I was recently practicing my blind tasting skills in preparation for my WSET Level 3 exam in spirits, and one of the spirits I could always identify, right down to the specific brand, was Beefeater Gin. It’s hard to forget or confuse a London Dry Gin that’s having an identity crises as an American style gin, after all.
John Taylor founded the Chelsea Distillery in 1820, located at 56 Cale Street in London. Here, he focused on producing gin and liqueurs before he sold the distillery for £400 in 1863 to a pharmacist named James Borrough. Borrough had built relationships with some of the higher end merchants in London such as Fortnum & Mason, and was already been using his experience as a pharmacist to perfect gin recipes for some time before he bought the distillery. It was one of those improved gin recipes that Borrough would use to create the now-iconic Beefeater London Dry Gin.
Borrough died in 1897 and the distillery passed to his sons, who continued to expand the business and purchased new facilities to support their growing client list. That expansion not only included physical floor space, but also expansion into other types of spirits and even into the medicinal alcohol business.
The company would remain privately owned until 1987, when it sold to the British spirits conglomerate Whitbread, which also owns Laphoraig as well as a handful of other scotch whisky distilleries. It was further sold to Allied-Lyons in 1989, who was eventually acquired by the French spirits giant Pernod Ricard in 2005.
Despite the French ownership, the spirit continues to be produced at its London distillery.
- Learn More: What Is Gin?
As with most large-scale gin distilleries, Beefeater doesn’t actually make its own spirit from raw materials. Instead, it sources the grain-based neutral spirit used for its gin from a distillery in Kennington. As a neutral spirit, it is produced at over 96% ABV in the EU, stripping it of pretty much all flavors and leaving behind just the alcohol.
Once at their distillery, a selection of botanical elements (specifically juniper, angelica root, angelica seeds, coriander seeds, liquorice, almonds, orris root, seville oranges and lemon peel) are added directly to the neutral spirit in large vats. That is left to sit for a full 24 hours before it is re-distilled in massive pot stills, thus creating the raw gin.
Following distillation, it is proofed down to about 40% ABV with water before it leaves the shop, and this end result is then shipped to Scotland for blending and packaging.
I like the slightly different take that they’re doing on this bottle. Instead of a traditional round glass bottle, this one has a roughly square cross section with sunken panels on the side, like a masonry brick. The name of the distillery is embossed on the side as well, which is a nice touch. The bottle angles in sharply at the shoulder for the short neck and is topped off with a screw-on metal cap.
One thing to note is that the glass is not truly clear. There’s a hair of a blue tint in it, visible mainly at the edges and the corners the glass is thicker. I don’t think it’s enough to notice if you aren’t looking for it, but it is there nonetheless.
The label is a nice, compact affair that is just big enough to get the job done with some nice artwork that doesn’t go over the top. It’s generally square shaped with a gold border, an image of a “beefeater” (the term for the royal guards in England), and sports some nice embossing to provide some ridges on the surface of the label. It’s smart — people who touch bottles are more likely to buy them.
Overall, a well-constructed package.
As you’d expect from a London Dry Gin, the very first thing you get here is a nose full of juniper. It’s like walking through a pine tree forest, including the crispness of a winter’s day frost. Around the edges, you start to get more of the accompanying notes — specifically, the orange peel, lemon peel, and licorice.
What might be surprising for this style of gin is that the juniper might not be the biggest and boldest of the flavors in here. In fact, the first note I get is the licorice combined with the citrus of orange peel, which is a very nice combination. The juniper slides in here, but more in the background and supporting the rest of the flavors. Almonds are the next things to really make themselves known, before the coriander kicks in with a bit of spice and lasts into the finish with just a bit of bitterness.
Not even a bit of added ice will keep the juniper aroma down — that aspect is just as potent as ever. (Which is a great indication for how it’ll do with the cocktails to come.)
Taking a sip, the licorice is a little more muted. Juniper comes through a little more cleanly here, with almonds and orange peel quickly joining in. The licorice re-joins the party at this point and provides a nice depth and complexity for the experience, and that licorice lasts well into the finish.
On the one hand, I forever regret choosing the negroni for our gin-based cocktails test, since I hate both Campari and vermouth. But on the other hand, it makes for a damn fine test — if a gin can make this work, it can make most anything work.
In this case, there’s an okay balance but I think the bitterness in the Campari is still too loud. Its hard to overcome the punch of flavor coming from the Campari (again, why this makes for a great test), and the Beefeater just can’t overcome it. There isn’t enough power in the gin botanicals, leaving the Campari and vermouth as the primary flavor components, with the gin barely able to get a word in edgewise into the conversation. I think I see the gin itself much more in the aroma coming off the glass than I do in the actual flavor, unfortunately.
Fizz (Gin & Tonic)
When there are no other flavors to compete with, this really does shine again.
That licorice is once more the biggest flavor in the mix, laying down not only a nice flavor but also an earthy note that is very pleasant and balances well with some citrus should you choose to go the Tom Collins route with this cocktail and add a splash of lemon juice. But even all on its own, this is a solid and refreshing cocktail. Even the juniper is coming out much more here, being more expressive than we’ve seen before (although it’s still a bit of a wallflower).
What we’ve got here is a London Dry Gin that actually might be a little closer to an American style gin. The juniper comes through clear as a bell on the nose, but you don’t really get it that much in the taste. That odd combination is what really makes this stand out among the more common gin selections, since it is a less expressive version of what you expect from a London Dry Gin. In other words: it is a little disappointing compared to the competition.
That’s not to say that this is a bad bottle. I like it, just like I like some of the other American gins. But those expecting a classic London Dry Gin should be warned that this won’t quite deliver the customary juniper flavor you’d expect.
|Beefeater London Dry Gin|
Produced By: BeefeaterProduction Location: United Kingdom
Owned By: Pernod Ricard
Classification: London Dry Gin
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 44% ABV
Price: $19.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 3/5
A great gin with some great flavors, but too bad that the juniper is so muted in the actual taste.