Lizzie-Bailey-Haymans-Distiller

Hayman’s Distillery

I visited Hayman’s Distillery on the same day as my visit to Beefeater. Given the family connection between these two iconic gin brands, it was a fitting juxtaposition.

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Hayman Family Tree

I was looking forward to meeting Lizzie Bailey, Hayman’s Master Distiller and one of only 4 female gin distillers in the world. Lizzie has recently joined Hayman’s since they brought gin production back in-house from Thames Distillers in 2013.

Lizzie was kind enough to interviewed and took me around the distillery, introducing me to Marjorie (their still named after Christopher Hayman’s mother) before leading me through a personal gin tasting of their range.

Did you always want to be a distiller?

I love flavour and I come from a farming background and being able to have raw materials and turn it into something is something I’m very passionate about. Gin botanicals and messing about in the lab, I absolutely love it.

Entering the industry I worked at Chase and Sipsmith before learning that Hayman’s were looking for a distiller. Knowing how influential the brand is, it was a great opportunity not only to become a distiller, but also to go out into the trade as the brand ambassador. I love the feedback and seeing people drink gin that you’ve made.

I went for the job and then came down several times for a fairly intense interview process. It was a serious business introducing someone into the Hayman family. Fortunately, having worked at Sipsmith, which also has a Carl still, I knew how to manage Marjorie.

In terms of the gins, is it like Beefeater, more of a custodial role?

Yes, that is partly the case. There are certainly perimeters for the brand, that need to be adhered to, but I do have time scheduled for R&D. We are doing new things, I have a small pot still (called Eve) that I use to try out recipes.

However, we are also serious about bringing back gins from the family archives. From an educational perspective, these are the expressions that show the history of gin.

What’s the most challenging thing about distilling?

I get very excited about distilling, so I enjoy the challenges! The biggest one for all distillers is probably achieving consistency. If Marjorie is having an off-day, for example. In the winter, she struggles a little to get going. My job is to work out how to change things on the still to maintain that consistency in the spirit.

After our chat, we moved onto the more important part of my visit. The tasting!

 

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Lizzie leading the tasting
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Hayman’s gin range (from L-R : London Dry, Old Tom, Family Reserve, Royal Dock (Navy Strength), Hayman’s 1820 gin liqueur, Hayman’s Sloe)

What we tasted

Hayman’s London Dry Gin (40 % ABV)

The winner of the Best Gin award in San Francisco Spirits award 2014, this gin is a classic London dry with a delicious citrus nose and bright juniper notes. A very well-balanced gin.

Hayman’s Old Tom Gin (40% ABV)

As a fan of classic cocktails, I’ve been using Hayman’s Old Tom for a while. Made to an 1870’s family recipe, it is softer, mellower, and more approachable than the London Dry. It’s not too sweet and is fantastic in a Martinez cocktail.

Hayman’s Family Reserve Gin (41.3% ABV)

This gin is a very old style of gin sold in the 1800s. Before the Bottling Act of 1861, gin was transported and served from old whisk(e)y barrels, as seen here in this illustration.

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Gin served from whisky barrels

It’s not an aged  gin, but is described as ‘rested’. Lizzie uses 3rd fill whisky casks. The impact is subtle, but adds to the complexity of the gin. This one makes a great gin old-fashioned cocktail.

Hayman’s Royal Dock Gin (57% ABV)

This very gin was supplied to both the English Royal Navy and the trade from 1863. As you’d expect from an Navy Strength gin, it is bold and punchy, but I liked the fact that it was still smooth enough to enjoy neat.

Hayman’s 1820 Gin Liqueur (40% ABV)

Described by Lizzie as “Gin’s cousin” this spirit is the creation of Christopher Hayman’s creation. An original recipe using gin base and adding sugar to create a delicious sipping liqueur. This drink has an extra hit of juniper and would be perfect neat over ice with a twist of orange.

Hayman’s Sloe Gin (26% ABV)

Hayman’s Sloe gin is made by steeping sloe berries in a gin base. Every year Hayman’s runs a little competition amongst its employees to see who can bring in the most sloe berries. The prize is…well, bottle of the finished sloe gin!  Lizzie explained that although this is a fun exercise, additional sloe berries are needed to add to the stockpile.

The sloes are left in the gin for 3-4 months and just given it an occasional stir. Sugar is added at the final stage, with the quantity varying year on year depending on the sweetness of that year’s sloe harvest.

