Category Archives: Gin

Gineral knowledge: a history of Beefeater

How did Beefeater become the highest-selling gin in the world?

James Burrough establishes the business
James Burrough (1834 – 1897) was born in Ottery St Mary, Devon, the son of a baker. He served an apprenticeship to a chemist and druggist in Exeter.

Burrough emigrated to Canada in 1855 and traded as a chemist. After five years he returned to Britain and established himself in London.

Burrough acquired the Cale Street distillery in Chelsea from John Taylor & Son for £400 in 1863. John Taylor & Son was principally known for its fruit liqueurs.

Burrough’s gin, later to become known as Beefeater, was developed by James Burrough in 1876. It contained nine botanicals; juniper, Seville orange peel, bitter almonds, orris root, coriander seeds, angelica root, liquorice, angelica seed and Sicilian lemon peel.

Burrough described himself as a compounder and rectifier of whisky in the 1881 census. Whisky appears to have represented his main trade in the 1870s and early 1880s.

James Burrough dies and the business continues to expand
James Burrough died in 1897. Management of the business passed to his sons, Frederick Burrough (1869 – 1941), Ernest James Burrough (1871 – 1953) and Francis Thornton Burrough (1879 – 1940).

The business had been registered as a limited company, James Burrough Ltd, by 1907.

The business was relocated to larger and better located, purpose-built premises on Hutton Road, Lambeth, from 1908. The site was named the Cale Distillery. The expansion of production capacity allowed exports to begin in earnest to markets such as India.

A prominent image of a London Beefeater was added to the Burrough’s gin label from 1909.

The United States market was entered, in a modest way, from 1934.

Eric Burrough grows sales in North America
Burrough’s gin began to be advertised in Britain following the Second World War.

Rudolph C Kopf (1905 – 1985), a buyer for Macy’s department stores, was appointed United States distributor for Burrough’s gin in 1946, at a time when sales were negligible.

The Beefeater name had been added in small lettering to the bottle by 1952.

Eric Lewis Burrough (1900 – 1970), a grandson of James Burrough, was appointed company chairman from 1953. He was to develop sales in export markets.

Annual sales in the United States sales increased by 165 percent to $1 million in 1956, aided by the popularity of the dry martini cocktail. Encouraged, Eric Burrough undertook an extensive tour of North America in order to promote sales in 1957.

Burrough’s gin had been rebranded as Beefeater by 1957. Beefeater was a premium gin, a rival to products such as Tanqueray and Booth’s House of Lords.

Expanding sales saw the company relocate to the former Haywards pickles factory at Montford Place, Kennington, from 1958.

A view of the Kennington distillery in 2008. Image used courtesy of Sarflondondunc.

James Burrough was the second largest gin exporter in the world by 1961, with 65 percent of production destined for overseas markets. Beefeater held three quarters of the United States imported gin market.

Beefeater sold nearly a million three gallon cases in the United States in 1962. Sales grew with little advertising, spurred by word-of-mouth promotion and the increasing popularity of the martini cocktail.

Eric Burrough explained that English gin was well-regarded in the United States due to, “the knowledge gained by British distillers over many years” and explained that it was valued for its “softness and delicacy of flavour”. Juniper berries were harvested from a single district in the Italian Tyrol; angelica root came from Flanders; coriander seeds came from Essex. The distillery used its own spring water.

Beefeater was the leading premium gin in England and the United States by the mid-1960s.

Beefeater increased its share of British gin exports from two percent to over 50 percent between 1953 and 1966. Over 12 million bottles of Beefeater were exported in 1965. James Burrough received the Queen’s Award to Industry for export achievement in 1966, 1969 and 1971.

Export sales are pursued
Eric Burrough retired from executive duties following a stroke in 1967. Alan Burrough (1917 – 2002), a grandson of the founder, was appointed chairman. Alan Burrough was a shy man who had lost a leg in the North African campaign during the Second World War.

Alan Burrough recognised that the United States market had probably reached capacity, and pursued sales in Europe and Japan.

