Beefeater has announced that Desmond Payne MBE will be the brand’s first-ever master distiller emeritus in January 2023.

After a 55-year career in gin making, Payne will be taking a step back from day-to-day production responsibilities, focusing on projects such as judging international gin competitions and hosting VIP experiences for the brand.

Payne said: "My whole career, but particularly at Beefeater, has been a great privilege. I have travelled the world, enjoyed a Gibson or Martini in some of the world’s best bars and most importantly, met people who are the very best at what they do. 

“Beefeater has always been known for innovation and I am grateful this new chapter will allow me to keep a watchful eye on what this new era has in store. Beefeater really is a remarkable gin, made by hugely talented people, in the best city in the world - London," Payne added. 

Payne will hand responsibility to a new, yet-to-be-announced head distiller, a role supported by Payne’s distillery team including stillmen and long-term partners, who learnt their craft under Desmond's guidance.

Murielle Dessenis, global brand director for Beefeater, said: "This new title bestowed upon Desmond is a testament to his contribution to Beefeater and the wider drinks industry. This is the first time in the brand’s history there has ever been a Master Distiller Emeritus and this title has been granted as a tribute to Desmond’s lifetime service.”

Having started his career in the Harrods wine cellars, Payne was introduced to spirits after joining Seager Evans in 1967. After spending 25 years in charge of production at Plymouth Gin, Payne joined Beefeater in 1995, the start of 27 years with the brand, and was named master distiller in 2008. 

Among other accolades, Payne was awarded his MBE by the late Queen Elizabeth II, presented by Prince William, the now Prince of Wales.

Over his time at Beefeater, he has overseen the creation of new expressions such as: Beefeater 24, Burrough’s Reserve Editions 1 and 2, Beefeater Winter Edition, Beefeater Summer Edition, Beefeater London Market, Beefeater London Garden, Beefeater Monday’s Gin and Beefeater Botanics.

Alongside the announcement, Payne is bringing back a classic expression from the archives, Beefeater Crown Jewel, inspired by the jewels housed in the Tower of London. Having previously been available as a limited-edition over 10 years ago, Beefeater’s Crown Jewel (50% abv) is now available in 16 countries.