Beefeater. One of the true, original London gin. A blend of juniper and 9 botanicals: Seville oranges, lemon peel, angelica root, angelica seeds, coriander seeds, liquorice, almonds and orris root… These ingredients are left to steep in gin for a full 24 hours to give it more fragrance, a simple but clever extra step. Born in the capital in 1863, it is still exclusively produced there. First in Chelsea, then in Lambeth and since 1958 in Kennington.
We stopped by today to join their very first (free to join!) Tonic Series, Gin & Sonnet. Poetry in a distillery: it simply had to be seen (well, heard)! My memories drifted back to university – Wordsworth, Keats, Shakespeare… I used to find the words beautiful but the over analysing of their meaning killed the pleasure. It was time to be reintroduced to this lost art. A gin & tonic greeted us as soon as we walked in, infused with both a slice of lemon and orange. The perfect start to a Saturday afternoon. Relaxed, glass in hand, we sat down to listen to Joshua Idehen. Partly curious, partly apprehensive: what to do it this proved extremely boring? But it started on laughter – a presentation of the joys and challenges of being a modern poet, the random paths to such a passion (hip hop and an already filled university module), tips on how to read your lines on stage. All with a viral enthusiasm and such a wonderful, wonderful sense of humour.
Time for a break, a Oo-lalong Watch Tower too: a much stronger cocktail mixing Beefeater 24 London Dry Gin, vermouth and Oolong tea. Wow. This one really warms you up. Back to poetry. An amazing rhythm, sentences flowing, fast, barely drawing a breath, a hip-hop fluidity too. A wonderful story you would like to pause sometimes, wanting to repeat the last few words, savour them, sip them a little longer like the Ode to the good-good. Joshua was a bar tender for 10 year and so was called the top of the shelf bottles – an expression that will now stay forever with me. A touching portrait of his father too. A parental side most of us can rely to: how them worrying for us sounds like a DJ stutting from a vinyl over and over again. We listened, wide eyed, amazed, clapping silently in our mind. I suddenly wished I had taken my teenage daughter too – poetry and humour, what an inspiring skill to go through life with! Beefeater will follow with 6 more Tonic sessions, one per month till a street party on Gin day. The next one, GINgle bells, will be on December 03: a Christmassy cocktail masterclass with Mr Lyan himself. It’s free but limited in number so do book your space here.
We decided to join one of the tours next. There’s a really good museum explaining why gin was so popular (cheap, could be produced by anyone so no standards), so difficult to control (small police force, too many people hooked on it so only producers could be controlled, leading to all kind of tricks from distillers), how it made a comeback in Victorian times, how the founder of Beefeater, James Burrough, started as a pharmacist… A guide then tells you about the process, the botanicals. The original copper still, first used in 1863 is still is use! They make a special edition with verbena, only available in their shop. Great Christmas present, as are their box of crackers, each with a miniature gin bottles…