James Burrough was the largest manufacturer of gin in the world by 1970, with annual production of 20 million bottles. Beefeater was sold in almost every country, with just a handful that it was excluded from for political or religious reasons, such as China, Rhodesia, North Korea and some Arabic nations.

James Burrough preferred to produce its gin in England, where quality control could be closely monitored. However distilleries were established in South Africa and New Zealand, following the erection of prohibitive import tariffs in those markets.

An advertisement for Beefeater gin (1971)

James Burrough employed nearly 500 people by 1977.

Beefeater was the third highest-selling gin in the world by 1982, with five percent of the market.

Alan Burrough retired in 1982 and he was succeeded as chairman by his brother, Norman Burrough. Norman Burrough doubled profits between 1982 and 1984.

Beefeater was the third highest-selling gin by volume in Britain by 1987, with a market share of six percent.

James Burrough is sold to Whitbread
The Burrough family, with a 70 percent stake in the company, believed that the business would benefit from lower distribution costs if it was a part of a larger concern. James Burrough was sold to Whitbread, the third largest brewer in Britain, for £174.5 million in 1987.

Whitbread incorporated James Burrough into their existing spirits business, Long John, which produced Laphroaig single malt Scotch whisky.

The James Burrough bottling facility in Kennington was closed with the loss of 300 jobs in 1988. Bottling was relocated to the Long John plant at Westthorn, Glasgow. The Burrough head office and distillery, with a staff of 75, was retained.

Allied Lyons acquires the business
Long John was highly successful, but Whitbread lacked the scale to become a significant player in the global market, and the business was sold to Allied Lyons for £542 million in 1990.

Bottling of Beefeater was transferred to Dumbarton and the Vale of Leven in Scotland from 1992.

By 1992 the raw spirit was diluted with filtered and deionised municipal water, with an unspecified proportion of artesian well water added.

More than 2.5 million cases of Beefeater were sold in 1995.

Pernod Ricard acquires Beefeater
Pernod Ricard of France acquired Beefeater in 2005.

30 million bottles of Beefeater were produced in 2007, using 50 tons of juniper from wild bushes in Italy and Macedonia, 20 tons of coriander seed from Russia and Bulgaria, orris root from Florence, angelica roots and seeds from Belgium, powdered liquorice from China, three tons of dried Seville orange peel and “slightly less” dried lemon peel. Alcohol spirit was sourced from Greenwich. The botanicals are steeped for 24 hours before seven hours redistillation.

2.9 million cases of Beefeater were sold in the 2017-18 financial year.

According to Pernod Ricard, Beefeater is the third highest-selling premium gin in the world as of 2019. Its major markets are Spain, the United States, Canada, Japan and Britain.

The Beefeater distillery continues to operate in Kennington as of 2022.

Gin blossoms: Tanqueray

How did Tanqueray become one of the highest selling gin brands in the world?

Charles Tanqueray
Charles Tanqueray (1810 – 1865) was one of ten sons born to the Reverend Edward Tanqueray (1762 – 1847), who served as the rector of Tingrith in Bedfordshire. The Tanqueray family had been associated with Tingrith since around 1710.

Charles Tanqueray was apprenticed as ginmaker to Currie & Co of Bromley by Bow, one of the largest distilleries in London, alongside his elder brother Edward Tanqueray (1805 – 1838).

The two Tanqueray brothers partnered with Arthur Currie (1804 – 1875) to acquire the Bloomsbury Distillery, an established gin manufacturer at 3 Vine Street, Bloomsbury, in 1835. The building has not survived, but the street still exists, and has been renamed Grape Street.

Charles Tanqueray was an ambitious man, and he wanted to create a gin to rival, or even better, those of Felix Booth (1775 – 1850) and Alexander Gordon. He experimented ceaselessly through trial and error to perfect his recipe, and finally settled on just four botanicals: juniper, angelica root, liquorice and coriander seeds, the same four used by Tanqueray today.

