A recent invitation to attend the launch of Hayman’s True English Gin in South Africa left me with a lot more than I bargained for. This intimate event was so much more than just another mid-afternoon social soiree. Instead, I left with a notebook full of stories, steeped in tradition and heritage. And that is what I think makes Hayman’s gin different to any other gin I’ve experienced before; it’s filled with a whole lot of heart.Hayman’s gin is a family affair. Now in it’s fifth generation, they have been crafting gin according to the family’s traditional secret recipe since 1863. We were very fortunate to have fourth-generation master distiller, Christopher Hayman, join us at the Winchester Mansions in Sea Point for a chat and a drink. This year is also a very special year for Christopher as it marks his 50th year in the gin industry, which is an incredible achievement, even though he just casually waves it off. In fact, he was recently inducted into the Gin Hall of Fame, one of only two master distillers in existence who can claim this prestigious title.
Our gin experience began with an informal discussion as Christopher enthusiastically guided us through the last 150 years of gin making, going right back to the original “gin craze” in the 1700’s. He carefully traced his great-grandfather’s steps through London and the boom in the gin industry, up to the current day where they have a beautifully contemporary distillery in Balham, only a few miles from the original humble home of Hayman’s in Cale Street.Christopher is a true English gentleman and a storyteller of note. We were all enthralled as he shared anecdotes and memoirs of his rich life, and his uncontained pride was evident when he spoke of his two children, James and Miranda, who currently head Hayman’s alongside himself.
The Hayman’s are passionate about keeping with tradition and try to preserve the family recipe in its most original form as far as possible, only tweaking here and there to accommodate the seasonal availability of botanicals or changes in the market or suppliers.
“It’s us behind the gin. We make the decisions,” Christopher says, which only reiterates their pursuit of unparalleled quality and excellence, because it’s their livelihood; it’s their family heritage. They are the custodians of this family style gin.
They use ten handpicked botanicals from across the world to craft Hayman’s gin and the ten botanicals remain unchanged from the original recipe. They also still employ the original two-day crafting method of steeping the mix of grain spirits and botanicals for 24 hours before the distilling process begins.
“We are not driven by price, but by the quality,” Christopher says about the juniper berries they use. These are brought in from the Mediterranean after careful batch sampling. It is, after all, the one ingredient that defines a great gin. Other key botanicals include coriander, citrus peel (an original addition by his great-grandfather), angelica root, cassia bark, nutmeg and orris root.
When asked what his gin tastes like, Christopher gives a little smile and there’s a glint in his eye as he says, “my gin tastes like… gin,” followed by a hearty laugh. And in that simple statement lies the beauty of it all – the classic, true English gin that is Hayman’s.
The Hayman’s family currently make three variants of gin namely, the classic London Dry, Old Tom and the Sloe Gin.
Unfortunately for us South Africans, the Sloe Gin is not yet available here.
Mid-way through our chat, Christopher invited us to the tasting tables to sample the range of gins. The bottles were passed around and glasses filled. He must have done this a million times before, but Christopher seemed as excited about this tasting as if it was his first. As we sniffed, sipped and savoured, he talked us through each tasting.I particularly enjoyed the smooth, slightly sweeter Old Tom gin, as this was a craft drink to be savoured on its own. The slightly sweeter taste does not come from added sugars or sweeteners, but rather from a subtle fine-tuning of the ratio of botanicals.
The Classic London Dry is just that – an absolute timeless classic. This gin will elevate the simple gin and tonic to new heights and it doesn’t ask for all sorts of gimmicky additions and garnishes. The fresh juniper nose, with hints of spice and citrus is absolutely gorgeous and perfectly balanced for a full-mouth experience that engages all of your senses.
The Sloe gin is indulgently delicious and has “celebration” written all over it. Infused with sloe berries (and every year a handful from Christopher’s own garden!) this is a great festive drink, or a lovely poolside cooler. Paired with a rich Prosecco or dry sparkling wine, this is the ultimate cocktail that looks like a million dollars. We tasted the Sloe gin with a touch of bitter lemon and again, it needs no further dressing up.
I love a good story. And even more so, a good gin. Especially if it’s filled with family, tradition and passion. When it tells a tale of hard work, dedication and the strive for excellence and quality. When its filled with heart and soul and a whole lot of love.
I’m most certainly adding liberal bottles of Hayman’s to my gin trolley for those nights you want to cosy up with a loved one and share in stories of present and past.
A great big thank you to Christopher Hayman for spending the afternoon with us here in Cape Town and sharing your passion with us. A special thank you to Lee Fisher, Head of International, for hosting this afternoon and for making us all feel part of the Hayman’s family.