My grateful thanks to Lizzie and the team for sharing so much information (and delicious gin) with me.

You can follow Hayman’s on Facebook, twitter and Instagram

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City of London Distillery

In the shadows of St. Paul’s’ Cathedral and situated in one of the oldest parts of London, you could be forgiven for thinking that the City of London Distillery has always been there, but as owner and Master Distiller Jonathan Clark explained, it’s not the case.

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St. Paul’s Cathedral
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City of London Distillery

Jonathan’s relationship with the venue began in 1976 when he began working there as a kitchen porter, doing the washing up. To use a well-worn cliché, Jonathan is your typical “London boy made good”, as twenty years later, not only did he own the premises, but another 5 bars.

After one of his tenants turned the venue into a “ladies bar”, as Jonathan delicately put it, he was hauled before the City of London authorities and told not only did he need to take-over the venue, but he had to find something else to do with it. The idea to open a distillery came while on holiday when he was enjoying a gin with a friend. (Jonathan had decided to start drinking gin aged 50 as he decreed it an “Old Man’s drink!)

He contacted Carl (the still makers) with the exact specifications for the stills (that occupy a small space under the stairs) and after checking costs and delivery dates headed off the States on a reconnaissance mission. After seeing a bar within a distillery he decided this was how he wanted his distillery to look. He placed his order for the stills and returned home.

Great, you might think. Except when he visited the City of London authorities they handed over four pages of reasons (many health and safety) why Jonathan could not open a distillery.

Nine months later and Jonathan had ticked off all the issues the City had presented to him, even installing bomb-proof glass in front of the stills. Jonathan proudly stated that even if there was an explosion you could carry on drinking and the glass wouldn’t be warm (let’s hope no-one ever puts this to the test).

The City of London Distillery eventually opened in December 2012 and two years later the Mayor officially opened it. Since then Jonathan has been made a Freeman of the City of London, an occasion that he is rightly proud of considering his humble beginnings.

The City of London Distillery makes four gins; City of London Dry Gin, ‘Square Mile’ (a super-premium version) and Sloe Gin, as well as producing an Old Tom gin exclusively for the Dorchester Hotel.

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The London Dry is a good, traditional version and comes in at 40% ABV.

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Square Mile has a punchier ABV of 47% and is perfect for a martini.

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The sloe gin is a happy accident at 30% and full of almond flavours owing to the fact that Jonathan left the sloes in the gin three months longer than he planned as he forgot about it!

The bar has an impressive selection of gins from around the world and lots of gin artefacts and antiques that Jonathan collects.

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The Bar
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Old Tom gin dispenser

You can also make your own gin in the workshop.

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The gin-making workshop where the miniature stills are named after the Seven Dwarves.

The City of London is a very special place. Everything from distilling to bottling and labelling occurs at this award-winning micro distillery. If you get the chance to visit, Jonathan is a great host and raconteur!

The gins are available on the City of London Distillery website or via Masters of Malt for international customers (remember to check delivery costs).

Follow City of London Distillery on Facebook or twitter.

Bombay Sapphire Distillery

Bombay Sapphire Distillery at Laverstoke Mill opened to great fanfare in 2014 and in a very short time has become a major tourist destination.

The site itself dates back to c.903, and in the 18th century became a paper mill, eventually supplying bank-note paper to the Bank of England until 1963. It fell vacant in 2005 before being purchased by Bombay Sapphire in 2010.  The beautiful Thomas Heatherwick designed glass-houses have attracted critical acclaim, as has the distillery’s commitment to sustainability and carbon-neutrality.

When I began planning my gin tour to the UK, I knew I had to go. As luck would have it, the team from Bombay Sapphire Australia were visiting at the same time and invited me to join them as part of a VIP experience to the distillery.

 

Laverstoke Mill Glasshouse 2

First up, I interviewed Master Distiller, Nik Fordham, (I’ll be sharing that interview at a later date) and met Sam Carter, Senior Brand Ambassador in the beautiful Bombay Sapphire bar where cocktail masterclasses are held.

Laverstoke Mill Cocktail Bar
Laverstoke Mill Cocktail Bar

Laverstoke Mill Back Bar

Nik was quick to point out that this isn’t just a tourist hotspot, but a working distillery and every drop of Bombay Sapphire is now produced here. (It used to be distilled in Warrington at G&J Greenalls).

