Master Distiller Desmond Payne Will Make a Gin Lover of You Yet

Image courtesy of Beefeater

Image courtesy of Beefeater

I get it. I’m wasn’t a “gin person” either. It was only after going to a bar featuring over 50 gins from around the globe that I paid any attention to the juniper-infused spirit.

But times have changed and so has the world of gin. With five styles (Plymouth, Old Tom, Genever, London Dry, and New American) and roughly 7,000 gins available to purchase right now (The LCBO recently launched Gin Shop, featuring premium and deluxe gins from around the world, available in-store and online), there’s sure to be at least one that delights your palate.

Still not convinced? That’s because you haven’t met Master Distiller, Desmond Payne MBE

Dedicated Craftsman

The man responsible for creating over 10 varieties of Beefeater Gin arrived in Toronto recently to launch the latest iteration, Beefeater Pink Gin, as part of Founder Bar’s ongoing dinner series.

Payne, a youthful, robust gentleman, charmed the crowd with stories from his various jobs as a young wine merchant, to working at Plymouth Gin Distillery for 25 years, to present day at Beefeater.

Despite Beefeater being the only historic dry gin distilled in England’s capital city, making it a true London spirit, the world’s most awarded gin and one of the biggest spirits brands producing millions of bottles per year - the distillery still employs only five distillers, including one Master Distiller, Payne.

Payne still makes it according to founder James Burrough’s original recipe from the 19th Century using juniper, angelica root, angelica seeds, coriander seeds, liquorice, almonds, orris root, Seville oranges, and lemon peel (Cool fact: Burrough began his career as a pharmacist on Yonge Street here in Toronto).

Though he’s created over 10 iterations (Beefeater Burrough’s Reserve) and distinct limited editions (summer, winter) throughout his expansive career, it’s Beefeater 24 that he’s most proud of. Inspired by his travels in the Far East, the blend is made with 12 hand-selected botanicals including Japanese Sencha and Chinese Green Teas that he spent 18 months researching and experimenting with. The result is an exceptionally sophisticated, smooth gin with a unique aromatic profile that stands on its own, while blending seamlessly when mixing cocktails.

He takes issue with the term “craft,” he explained to the rapt audience, because it shouldn’t just apply to small-batch producers.  

Since he crushes 200 samples of juniper berries from Italy by hand to determine which ones will be used to maintain the quality and consistency, inhaling the aromas over and over, checking to see how their flavours translate to each recipe, it seems fair to make an exception for such a dedicated pro.

Think Pink

The latest arrival is his Beefeater Pink (37.5% ABV), a strawberry flavoured pink gin. 

Now before you go and judge based on its colour alone, hear what Payne has to say about it first:

“We’re not the first out with a pink gin, but we were determined to get it right. Things move on and are cyclical and we need to be looking at new ideas that give consumers an innovative drinking experience,” he says. “The strawberry works well with the other flavours in the gin. It was really important to me to get the right balance of the flavours and for it to not be too sweet.”

See, already it’s more sophisticated then you originally thought. That’s because the base is the traditionally distilled Beefeater dry gin that you know and love, with a delicate infusion of natural strawberry flavours, citrus and classic juniper botanicals. The result? A balanced gin with a zip of fresh strawberry that neither overwhelms nor distracts.

Its Namesakes Are Fans Too

The Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, known more commonly as Beefeaters, are the ceremonial guardians of the Tower of London. Their distinct uniform includes a smart red coat outlined in gold, black top hat and white ruffled collar shirt.

Not only are they the inspiration for the name and a part of the label, it turns out Yeomen are big Beefeater Gin fans. Every Christmas, they’re invited with their significant others to a holiday dinner at the distillery not far from their station. And after a recent tasting of the new strawberry variety, the group deemed it a resounding success! 

Royal Payne

Payne has spent a lifetime distilling gin. He was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (the MBE designation that follows his name) for his dedication and passion to the industry.

That same enthusiasm and drive is evident in person. It’s bursting out of him as if he were a young lad just starting out in the business.

And though he’s been making gin for over 50 years(!), Payne told the crowd he has no plans on retiring anytime soon.

Phew. Because the world needs more Desmond Paynes.


p.s. What’s the best way to enjoy Beefeater Pink, you ask? Served with tonic water, lemonade, or on the rocks with chopped fresh strawberries, served in a goblet.  

p.p.s. Want more recipes? Check out our Instagram stories for how to make Pink Peppercorn Rosé and Pink Daiquiris, ideal for warmer days.