Hattie Lloyd 19/03/18
Inside London’s New Gin Distillery | The Home of English Gin
Tired of drinking at the same places?
We have just the tonic.
It’s a new distillery in Balham, and it’s looking like the mother of all gin spots.
You see, it’s not merely the vast new distillation HQ for generations-old gin makers, Hayman’s. It’s also throwing open its doors for tastings, cocktail making classes and gin-laced suppers overseen by hostesses Marjorie, Karin and Miranda – who you’ll be able to recognise immediately, by virtue of being the three giant copper stills commanding the room.
The whole idea came from Victorian gin houses, explains Miranda Hayman (not her eponymous still, but a fifth generation member of the family) who works alongside brother James and father Christopher, the current chairman. It harks back to the personal origins of their own gin, too – first created when a James Burrough started tinkering with distillation in the back rooms of his house in the 1860s. “My great grandfather was curious,” Christopher smiles. “He liked to experiment.”
Happily, this was a century after London’s gin craze – you know, back when they used to cut the stuff with sulphuric acid – and his experimenting led to a classically balanced, assuredly-non-acid-containing, London dry gin; the same recipe the family uses today. “We’re the guardians of those recipes and processes,” James tells us. “We’re still here after five generations, and that’s quite something in this day and age,” his father adds.
To the family, bringing gin home was a matter not just of the distillery’s design but location. “We’ve moved around over the years, but the reason we’re here is that our first gin distillery was in Chelsea, four miles away – so it’s very close to where we started,” James explains. “We’ve come back full circle.”
Hidden behind nondescript industrial warehouses on a quiet side street, the huge, open plan space is kitted out with surprisingly plush interiors – it’s more like a very spacious house that just so happens to have a trio of copper stills chugging away in the background. There’s comfortable, retro sofas set next to bookshelves and coffee tables; a huge dining table that could easily sit 40; and a mezzanine level overlooking it all that’s home to a sleek-looking gin bar. “We’re hoping to work with some local caterers and do some gin suppers around our table,” Miranda explains, where dishes will be paired to their different gins. Upstairs in the bar, meanwhile, they’ll run training sessions for bartenders and cocktail masterclasses for the lay gin enthusiast too.
The highlight, however, will be the tours, kicking off with G&Ts in the bar, before exploring the gin’s botanicals in the laboratory downstairs. Somewhere between a kitchen and a modern alchemist’s lair, this room is laden with pestles and mortars, jars of exotic looking roots and spices, and a dinky, miniature still for demonstrations. Here, you’ll learn about their traditional recipes and methods, before attesting that it is, indeed, a well-honed process, by tasting the fruits of their labours.
“The advantage is that we have ways of making gin that have been put together before us by previous generations,” James says, musing on the traditional, balanced style they favour as opposed to more modern gins that emphasise one or two botanicals. “It’s how we like to make it, and it’s the style that we feel really represents English gin,” he adds. But this lab, and the new Miranda still, a little smaller than the others, will allow them to continue to experiment with other recipes and combinations noted down by their great-great-grandfather over 150 years ago. A few years back they revived his Old Tom, a sweeter recipe that tastes more authentically of the Victorian-era gins – and there are other forgotten English gins they’d like to bring back, too, all in good time.
“It’s very much part of our history – the things we do will always be around English gin and what we’ve always done as a family,” Christopher says. But, he adds, a little conspiratorially, “there are lots of secrets we don’t share with people!”
NOTE: The Home of English Gin is now open. Tickets for the gin distillery tours and tastings cost £20pp, and are available HERE.
The Home of English Gin | 8a Weir Road, SW12 0AT
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The Home of English Gin, 8a Weir Road, Balham, South London, SW12 0AT
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