnish with seasonal fruit and a mint sprig.
There’s also another new expression, which was released in 2013, named Beefeater Burrough’s Reserve where they age there specially distilled small batch spirit in casks previously used for Jean de Lillet. A great portfolio, and one that although you may see a lot of in bars, there’s a simple reason why – they’re actually pretty good. One for your cabinet at home for sure.
© David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.