After asking me to hand over my camera and phone, Nik gave me a VERY exclusive tour behind the scenes, where I saw the stills, the steel baskets packed with botanicals ready for vapour infusion and  a small lab room where different gins were awaiting inspection.

Bombay gin is sampled from the still every 30 minutes during the distillation process. These samples are checked and tasted to ensure product consistency. I was given a glass to taste and much to my relief I correctly identified it as Star of Bombay!

Then it was time for a cocktail masterclass with Sam where we learned how to make two signature cocktails: The ‘Laverstoke’ (my favourite) and the ‘Modern Epicurean’, as well as learning more about the history of Bombay Sapphire. I love that Sam’s trousers are so on-brand!

Laverstoke Mill Cocktail Masterclass

Laverstoke Cocktail
The ‘Laverstoke’ Cocktail

Inside Laverstoke Mill Glasshouse

Standing inside the Glasshouses was incredible, if a little warm! The two glasshouses are entirely separate. One contains botanicals from the Mediterranean and the other contains those from Tropical regions. Chris Cotterill, the Head Horticulturalist, (who formerly worked at Kew Gardens) explained that the waterfall-like beams were in fact heat conducting, and use energy created by the distillery to warm the glasshouses.

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Nik Fordham talking about botanicals

Next Nik took us to the dry botanical room and Dakin still house where we were able to smell, handle and taste Bombay Sapphire botanicals and see the magnificent stills.

FYI Grains of paradise do not taste nice. Also, do not trust a Master Distiller when he says “taste it, you’ll be fine”. He lied.

Thomas and Mary Dakin stills (image courtesy of Prue Andrews, Bombay Sapphire Australia)
Bombay Sapphire Juniper Berries
Juniper!
Bombay Sapphire Coriander
Coriander
Bombay Sapphire Orris Root
Orris Root

We learnt a bit more about the evolution of the Bombay gin before heading back to bar for one last cocktail, expertly made martinis from Sam.

Sam Carter Bombay Sapphire
Sam Carter chats history

History of Bombay Gins

Can you tell I loved Bombay Sapphire Distillery? The magnificent glasshouses, the beautiful English countryside, the stills. All of it.

It was an incredible experience and there is nothing like seeing at close-hand how gin is made. Nik and Sam outlined a few of the plans for further development of the distillery which will only add to further enrich the visitor experience.

If you are anywhere near Whitchurch, I urge you to go. There are a variety of ways you can enjoy your visit from a basic 2 and half hour self-guided tour (15GDP), all the way up to the VIP Experience (150GDP). You can find more information here.

Grateful thanks to Will Brix, Sam Carter, Nik Fordham and the team at Laverstoke for spending so much time with me and to Bombay Sapphire Australia for the invitation!

Bombay Sapphire Distillery, Laverstoke Mill, London Road, Laverstoke, Whitchurch, Hampshire

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Beefeater Distillery

Having visited Sipsmith Distillery, the first gin distillery in London for 180 years, I had to visit Beefeater Distillery, the oldest continuously distilling gin producer in London.

Beefeater Gin is one of the most recognisable gin brands in the world, and is synonymous with London.  Master distiller, Desmond Payne is one of the most respected distillers in the UK, unfortunately for me, Desmond was off in New York when I visited, but Tim Stones, Global Brand Ambassador was on hand to show me around.

I began my visit with the excellent self-guided tour!

The detailed history of the origins of gin, James Burroughs (who founded Beefeater) and London has all put together by well-known drinks historian (and Sipsmith Master Distiller) Jared Brown. It was fascinating.

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One of the original stills at the Beefeater Distillery
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James Burroughs, Founder Beefeater Gin
An 'Old Tom' Cat.
An ‘Old Tom’ Cat.

I loved reading about the innovative ways people came by their gin. See the Black Cat above and the blurb below.

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This might be why a black cat appears on some ‘Old Tom’ gin labels.

After completing my tour Tim caught up with me (actually he jumped out and scared me to death!) and took me through to the working part of the distillery.

The building has a distinctly 1960’s feel, (Beefeater moved from Lambeth to the current distillery in 1958) and most of the stills are from that era. They were all produced by John Dore & Co Ltd, one of the oldest still-makers in the world.

The stills!
The stills!

