I suppose I should start by pointing out that Beefeater Gin contains no beef, nor do you need to be a fan of eating beef to drink the stuff. While I’m sure this seems ridiculously obvious to the vast majority of people, this is coming from the United States, which as we all know, isn’t exactly the brightest bulb in the tulip garden when it comes to brain smarts. The term “beefeater” is a slang title for the mostly ceremonial guards of the Tower of London. The most widely accepted origin of the word comes from these guards’ noted privilege of getting to eat a fair amount of beef and occasionally whipping up darn good beef stock when the general populace probably didn’t often get the chance to do either. But why name a gin after them, you may well ask? And I may well answer, I don’t really know, I’m not the biggest fan of beef. I may also mention that Beefeater Gin has always been made in London, and when the brand was established in the late 1800’s, naming itself after those iconic wardens, seemed a surefire way to enamor the gin to a city that was already fairly enamored with gin.
In 1863, a pharmacist named James Burrough decided to set aside the glamorous, high-flying life of a pharmacist and bought a distillery. The Cale Street Distillery had been in operation since 1820, one of over 40 spirit producers in the London area at the time. Burrough is thought to have introduced the Beefeater brand around 1895. It quickly became the distillery’s best-selling label. In 1908, the Cale Street Distillery moved from Cale Street to the Lambeth borough (a new borough for the Burroughs) and expanded its production capacity. In 1958, the distillery relocated once again to Kennington, taking over a space that was previously the alarmingly and intriguingly named Haywards Military Pickle Factory. By the 1960’s Beefeater was incredibly popular, making up a staggering 75% of all gin imported to the US. By 1987, the brand’s success proved attractive enough for the large brewing/hospitality company Whitbread to purchase Beefeater and its distillery from the Burrough family. In 2005, Beefeater was sold again, this time to Pernod-Ricard. Today, the brand sells over a million cases a year and is arguably the classic standard-bearer of the London Dry style.
Beefeater London Dry Gin is produced by macerating its mélange of botanicals in neutral spirit for 24 hours before re-distilling it all once more in the march towards the final product. Beefeater is considered a “multi-shot” gin, meaning that once through its final distillation, it will be cut back to its proper flavor profile with more neutral spirit, and then proofed down with water. In comparison, there are a few gins out there that are “single-shot” gins meaning they come ready off the still with the desired flavor profile, and just need proofing down before bottling. Apparently, there’s no small amount of contention between those who see multi-shot gin creation as some kind of Faustian aberration, and those who choose not to worry about such trivial things. Beefeater uses a recipe of nine different botanicals in its London Dry Gin, juniper, angelica root, angelica seeds, coriander seeds, licorice, almonds, orris root, Seville oranges, and lemon peel. In what seems like one of the world’s great injustices, the UK is saddled with a low-proof (40% ABV) version while the most of the rest of the world, including the not-so-smart USA, gets a much better, more expressive version that clocks in at 47% ABV..
The Nose: A very fresh, sharp, and upfront nose. Definitely juniper forward, with a pine needle-y quality as well. While the juniper is obviously dominant, the bright, juicy, slightly bitter and pithy citrus comes in close behind. The other ingredients are subtler and well-integrated, earthy and floral, with a bit of almond extract, and hints of star anise.
The Palate: Bold and a little hot. Just like the nose, lots of juniper and lots of juicy, slightly astringent citrus. The coriander and licorice (still very star-anise-y) are very present as is more almond and some hints of clove. Like the nose, the Angelica and Orris provide a very subtle, earthy, floral counterpoint.
The Finish: The juniper and citrus fade with lingering almond, clove, and licorice.
Thoughts: A more robust, simple, and forward gin than, say, the Bombay London Dry. The higher ABV certainly contributes to that as does the stronger juniper and citrus flavor profile. While there are similarities betwixt the two, tasted side by side, it’s impressive to see how the combination of ingredients and production process produce two very different gins. Beefeater is much more upfront, and therefore shines through in cocktails a bit better, but it also lacks a bit of elegance compared to Bombay. At around $20 a liter (hell, I just picked up a 1.75 for $24,) this one is basically required reading when it comes to gin.
As gin is usually a cocktail spirit, here’s how I thought this one held up in a trio of classic drinks…
In a Gin & Tonic: Straightforward and downright classic. The strong ABV, crisp juniper and citrus temper the tonic’s sweetness, and help it keep its complexity despite the dilution while the rest of the botanicals balance the quinine.
In a Martini: That high ABV, and strong juniper and citrus presence makes for a very bold, lively Martini, though a good vermouth is a must, otherwise it just gets lost.
In a Negroni: Beefeater makes a truly great Negroni. Again the higher ABV helps to balance it against the sweet vermouth and Campari, and give it an herbal depth that integrates everything very nicely.
- Broom, Dave. Gin: the manual. London: Mitchell Beazley, 2015. Print.
- Coates, Geraldine. Gin: a toast to the most aromatic of spirits. London: Prion/Carlton Limited, 2015. Print.
- “Our History.” Beefeater Gin. N.p., n.d. Web. Aug. 2017.
- Stephenson, Tristan. The Curious Bartenders Gin Palace. London: Ryland Peters & Small, 2016. Print.
- “Yeomen Warders.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 23 July 2017. Web. Aug. 2017.