SB meets… Desmond Payne, Beefeater Gin

8th September, 2017 by admin

Beefeater’s famous master distiller Desmond Payne has witnessed the rebirth of an industry during his 50-year tenure, but he tells SB he isn’t ready to slow down just yet.

Desmond Payne, master distiller of Beefeater Gin

How do you like to drink gin?

In a Negroni. It’s such a simple cocktail, with only three ingredients – it’s hard to get it wrong. Two of my other personal favourites are a well­-made gin and tonic or a chilled glass of Beefeater Burrough’s Reserve, sipped neat. My current go-­to favourite is the Gibson, though.

How will you be celebrating your 50th year in the industry?


I’m really looking forward to starting the celebrations, although I still can’t believe it has already been half a century. But I am excited to continue shaping the industry, taking part in judging competitions and leading the Gin College workshops. I will be visiting as many of our overseas markets as I can manage, and I expect there will be a party or two.

What has kept you interested in gin?

It’s the constant evolution of my job. In recent years I have been really involved in creating new styles of gin, which is such a rewarding process. It’s hugely exciting to get to the point where you finally achieve what you were hoping to produce, such as Beefeater 24 – this was a really special project for me and an experience I will always cherish.

But to be in an industry as long as I have, you need to be passionate about all parts of the gin­making process. As the master distiller you’re included in every step of production – including the sampling and testing of the current year’s crop of juniper berries. We can analyse up to 200 individual samples before deciding on an appropriate batch that will be used in our gins. This process is vital to ensuring the end result is consistent and the iconic Beefeater taste is preserved.

If I’m not busy creating new styles or quality­testing juniper berries, I may be visiting our markets or helping to judge international competitions. No two days are the same, which helps to make my job a very interesting and satisfying one.

How did you start out in the industry?

My first job was at Harrods, in the wine cellars. But I started my career in gin when I joined a training scheme at Seager Events, which was involved in the wine and spirits trade. That got me hooked. Eventually, I found myself at Plymouth Gin, where I looked after gin production for 25 years before I moved to Beefeater.

Why has Beefeater been so popular for so long?

Everyone who works at Beefeater Gin has a passion for our tradition of excellence, a tradition that was started by Beefeater founder James Burrough. All master distillers, including those before me, consider themselves custodians of James’s original recipe, and it’s this commitment that allows us to continue so successfully.

Beefeater also has a vitality to it that will keep delivering after other gins have stopped, and this, coupled with our history and ensuring the quality and standard of our gin remains consistent, has allowed us to stay relevant for so many years.

Will you slow down any time soon?

I am filled with a sense of disbelief that 50 years have passed. It feels surreal, but I’m going to enjoy every bit of the celebration. I’m lucky enough to be involved in every aspect of the Beefeater brand, including the MIXLDN Cocktail Competition, which I am excited to be a part of. I’m still as keen as ever to innovate and continue this legacy, so I certainly don’t plan to slow down any time soon.

What do you foresee for the future of the gin category?

When I started at Beefeater, the gin industry was famous for a few well­-known, long -established brands. I wish I could claim to have foreseen the scale of the revolution of styles that was around the corner. The growing popularity of gin will be long-­lasting and new interest in high­ end gins will continue to excite the market.

What advice would you give to budding young gin distillers?

Do what you’re passionate about. You need to develop a good sense of taste and understand how flavours work, but don’t rush it. Take the time to learn and gather your own inspirations.

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