Edward Tanqueray died in 1838, and Charles was assisted by his brother John Samuel Tanqueray (1817 – 1902) in the 1840s and 1850s. Arthur Currie left the partnership in 1847.

Charles Waugh Tanqueray
Charles Tanqueray died in 1865 and his brother William Henry Tanqueray (1814 – 1887) took over management of the business.

Charles Waugh Tanqueray (1848 – 1931), the son of Charles Tanqueray, took over management following the completion of his apprenticeship to a grocer in 1867. Charles W Tanqueray was perhaps more commercially-minded than his father, and under his leadership sales grew and exports increased. A keen sportsman, he was an upright Christian gentleman with a keen social conscience and a determined character.

Most Tanqueray gin was sold at a strength of 40.19 percent ABV in 1877. Some gin was also sold at 35.19 percent ABV.

Tanqueray Gordon and acquisition by Distillers
Charles W Tanqueray approached Reginald Charles Wilford Currie (1854 – 1922), the proprietor of Gordon & Co, gin distillers of Goswell Road, London, regarding a merger of their two companies in 1897. The two businesses merged to form Tanqueray, Gordon & Co, a company with a capital of £500,000, in 1898. R C W Currie became the managing director, and Charles Waugh Tanqueray took the opportunity to retire. Following the merger all production was centralised at the Goswell Road distillery and Gordon’s London Dry Gin became the priority brand.

Largely due to the growth of the temperance movement and a substantial rise in excise duty, alcohol consumption in Britain declined in the period following the First World War. Perhaps as a way to make up for declining sales at home, Tanqueray was first exported to the United States from around 1918.

Tanqueray Gordon was acquired by the Distillers Company, which was heavily involved in consolidating the spirits industry, in 1922.

R C W Currie, managing director of Tanqueray Gordon, died in 1922.

Tanqueray Gordon was by far the largest gin distiller in the world by 1926.

Charles W Tanqueray outlived his only son Charles Henry Drought Tanqueray (1875 – 1928), and died in 1931.

The Goswell Road site was nearly by German bombing during the Second World War.

The distinctive Tanqueray green bottle, with a shape based on a cocktail shaker, was introduced from 1948.

The growth of Tanqueray overseas
The success of imported Beefeater gin in the United States demonstrated that there was a market for premium gin, and Tanqueray began to be promoted in earnest in America from the mid-1950s. Tanqueray was to prove popular with affluent Southern Californians. The smooth character of English gin mixed well with a Martini cocktail.

A 1969 advertisement in Newsweek

100,000 cases of Tanqueray were sold in the United States in 1961. Sales doubled in 1964.

John P Tanqueray (1934 -2012), the great-grandson of Charles Tanqueray, was appointed export manager for Tanqueray from 1964. He credited the success of Tanqueray in the United States to snob appeal, explaining, “our product appeals to status seekers and consumers who want an outstanding gin”.

Tanqueray became one of the leading spirit brands in the world. 600,000 cases of Tanqueray were exported to the United States in 1975, where it was the highest proof gin, and generally the most expensive.

United States sales reached one million cases in 1979, second only to Beefeater in imported gin.

A new distillery and recent developments
The Goswell Road site struggled to keep up with increasing demand, and production was transferred to a purpose-built 26 acre distillery in Laindon, Essex from 1984.

Charles Tanqueray & Co won a Queen’s Award for Export Achievement in 1985. Tanqueray was the highest-selling imported gin in the United States.

Guinness acquired Distillers in 1986.

John P Tanqueray retired as commercial director of Tanqueray Gordon in 1989.

Guinness merged with Grand Metropolitan in 1997 to form Diageo. The combination of two spirits giants left the company with an excess of productive capacity. As a result, the Laindon distillery was closed with the loss of 220 jobs in 2000, and all production was relocated to Cameronbridge in Scotland.

Tanqueray held over 50 percent of the United States gin market in 2002.

Global sales of Tanqueray grew by 15 percent in 2018.