The Tippling Point | Big Ben, Westminster, Tower of London: Beefeater Gin Will Take You on a Tour of England
The first thing a tourist to the Tower of London wants today is to take a selfie with the Yeoman Warder standing guard in that iconic attire. What is England without it!
Popular by the name Beefeaters, these guards were but not always known for their discipline and professionalism. Imagine. A 19th-century tourist held his purse tight and his womenfolk guarded while he visited the Tower in fear of these guards we now hugely respect. Extortion was an everyday affair among the uniformed men.
So in 1896, the Duke of Wellington stepped in to reform the constables. He sacked the criminals and insisted that new guards should at least have 22 years of military service behind them. Well, that shaped up things.
Well, London is also known for another Beefeater - an iconic gin that wanted to tag itself on the good name of the London guards.
In 1820, the distillery set up by John Taylor and Sons was licensed to make gin, but still, it had no idea of a gin named Beefeater.
Elsewhere James Burrough, a man born in Devon was fashioning his life as a pharmacist. He would not go far in that profession because, right from his youth, the man had been obsessed with a hobby: creating unusual gins. Returning from his trip to Canada, Burrough finally responded to his call that had been nagging him for long, deciding to venture into the gin world. He bought the distillery for 400 pounds from Taylor and Sons and set out to craft a concoction the world had never yet tasted.
The first thing Burrough wanted was a name. By that time, the Duke of Wellington had already worked his magic among the guards at the London Tower. Beefeaters! The name struck Burroughs as his only choice, quite representative of two things - Quality and London.
Gin is nothing without that host of botanicals that go to it. Burrough went the extra mile with his product by deciding to steep those signature herbs in the spirit for 24 hours. It created that rich flavour we today identify with the clear grain spirit, Beefeaters. His original recipe contained juniper, Seville orange peel, coriander, lemon peel, angelica roots, seeds, etc.
As one of the pioneers in the industry, Burroughs knew how to brand his product. He cashed in on the craze for everything British and soon began to export crates and crates of bottles to distant places, including the US. Burrough's sons, who took over the distillery after their father, moved the business across the river to Lambeth to get it expanded (the distillery settled finally in Kennington). Beefeater was a family business until 1987, when it was sold to Whitbred. Today, it is one of the iconic spirits that fall under the portfolio of Pernod Ricard, one of the world's largest spirit giants.
The exceptionally clean and bold gin lands on your mouth with its strong juniper character spiced up with definite citric notes. You would suddenly understand why James Burrough had insisted on steeping his botanicals for 24 hours in the spirit. The long and complex finish lures you back to taste more of the experience. The limits of your creativity are tested sorely imagining the sheer numbers of cocktails this premium spirit could build up.
Relax on the roof of the distillery in Kennington, sip the drink, listening to Big Ben striking two, or resting your eyes on the British parliamentary buildings in Westminster or the Oval cricket stadium next door.
(Manu Remakant is a freelance writer who also runs a video blog - A Cup of Kavitha - introducing world poetry to Malayalees. Views expressed here are personal.)