Desmond Payne – Beefeater
Beefeater Master Distiller Desmond Payne is due to celebrate 50 years in the industry. We thought we’d see what he makes of the gin industry today, given the enlightenment and experimental nature of 2017’s drinkers.
Do you remember your first day at the Beefeater Distillery? Who was your mentor at the time?
I took my first steps in my new role at Beefeater in 1995. I had been working at the Plymouth Gin Distillery for the previous twentyfive years so it was a big step change and very exciting. I knew how to manage a distillery and how to make gin, so what I had to learn were the special touches that make Beefeater unique, such as its characteristic crisp, clean and well-balanced flavour.
Brian Martin, the retiring distillery manager at the time, had a wealth of knowledge to pass on to me and he did so willingly. Martin regarded himself as a custodian of James Burrough’s original recipe – as do I – and it’s an honour to continue this today.
What do you wish you knew then about making gin that you’ve learned along your 50-year career?
When I first started at Beefeater, the gin industry was famous for a few well-known, long established brands. While I knew gin’s time to shine would come again, I wish I could claim to have foreseen the scale of the revolution of styles that was just around the corner – it’s an incredibly exciting time to be working in gin!
The Beefeater visitor centre has been going from strength to strength over the past year. Has it taken a little getting used to having everyone nosing about?
Beefeater: The Home of Gin is a fantastic educational resource for gin lovers in Kennington, South London. There is a huge interest in gin these days and it is great to be able to show Beefeater fans how we craft their favourite gin, according to the unique recipe and method from the 1860s, in the heart of London.
As the head honcho at Beefeater, what’s your favourite part of the tour?
Beefeater has London’s first ever gin distillery visitor centre and offers guests a unique opportunity to learn both about the history of gin and Beefeater’s distillation process. My favourite part has to be the Beefeater and tonic at the end of the tour!”
At Plymouth, they offer an experience in which each visitor is able to make a small bottle of their own gin on a little still. Do you envy or dread the idea of adding something like that into your tours?
It must be great fun, yet equally hard to manage?
Gin drinkers today are discerning, knowledgeable and experimental and have the desire to get up close and personal An inside look at the inner workings of the distillery with their favourite brands – the ‘distil your own’ gin concept is fascinating and is something we would look at doing in the future. Watch this space!
Everyone has preconceptions as to what Beefeater is like as a distillery, from scale to heritage – What would you say was the main revelation for those who visit?
The big surprise for our visitors is how few people it takes to produce a brand that sells a bottle a second! Judgments on how we buy our botanicals and distil the gin are made by a close-knit team of experts using their noses, taste buds, skill and common sense.
Whenever we think of the tour, we remember the small original Burrough still, which in turn makes us think of Burrough’s Reserve. Batch 2 was released this year, but aged in slightly different casks to the original release. Why did you make the change? And how have people reacted?
Offering a new twist on the gin-sipping experience through maturation in Bordeaux wine casks, Beefeater Burrough’s Reserve Edition 2 stems from a belief that doing things a bit differently can create an exceptional outcome. Some call it being innovative and creative, others call it unconventional; it’s a way for those that aren’t afraid to think things differently. We like to think it’s a way to create the remarkable, and the feedback to date has been exceptional.
We learn something new every time we visit any distillery (and every time we speak to you!). When was the last time you were bowled over by something in the gin industry?
Almost every day! Not only are there so many new gins in the category – I tried one recently that tasted of tomato – but bartenders around the world are doing really exciting things with gin cocktails, which is great for the overall consumer experience.
We’re forever fighting the corner of big production gins regarding the craft gin title. If a gin’s good, it was made by a craftsman (or woman!). Do you think that the more people visit places like Beefeater, the more they’ll lose the idea that scale defines craft?
To me, craft means that the production process is overseen by passionate people using their skills, judgment and intuition. Visitors are amazed to learn that we still weigh out the botanicals by hand. To us, that’s natural.
2016 saw the revival of your much loved Crown Jewel Gin. Was it fun getting to distil it again? How has it been received?
Crown Jewel was well established when I started at Beefeater. Each time a Crown Jewel enthusiast would ask me what happened to the brand, I would say, ‘get over it – it’s finished!’ I was delighted when, due to demand from bartenders, we decided to distil a limited batch again – even if I had to eat my words.
2017 sees a big milestone moment for you in terms of career birthdays. Will there be a special release to mark the occasion…?
I can’t really believe that I will have been making gin for nearly fifty years! We have no plans to share at present for a special release, but it’s early days yet…
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