‘Mother’s Ruin’, or gin as we more commonly know it, has come a long way since its debaucherous days of the 1700s. The modern sophisticated juniper-based spirit seen in a G&T or a dry martini is a long way removed from William Hogarth’s picture of ‘Gin Lane’ in 1751.
This was a time when home-made gin was cheap and rife in London, and had taken the city in its grip – the shoddy home-made spirit often left people blind and even dead.
Thankfully laws were passed requiring distillers to buy a £50 licence – a small fortune at the time – if they wanted to keep on making the botanical spirit. This shaped the way for what we now know as modern gin, with master distillers forced to enhance the quality of their brew and create their own unique recipe in order to compete.
Today, this clear spirit is undergoing a modern renaissance, forming a key ingredient in a vast array of modern cocktails beyond your standard G&T.
Desmond Payne, the master gin distiller at Beefeater, makes the production of gin sound all rather simple.
“We take pure alcohol and add some water. Then we add juniper, coriander and all the botanicals. We leave it for 24 hours, turn on the heat and what happens is the alcohol vapour goes up the neck of the still and brings with it all the flavours of the botanicals.”
Once it has condensed and cooled down, you are left with gin ready to be bottled. Of course, what Desmond skimmed over in a couple of sentences was the long hours spent sourcing all the botanicals involved in the recipe. Desmond still adheres strictly to the founder of Beefeaters James Burrow’s recipe of juniper, angelica root, angelica seed, coriander seed, liquorice, almonds, orris root, and lemon and orange peel.
Beefeaters have decided to celebrate this recipe, and the history of the spirit, with a visitors centre at their distillery in London. The distillery, situated in Vauxhall since 1958, will open its doors to allow the public to see the processes behind the distilling of gin through a glass ceiling looking directly up into the stills. The accompanying centre will provide an insight into London’s industrial history and the city’s past relationship with the classic spirit.
Desmond points out that the picture of the Yeoman Warder, or ‘Beefeater’, adorning each bottle of the gin has become ubiquitously recognised as a symbol of London.
“We’re really proud of our Beefeater brand and the fact our gin comes from London.”
The Beefeater Distillery will open its doors to visitors in late 2013.
Original Gin Cocktail 1798
The very first recorded cocktail.
10ml ginger syrup
3 dashes of Angostura bitters
Stir thoroughly with cubed ice in a mixing glass and transfer all contents to an old fashioned tumbler glass or rocks glass.