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Hayman‘s distillery visit

Just before the "original Brexit" should have hit I was invited by the Hayman's family and Sierra Madre in Germany to visit the new distillery in London, the new, old home of English gin as they call it. Being a huge fan of getting to know the people and processes behind a gin, as well as gaining insights into the whole thinking behind and attitude towards a product I was more than happy to accept this invitation.

A packed schedule

All together there were more than two full days I could spend with the Hayman's family and in London. A lot of time to gather impressions and get many insights and chances to talk.

Together with a handful of other bloggers and Instagram folks we arrived for Gin & Tonic at the hotel from different destinations in Germany. Perfect to meet the first people and getting to know each other a bit better and understandiung what each and everyone is doing.

Welcome Dinner

Our first official stop was the Welcome dinner at Foxlow in Balham, near the distillery where we got to meet more of the people working for Hayman's. A wonderful evening with food shared and stories exchanged. And with a few first tales from the history of gin making told by Christopher Hayman, who is in the business for 50 years. That is a long time and many trends having passed by for sure. But not only Christopher but the next, namely the fifth, generation was present with Miranda and James working in this family business as well. Great to see them doing this together!

A day at the Hayman's distillery

Sign painter work at the entrance of the Hayman's distillery

After that nice and welcoming dinner, the typical fire alarm at the hotel which tuned out to be just some very smart person  smoking in the room (I always experience fire alarms at hotels in London, do not ask me why and be warned when travelling with me to London) the next day was all about the distillery.

Personally I was all excited before even getting onto the premises as there were hand painted signs with the Hayman's logo. To me that was a great indication of what to expect. Sign painters are amazing people with craftsmanship simply to be admired. When a distillery has these imperfections and still character loaded signs on their walls it tells a lot about dedication and attention to detail. The opposite could have been some cheesy vinyl cut or laser etched plate. That might work sometimes but not here.

The neighbourhood and the distillery building

In general it was great to see that the distillery is back in London and in an area where people live and work. Just as the Nordcraft Distillery in Hamburg is in the middle of residential buildings the Hayman's distillery has a community around it as well which they are very happy to cater to and have over as well. So we did not arrive at some industrial complex but a mixed environment and that felt good. To involve the community and be part of it the Hayman's distillery has events as well, like films being shown, opera sessions in association with local restaurants, or simply other crafts people doing their things at the distillery and bringing it together with the craft of making (and enjoying) gin.

Interior surprise

A distillery is a place where things are produced. Basically a factory. And when you heat hundreds of litres of alcohol and have pressures and heat and noise one expects to get into a huge hall with tubes and valves and nothing too inviting. Boy, will you be disappointed when you enter this distillery. Yes, there are the huge copper stills, lots of tubes and pipes and valves, a concrete floor and fans. But you do not expect such a well designed and decorated place. You enter into a space which feels like a home. A living room with an attached production area. A bar with a lab attached to it. And even the lab looks more like a country house kitchen of the latest kind than a sterile hospital lab.

This place is an amazing piece of interior design and super smart design. It just screams versatility from every corner and it makes you feel at ease with the world right away. Everything is okay when you get in and smell the botanicals and see the comfortable couches and the long wooden table. Perfect light and last but not least: Friendly people who were just ridiculously welcoming and just a joy to meet, no mater whom we met or talked to.

The Hayman family and history

from left to right: Christopher, Miranda, and James Hayman

As mentioned above the distillery is run by the Hayman family and their team and has been since the beginning in 1863. Unlike with other distillers the family has not been away from the craft of distilling gin at any time. And that heritage is proudly carried on and as I would think in a very well designed fashion as well when looking at labels and the overall corporate design. Traditional and still very fresh and modern. Yesterday's best carried into a modern market.

The distillery has not always been at the same place. But when this "new home of English gin" was opened in March 2018 and the distillery moved back into London, close to the original first distillery, the intention was to strengthen the bonds to the origins, a thing Christopher Hayman always wanted to do. This has worked incredibly well I must say. And with the relaunch of their packaging at the same time an amazing accomplishment was reached.

Traditional not New Western'ish

One thing that stands out is how strict and enthusiastically the Haymans, Christopher at the forefront, push for high quality and still keep things as traditional as possible. They try to keep the gin production as much as possible linked to the original recipes from 150 years ago. Of course many things have changed but still so many details hint at this.

This article would be a book if I wrote everything down I got from the two days, but altogether it just goes to show how important the product and the making is to the people at Hayman's. Rather than substituting a botanical or buying a cheaper one I heard in a little side chat that they would rather make less on a bottle than sacrificing the quality.

And there is pride in this as well. Rightfully earned, consistently verified and reenforced. A tiny example: AT the distillery they produced fresh lemon zests and brand them with a hot stamp to carry the logo. This gets delivered in sealed pouches to bars to brand the drinks and to make sure the zest is not forgotten when the action behind the bar is getting a bit too much. This way there is a complete process from the selection of the ingredients all the way to the glass in one's hand. I love that. And just now they released a heritage gin & tonic glass to make the experience complete.

