The day I didn’t meet Desmond Payne.

 

There is a saying that everything in life is about timing. If it is true, I must be totally out of luck. I am famously known amongst my friends for being in the right place but, at the wrong time, something that became blatantly apparent a few weeks ago, when a received the news that Desmond Payne would come all the way from London to host an event in Toronto.

As a part of the marketing efforts surrounding the launch of Beefeater Pink, he would be presenting an exclusive tasting of the latest innovation from the spirits brand.  The only problem? I would be in the UK at that time, on a long well-deserved vacation.

What’s a girl to do when she knows deep in her core that she can’t miss an occasion to learn more about a brand directly from the brand expert? Well, she gives up on using the ferry wifi which she is travelling on at the moment and uses all her cellphone data to send her questions all the way from Scotland (but, this is a story for another time).

So, why all those efforts may you ask? If there are a few prominent figures in the spirit industry you should know about, Payne is definitely one of them. As the Master Distiller for Beefeater Gin, he has been in the industry for over 50 years, deserving the title of world’s most experienced and respected ginsmiths.

 

“It’s this commitment to quality and consistent high standards that have allowed us to remain relevant and competitive for so many years” -Desmond Payne

 

Desmond Payne started in the spirits industry in 1967, when he was introduced to gin while working at Seager Evans & Co as a 19-year-old management trainee. The company focused on wine, but also had a gin distillery at Deptford in South East London. He learned to nose and taste while working on their gin and found the sheer mixture of flavours and aromas from the botanicals fascinating.

As he declares himself “I’ve never looked back since then” and in 1995 he took the reins at the Beefeater Distillery when Brian Martin, the Distillery Manager at the time, retired.

A dear friend of mine, and gin expert, perfectly pointed out to me “Payne has spent his whole life learning to live that role and is quite arguably the most experienced gin maker in the world: he earned the right to be the Master”.

“I really learned about gin distilling from Philip Milner, the distiller at Seagers. On moving to Beefeater, Brian Martin, Beefeater’s long-time distillery manager was a huge inspiration at the time. He has such a wealth of knowledge that he so kindly and willingly passed on to me when I joined. Brian regarded himself as a custodian of Beefeater’s founder James Burrough’s original recipe, as do I, so it’s an honour to continue this today”explains Payne.

“I just like the sheer variety my job brings. I’m very lucky in that I’ve pretty much always been involved in everything from buying the juniper berries and assessing the quality of the botanicals, right through to distillation and on to my relationship with this great generation of bartenders I love the challenge and joy of experimenting with new and rare flavours. Even after all these years, there are still plenty of exciting projects I’m excited to start exploring” he adds.

Sadly, passion can’t be everything in an industry moving at a fast pace. With the rise of more knowledgeable consumers, brands need to come up with creative ways to market their product if they want to stay relevent.

“It’s no secret that gin drinkers today are far more discerning, knowledgeable and experimental than in previous years. This is a good thing for us distillers as it means we are constantly looking to innovate and maintain the highest standards of quality at all times” observes Payne.

“Consumers are far more inquisitive and eager to discover what goes into their drinks and so we love opening the doors to our distillery for people to discover the inner workings of what we do. Whilst the general principles of distilling are similar to other distilleries, the complexity of how we do it at Beefeater is vastly different. We make everything by hand, using nose and taste rather than machines to ensure every drop honours the original recipe. It’s this commitment to quality and consistent high standards that have allowed us to remain relevant and competitive for so many years” he adds.

Evolving as a brand can also mean, sometimes, taking decisions that seem opposite of what the company stands for. This is when the expertiste of specialists such as Payne, comes in handy.

 

 

“As for our new expression Beefeater Pink, the growing demand for pink spirits was mostly led by a new generation of non-traditional gin drinkers. At first, I was a bit sniffy about it, but I came to realize the tremendous opportunity to give consumers the pink gin they want, and also a chance to show how Beefeater can do it better. The famous Beefeater base still stands out through the strawberry flavour, and this has been a big part of what has made Beefeater Pink phenomenally successful in other markets”.

So, what does this gin actually taste like? It has been described by some as “solely created to target the millennials”? Sweet. Very sweet, like liquor candies we used to eat behind our parents’ back as children. If I am pesonnally not a fan of gins with an added syrupy flavor to it and I prefer my gin to be agressively robust, the friends that I had over for an impromptu tasting of Beefeater Pink gladly drank it by itself, showing that there is most certainly a place for it on the market today.

“At the moment, gin is in revolution – the industry is moving faster than the definitions can keep up with. This year, expect to see brands continue to challenge the status quo, and get creative to satisfy the growing thirst for non-traditional spirits such as fruit-flavoured gin. Orange gin, for example, has swiftly become the second fastest growing flavour behind pink. Smaller, craft gin distillers are growing in numbers as well. The underlying interest in new, high-end gins will continue to excite the market this year” concludes Payne.

 

 

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