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The stills were on a scale I hadn’t seen before and weren’t the usual shiny copper pots I’m used to seeing. And there were so many! Tim explained that they weren’t all running at the same time and that different stills produce different gins. Beefeater currently has 4 gins in its portfolio; Beefeater Dry, Beefeater 24, Burrough’s Reserve (a barrel-rested gin) and Beefeater Garden (limited edition, only available from the distillery.

They were producing gin while I was visiting and it was an impressive sight to see the gin gushing into the spirit safe. For some reason, I’d assumed the gin dripped through slowly!

Beefeater Gin gushing into the spirit safe
Beefeater Gin gushing into the spirit safe

Tim then showed me the variations of gin produced at different times of day. 10am, midday and 3pm. All different visually and also on the palate, with different botanical notes more pronounced in each variant.

Variants of Beefeater gin
Variants of Beefeater gin

We then moved to where the botanicals are stored.  The smell was incredible and the quantities were huge!

Sacks and sacks of juniper as far as the eye could see!
Sacks and sacks of juniper as far as the eye could see!
Scales for weighing the botanicals
Scales for weighing the botanicals

The distilled gin is stored in massive vats before heading up to Scotland for bottling. Tim pointed out that there has to be a short time where the gin ‘rests’, allowing all the botanicals to marry together.

It was eye-opening to see gin being produced on this scale. Whatever the size of distillery, the distillers are all similar methods and core ingredients dating back hundreds of years, but with differing results. Isn’t it amazing?

I could have spent much longer chatting to Tim (he has the most amazing office bar) but had to head off to visit Hayman’s which fittingly has family connections to Beefeater (more on that in another post). I’ll also be sharing my interview with Tim at a later date as well as delving into the Beefeater gin portfolio in more detail.

Beefeater Distillery 20 Montford Place London SE11 5DE

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sipsmith-distillery

Sipsmith Distillery

As soon as I’d booked my flights to dear old Blighty, I began compiling a list of places to visit. It will come as no surprise that Sipsmith Distillery was at the top.

I have a great deal of time for team Sipsmith, not least because of their superb gins, but because they take the time to visit Melbourne on a regular basis.

Situated in a the heart of West London, Sipsmith Distillery is tucked away in a nondescript building at the back of a car park, the only hint of the sorcery within is the magnificent swan logo painted on the external wall.

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The Sipsmith swan

The distillery was buzzing at 3pm on a Monday afternoon. Scanning the room I saw a bartender training session in full flow, a tour group standing in front of the stills learning about distilling techniques and Ollie Kitson, Head Distiller flitting between the stills and visitors.

Sam (Galsworthy) proudly showed me round and introduced me to the only Sipsmith I haven’t met, Fairfax, plus the fantastic team behind the scenes.

Front and centre are the gorgeous Carl stills, Constance and Patience. I’ve yet to discover the reason distillers name their stills. I suppose they are like their children, so need names? Patience was resting, with botanicals mascerating gently in her pot.

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‘Patience’
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Patience filled with botanicals
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Ollie Kitson, Head Distiller

To the left on the stills is Ollie’s ‘den’ for want of a better word. The back wall is lined with jars with mysterious contents and hand written labels. A large blackboard dominates the space, outlining the distilling schedule with abbreviations in chalk hinting at secret projects (I didn’t photograph it for obvious reasons).

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The ‘den’

Next to the bar is is a wall covered with large glass jars with names, dates and ABVs scribbled on the front.

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More experiments!

Ollie explained that these were the results of some of his experiments (and those of Jared Brown the master distiller). With taps on the front for easy pouring it seemed rude not to sample some! Sam also told me that they encourage locals to bring excess fruit from their gardens into the distillery for Ollie to play with and that they then come and sample the results at a later date.

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Olive Gin!

I was particularly drawn to the Olive Distilled gin which was AMAZING. Like the best kind of dirty martini. (If they ever launch that commercially I will be buying it in crates.)

It was wonderful to visit the home of one of my favourite gins and exciting to see where the magic happens. Some of the experiments going on were so intriguing and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the Olive Gin becomes more widely available. As a parting gift Sam gave me one of those little experiments to take home, a Gin Cordial for Gimlets.

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Sipsmith’s Gin Cordial

These are not for sale and I am so happy to share one with the lucky winner of the World Gin Day Mega Giveaway Hamper (competition closes on Friday 19th June).

Sipsmith Distillery, 83 Cranbrook Road, Chiswick, London W4 2LJ. Follow them on Facebook, twitter and instagram.