When James Burrough bought out the Cale Street Distillery in Chelesea in the 1860’s, he essentially bought forty years. That is, he bought a date that now preceded the launch of Charles Tanqueray’s eponymous gin; putting Burrough’s spirits in rareified Regency Era territory, earning a historicity more akin to Gordon’s than Seagram’s. Though the gin bottle says 1820, the recipe we know today is an 186o’s creation.
Since its launch, Beefeater has gone on to become one of the world’s best selling and most iconic gins. The proud Yeoman of the Guard on the bottle was the nineteenth century equivalent of a giant eagle on an American gin bottle; it aroused quite a sense of patriotism. God Save the King! etc. and the like. But the spirit itself is worthy of note as well. The botanicals are macerated for a full day, just as it was in Burrough’s original recipe, and then distilled. The resultant flavor and gin is among a small handful which essentially defined the “London Dry” flavor profile. Unsweetened, juniper led, and crystal clear. When you think London Dry, this may well be the gin that comes to mind.
As far as my palate is concerned, Beefeater is one of the finest gins of the nineteenth century that we’re still drinking today. This is among my go-to classic style gins that I think goes well in nearly everything, especially if you’re drinking the U.S. 47% ABV version that we’re reviewing in this article. In other places, Beefeater gin is diluted to 40% ABV, and I think that’s quite a difference, especially in terms of it’s potency in cocktail-craft.
The nose is classically London Dry and classic styles with pine forward juniper and a touch of light citrus zest. A close nose will pick up on just this slight touch of sweet licorice hidden in the back as well. But certainly, don’t get hung up on these others words and notes. It’s really all about the juniper.
At first a slight hint of lemon zest, then juniper builds. Mid-palate, it’s nearly all about juniper. Later though, the complexity and earthiness that rounds things out comes through. Darker, bitter citrus rind notes, coriander and licorice add the roundness. The finish is medium length with clean freshly ground coriander, lemon zest and pine-tinged juniper note. There’s a delicate warmth that persists on the palate as it fades. At 47% Beefeater is assertive, but still mellow and mild. I think perhaps it is the most accessible of the gins from its era, and I’d certainly bring out Beefeater to someone looking to try on a classic gin for the first time.
Among my favorites are the Martini (5:2), and a Gin and Tonic. It’s nearly the platonic ideal, the blueprint even, for what these cocktails should taste like. But as I said before, it’s Beefeater’s versatility that wins out here, as it makes for good cocktails as diverse as the Negroni (only at 47% IMHO), the Aviation, or even a Gimlet or Gin and Soda. I suppose I might be in the minority, but I actually also enjoy Beefeater Gin Neat; however, I also drink way more neat gin than most people and may have cultivated a peculiar taste for it.
Juniper lovers rejoice. This is a gin that you’ll enjoy. But you’ve probably already heard about it, unless you’ve just arrived on earth*. To fans of contemporary gins, this may still be a bit too old-school for you; however, I recommend you give it a chance because aside from being a good history lesson, it’s actually a remarkably accessible gin that subtly nodded to the citrus, coriander, and licorice tropes that we now see being done so prominently. I’m not sure I’ll change your mind, but for all of those who might disregard this as “grandpa’s gin,” you might just need to come to terms with the fact that he may well have had pretty good taste.
Recommended in its category.
*To our alien gin drinkers, I say welcome!
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