Beefeater Gin Tour (London Open House)

On Sunday, as part of the London Open House Weekend – I had a tour of London’s last remaining Gin distillery – which produces Beefeater London Dry Gin. The other so-called London Dry Gins (the ones in distinctive green bottles) are not actually made in London any more.

I had actually written to them about a year ago asking if they ever let the public inside, so when it appeared on the Open House tour guide I was quite excited and told friends about it.

Tube Roundal - sort ofSo, four of us turned up – and joined a tour with about about 6 other people for the final tour of the day, and the weekend.

Initially, we were amazed to learn that just 12 people work in the building – including the office staff – and they still manage to produce some 30 million bottles of gin per year, with 98% of it exported. They no longer bottle the gin on site, but ship it to Scotland where the parent company has an existing bottling plant for other drinks, which they share.

We started off with a bit of history of gin and the company behind the Beefeater brand, and then for a view of the huge distilling tanks and condensers where the hot alcohol vapour is cooled down to a fluid again.

The Burroughs family which effectively founded the brand did not actually found the gin distillery – but brought a basic company and built it up themselves – and later moved to the current site, which was originally a factory which supplied pickles to the military! In the 1960s, a modern extension was added and plans exist to add a 21st century style entrance to the building.

We also had a very informative chat about (and sampling of) the botanicals that are added to create the unique flavour – and the company employs a “master distiller ” who has to take samples of herbs each year and mix them to create a consistent flavour year after year. Apparently, he gets some 200 different supplies per year to work through and narrow down to the correct blend, and there only maybe four people in the UK with the necessary skills.

I was also interested to learn that the Juniper berry which underpins Gin is still collected manually and cannot be cultivated – so the distillery always keep two years stock, just in case supplies fail (as they have been known to do).

Every evening, they also weigh out the grains and botanicals to be used the following day – and despite all the automation the place, they still use an old manual set of weighing scales to do this most important of tasks – one tiny mistake and the flavour is ruined.

Condensers (L) and Distillers (R)

After the tour, we were taken to the distilleries very own private bar (woo!) and a complimentary gin and tonic was offered while the master distiller turned up and answered our many (if sometimes frivolous) questions.

I also picked up a book published by the firm which goes into the history of gin.

It was a really fascinating visit – and you may be interested to learn that they are planning to build a public museum and education center on the site which will hopefully open sometime next year. This will detail not just the Beefeater Gin, but the whole history of London Gins and the different companies which produced it.

Should prove to be quite a tourist attraction when it opens, especially remembering that most of the gin is exported to overseas markets.

Some of my photos on the usual flickr website.

Many thanks to Beefeater for the tour, the book and free G&T to round it all off.

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6 Comments

  1. Ian P

    Excellent to tour it – and glad you enjoyed the weekend.

    Regarding gin though, suggest you take a look at Jensen’s Bermondsey gin. Its only available currently from Vinopolis (the Whiskey Shop there that is). Previously it had been sold through Bedales – but somehow that relationship stopped earlier this year – much to my relief as its cheaper now. Its made by a Swiss based fund manager who has a hobby with gin – google him for details – and he recreates an old style London gin. Its excellent – my friends have been bowled over by it. (I add that I have nothing to do with Jensen – I just want to see it continue!).

  2. Mike

    I was under the (obviously mistaken) impression that when James burroughs were taken over, the Kennington distillery was closed and production transferred to Edinburgh.

  3. IanVisits

    The London based bottling plant was closed down though – and that 60s style building is sadly no longer there.

    They showed us a lot of B&W photos of the old bottling plant, and it was evidently quite a manual process at the time – now it is far more automated.

    Hopefully some of that will be on show in their planned museum.

  4. Malcolm Davidson

    In the 1990s I formed a collection for Burrows to form a museum of Gin artifacts. This was the result of a similar operation I did for United Rum Merchants in Horsham. They suddenly went dead on me and I suppose this was when they were taken over. Can you tell me about this proposed museum? I still have some items they agreed to buy including an interesting 18th c. Blue and White Liverpool Bowl with a a representation of a Wine Lable and chain saying GIN.

  5. Jon

    Hello: We are going to London in October. I have enjoyed Beefeater for several years, so I would like to visit the factory. However, I have read it´s closed for visitors. Do you know if there is any possibility? What do you think about?

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