Of All The Gin Joints In All The World
I believe that water is the only drink for a wise man; wine is not so noble a liquor… “who does not prefer to be intoxicated by the air he breathes?”, said one Henry David Thoreau, and although a man clearly in need of a pie and a pint, his sentiments are echoed around the world today.
The act of getting well and truly sozzled is one of the oldest leisure activities known to mankind, and if you believe the current media obsession with binge drinking Britain, the subject of alcohol consumption remains an emotive one. A quick glance at your least favourite tabloid rag will usually supply you with hysterical headlines screaming about the descent into sordid squalor that is a drink-fuelled Saturday night out in some provincial town with the lads from sales. Open said rag and you will no doubt be greeted by page after page of outrage, fury and depravity as Boozy Britain staggers up to the bar for one final drink before snacking on the nearest available mechanically reclaimed meat comestible.
In between the outrage, fury and depravity, you will notice that even the most pious of the gutter press manage to sully their whiter than white image by including yards of breathless copy that delves into the stickiest of details, providing Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells with something to be weller disgusted about. No doubt, when you stumble across it, the editorial column will manage a few condescending nuggets of wisdom. Indeed one such commentator is on record as wittily noting that the lower orders have only two pastimes: sexual intercourse and drinking, and that as it’s cheaper, drunkenness is by far the most desired. Except..hold on a minute.. this commentator is not a greasy Fleet Street hack, but is instead an 18th century observer by the name of Francis Place, and he was referring to the infamous Gin Lane.
As any self-respecting LUSSO reader knows, Gin Lane was a political cartoon of the mid 18th century penned by English artist William Hogarth in support of what would become the Gin Act. In an attempt to keep grain prices buoyant and sales of grain spirit afloat, the Government of the day reduced duty on gin to the point that it became the tipple of choice for those on the most meagre of incomes. Hogarths Gin Lane depicts the parish of St Giles, London, an area now part Oxford Street, where, at the time of publication, a third of all buildings in the locale were either a gin shop, a knocking shop, or most probably both. The lengths to which people would go to for their next measure of gin puts todays happy hour youth to shame.
Madam Geneva, Slappy Bonita or just plain old gin was at her most out of control by the early 1740s when production reached over 14 gallons per Londoner. However by the late 1750s the crazed drunk that was Madame Geneva had all but dried out through a combination of tax and high grain prices. Gins popularity waned, before enjoying a resurgence in the 1800s when, in 1830, London’s first Gin Palace opened in Holborn Hill. Improvements in distillation, resulting in the ability of distillers to produce cost-effective spirit, added further to gins respectable maturation as a socially suitable snifter and by the end of the 1800s, with the opening of The Criterion in Piccadilly Circus, London’s first American cocktail bar, gin had arrived. Cocktails were to be its saviour and their newfound status cemented gins popularity in the early half of the 20th century. From an alcoholic, crazed adolescence, Madame Geneva had grown up into the alluring social sophisticate that graced many a 1920s cocktail bar.
Known the world over as the only authentic London Dry Gin, James Burroughs’ Beefeater has become an iconic symbol of London. And for good reason. Burroughs’ constant development and refinement led to a unique manufacturing process where nine botanicals are steeped in pure grain spirit for 24 hours prior to distillation. The result is the creation of one fine spirit and a new role for Madame Geneva as one of London’s most recognisable faces. But, having attained a lofty position of sophisticated respectability, what now for the Grande Dame of drinks? It is with this in mind that LUSSO finds itself in a graffiti-patinated corner of Kennington, South London and the home of Beefeater where we are the guests of Beefeaters genial Master Distiller Desmond Payne. He may not admit it himself, but what Desmond doesn’t know about gin probably isn’t worth knowing; something he demonstrates as we are guided into the world of Beefeater and the next chapter in the colourful story of gin.
A couple of years ago, Desmond, like James Burrough before him, started to ponder the possibility of creating a new gin to sit alongside Beefeater London Dry. Not, you understand, to change the recipe the James Burrough developed over 180 years ago, but to develop a new style of gin that, whilst maintaining the authentically sophisticated taste of Beefeater, would continue the Burrough legacy of refinement and excellence. And so Desmond started to experiment.
Desmond Payne is one of those rare breeds that participates in every aspect of production, from scouring the world for the highest quality botanicals, through to discussing the latest cocktail innovations with the worlds bartenders. I get involved with everything he tells LUSSO, The great thing about it is that every part of the process at the Beefeater Distillery is done almost exactly as it was 180 years ago. And it is this attention to historical detail that led Desmond to develop Beefeater 24.
Standing amongst samples of botanicals, Desmond explains When I started to create 24, I experimented with a whole range of botanicals that I thought would complement the core range traditionally used by Beefeater today, but none were quite right. However in the course of my research, I discovered that James Burroughs’ father was a tea merchant to Queen Victoria, and this amazing historical link provided the inspiration for the choice of flavourings in 24. Desmond experimented with teas from around the world, distilling them, sampling them and rejecting them all as they lent too strong a tannin component to the spirit and as Desmond explains, such tannin notes should only come from the Juniper berries. It was only after months of experimentation that Desmond hit upon the ideal blend, and using a combination of delicate Chinese green tea and the almost salt marsh qualities of Japanese Sencha tea, created the basis of Beefeater 24. Whilst still retaining the Beefeater tradition of 24 hours of steeping ingredients, Desmond was determined to ensure that all flavours were added at the time of distillation and not afterwards through simple additives. This process is much more wasteful as only the heart of distillation is bottled whilst the heads and tails are discarded from the process as the flavours that come out in these sections of distillation are not balanced. James Burrough would be proud.
The result is Beefeater 24. It all comes back to balance says Desmond. It is not about how many botanicals you have or how exotic they are. It’s about how they work together. That balance is crucial. The result is a masterpiece. The aroma is complex and multi-layered with citrus notes from the grapefruit, tannin aromas from the Sencha tea, coupled with the characteristic bite of the juniper that develops into the spicy character brought through by the presence of angelica and coriander. On the palate you are immediately aware of the citrus notes but at no point do they overpower the complex layers of flavour ranging from the tang of juniper through to the liquorice finish. Overall a spectacularly delicious offering, and like nothing else on the market.
It appears therefore, that after a rebellious, almost disastrous adolescence, Madame Geneva has evolved with the times into what Desmond Payne has nurtured, namely a multifaceted offering that would surely meet with Mr Burroughs’ approval. It certainly meets with mine. Ice and a slice anyone?