A Distillery Tour at The Home of British Gin

Hayman’s of London date all the way back to 1863, with five generations of their family acting as custodians of the True English Gin style – providing an unbroken lineage dating back to the original gin boom. Over the 150 years to the present day, they have remained true to their roots, still using family techniques and processes handed down through the generations.

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Today, as gin becomes an ever more popular drink and where most gin producers have focused on what’s new, Hayman’s of London remain committed to their style developed by their 19th century forebears, protecting the classically balanced styles that lie at the heart of classic gin cocktails.

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Unlike other gin available today, their full range of True English Gins are distilled just as they would have been over 150 years ago – benefiting from the authentic period recipes and traditional two-day process that lie at the heart of creating the famously balanced English Gin style.

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Having recently opened up a distillery in the heart of vibrant Balham, they’re inviting the public to join them for a distillery tour or a cocktail masterclass, to explore the stories and processes behind their full range of True English Gins. Many of you will know that I’m not a big drinker, but I’m most definitely partial to a cocktail, and my parents absolutely love gin – my mum’s retirement present was based around it! – so I couldn’t wait to take them down to the Hayman’s distillery (and I was so grateful that it was central enough that we could easily slot it in amongst food trips to keep me happy!).

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We were welcomed in with a Gin and Tonic (what else!?) before being given a brief introduction to the (surprisingly small!) distillery. After finishing our drinks (remarkably quickly even for me because of the heat!) we went into a little room full of dried botanicals where we learnt the key differences between gin and vodka and discovered the wonderfully fragrant juniper berry – the botanical at the heart of every gin. The name gin itself is actually derived from the old English word genever, which means juniper. They import their juniper berries from Bulgaria, Macedonia, Italy and other European countries and have hundreds of kilos on site (a 3 year supply!) at any one time.

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There were a ton of other spices including cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg and citrus peels but we learnt that their original London Dry gin needs to have juniper as the main flavour – there was a jar which had a (massively scaled down!) mix of the recipe they use to make it and it was wonderfully fragrant. Most surprisingly there was a small bowl of liquorice and we were told that there was a time when sugar was more expensive than gold (thank goodness for me that’s not still the case!!) and so many original gin recipes use only liquorice and no sugar – apparently liquorice is actually sweeter than sugar gram for gram! We had the opportunity to create our own concoctions, as well as finding out whether or not we were a ‘super taster’ by trying to distinguish flavours from a small strip of paper – safe to say my taste buds most definitely weren’t up to scratch.. I could detect absolutely nothing!!

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We learnt (or I learnt – most gin-lovers probably already knew this!) that behind every great gin is a copper pot still, where the gin is gently heated after the flavours have been allowed to develop over a two day period. They have three lovingly named stills – Karin (named after Christopher’s wife), Miranda, the smallest and newest of the three stills (named after Karin’s daughter) which holds 260L and Marjorie (named after Christopher’s mother), who was brought along from their original distillery in Essex (via Germany for a clean!) and holds about 500L. When full, Karin – the largest of the three stills – holds 1000L which is enough for a staggering 12,000 bottles from a single run! We learnt about the importance of the copper stills in creating a subtly balanced, nuanced flavour.

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The distilling process starts with a very clean, pure spirit made from wheat and is brought into the copper stills at 96%! By the end of the distillation process this has been reduced down to around 50/55%. Flavour is added by weighing out huge buckets full of the botanicals we’d been shown earlier. Although they use the same recipe for each of their three gins, they mentioned that they sometimes have to adjust the quantities slightly since the intensity of the flavour in the dried spices and fruits can change. The mix is left to steep for a minimum of 24 hours to allow the flavours to infuse, then on the second day the still starts to be heated. They use steam as it’s the safest way to heat it, and over hours it’s brought up to around sixty degrees Celsius – heating the mix up slowly gives the gin a more complex flavour.

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I had no idea how the distillation process worked but I guess thinking back to chemistry days at school it made sense – the vapours start to rise up in the still and as they make contact with the copper the unpleasant sulphur elements are absorbed. The shape of the still encourages the vapour to rise up and fall back on itself, repeatedly becoming purer and purer. Apparently back in the day there used to be a lock on the distillation chamber so that customs could calculate the tax exactly! The first and last few litres of each run (heads and tails) are removed – the former is too heavy on the citrus flavours and the latter too heavy on liquorice / Angelica roots. This gets used in labs though, so none of the precious alcohol goes to waste!

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Since their site in Balham is quite small, all of the bottling happens in Essex. After the distillation process, the spirit sits for around a week to settle (which they call the marrying period), so the whole process takes nine days in total!

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Then was the part most people were most excited for – the tasting! We were tutored through the difference between the three and our guide told us a number of facts – apparently during the ‘gin boom’ people were drinking on average 14 gallons of gin per person per year – that’s over a litre a day! – and that average includes kids!! Unsurprisingly, the sloe gin was my favourite by far – it was so beautifully sweet that even I could drink it neat! It had a subtle, almost almond-like taste – our guide described it as being a bit like a cherry bakewell, with the nutty taste coming from the stones from the fruits over the three month (minimum!) maceration period.

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I couldn’t recommend this tour enough – I found it fascinating and I’m not even an alcohol-lover in the slightest! My parents absolutely loved it, our guide was lovely (and so passionate it was infectious!), and there are plenty of tasting opportunities, plus a discount on purchases from their shop – the perfect present for any gin-lover!

Link to their website: https://www.haymansgin.com/tours

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