Research and innovation

But not all things are 150 years old and so it was interesting to hear how the Hayman's Cordial Gin was a special creation which was based on research done with a spirits historian. Not much was known about those drinks but as I was told these sweeter gins were favoured in the 1960s to be sipped neat or in a cocktail. With the cask ageing and the higher sugar level this gin is not as strong as many of todays cask aged gins get flavoured by the wood but it gets a fine and extremely tasty aroma. Something one really feels like having a second serve of. And this is just one example of what can turn into a product. Usually these experiments have a starting point in the history books or the old recipe books. A great thing to see.

Distillation

When talking about innovation and what is to come we are getting to talk about the core and heart of the distillery: The copper stills.

The copper stills Marjorie, Karin, and Miranda (from left to right)

As it is the case in many distilleries the stills have names: Marjorie, Karin and Miranda. The names of Christopher Hayman's mother, wife, and daughter. They have a capacity of 450, 1000, and 140 litres respectively and do all the work to create the gin. Karin for instance has parts which are currently not used like vapour infusion baskets but as we were told: You never know whether you might need it one day to produce something with it. True, and it is obviously cheaper to have it set up right from the get go rather than reconfiguring a still later.

The smaller still Miranda with 140 litres is great for experiments too, as the team can try recipes and product developments at a much smaller scale, which makes sense in order to not waste too much energy, time and ingredients.

The process to distill the gin is one which takes more than just a couple of hours. The botanicals for the Hayman's London Dry Gin were just poured into the stills by us on that day in order to sit and soak in the neutral alcohol from the UK for another day and a bit to release all the flavours and oils before the actual distillation would start.

The lab: Making a gin botanical mix

More of a nice kitchen than a cold lab, welcomed us to meet the 10 botanicals used in the traditional Hayman's gin. We learned a lot about their origin and the backgrounds and all started to mix different botanical potpourris. After grinding them with our mortar and pistils we moved around the table and nosed the different mixes. What a revelation to see and foremost smell the different results. Once you have done this it is no surprise why a gin can use the same botanicals and still taste entirely different. Definitely worth experiencing!

The lab is not just for visitors to play around with botanicals of course but the place where the botanicals are being inspected, tasted, nosed, evaluated and the recipes mixed. The place before they are poured into the copper stills to create the spirit we all love: gin.

Hayman's Gin tasting

Tasting glasses at the Hayman's distillery. A fun way to learn about gin.

I spare you the details of the gin tasting here and advise you to read my reviews of the Hayman's gins. We tried the London Dry Gin, the Old Tom Gin, and the Sloe Gin which many had not heard of until then. Sloe gin is just slowly gaining traction in Germany and has not the strong traditional pre-Christmas-making background as in the UK for instance.

Tradition

When you visit the distillery for a tasting and a tour, or maybe even one of their special events like the gin & movie nights, you will see many older and personal objects as well. Feel free to ask what they are and which history or tale is connected to them. You might discover the bar cabinet which Christopher and Karin got for their wedding and other gems which make the place so inviting and personal at the same time but never making you feel to be an intruder into the privacy of someone.

Exploring London on the cocktail bus

Luckily, the Hayman's have cooperations with other entrepreneurs. So as a surprise to us we got to take a tour through London on a classic Routemaster bus with a bar and some delicious food on board. The bakery Brigit's bakery created some outstanding snacks and we enjoyed cruising past many of London's well-known sights. This "Afternoon Tea Tour" on the bus can be booked via the bakery's website and is well worth the money compared to your regular city tour I would say. What a great treat and surprise. Trying a few signature cocktails with the Hayman's gins made this a great experience and a memorable couple of hours.

Dinner with friends

As if that was not enough discovery and excellence for a day we had some time and explored the Thames' banks and enjoyed the view from a roof top near St. Paul's cathedral (Madison) before we met again for dinner at Barbecoa, one of Jamie Oliver's restaurants, where the Hayman's gin is being served as well. A place with outstanding service and even better food. Very attentively staff and with a solution for every allergy or dietary limitation. What an amazing evening with yet lots more talk and chat about the products, the making, the past and the future plans. A definite recommendation from me.

Cocktails above London

As a last stop for the evening we left the restaurant and headed for the City Social Bar where a last drink and an amazing view made us all appreciate what we had been able to learn and experience that day before heading back to the hotel.

The products: Gin made by the Hayman family

Please find the reviews of the gins in separate articles:

  • Hayman's London Dry Gin
  • Hayman's Old Tom Gin
  • Hayman's Sloe Gin
  • Hayman's Cordial Gin
  • Hayman's Gently Cask Rested Gin
  • Hayman's True English Hopped Gin

Visiting London? Visit the Hayman's distillery!

Being extremely thankful for the opportunity to learn so much about a producer, products, their history, and at the same time being able to enjoy so many nice things, getting to know amazing people, and exploring the city as well, I would like to recommend that you visit the Hayman's distillery in Balham should you be or get to London. There are few places to my knowledge where you get to know and experience the gin making in such a nice way and with wonderful people telling you all about it.

More about Hayman's Gin on www.haymansgin.com.