Full name: James Hayman
Twitter Handle: @haymanjames
Fun Fact: “When I was 10 I went on the BBC1 Saturday morning show Going Live with Philip Schofield and Sarah Greene.”
So, let’s start at the beginning. As I understand it, your sister Miranda and you had plenty of exposure to the distillery from a young age, but were never pressured to ‘enter the family business’, as it were. Could you tell us a bit about your early years and how you ended up working at Hayman’s? Did you go straight into it, or pursue other things?
My early memories are of school holiday trips to see Dad at the distillery. It was always a highlight for me to visit; I was very interested in what went on in the distillery and wanted to work there myself one day. In 1987 the original business was sold, and I remember Dad being very disappointed. He was the only 4th generation family member to join and the ownership was wide-spread.
It was a process that took 12 months, but eventually the family decided to sell. As an 11 year-old I innocently suggested buying it back, however that was obviously not an option so I thought we should start again. Dad bought some parts of the business back as well as joining together with some others to buy a small distillery in London. It helped him keep his hand in the gin category, but gin was a depressed market in the 90s – it was all about vodka.
Dad was always keen that I worked elsewhere first, before joining the family business, so I worked for some marketing agencies for 5 years or so. It was a great experience and I was fortunate to work with a wide range of clients, which made me realise that you have to work on something that interests you, otherwise you will never enjoy it. It was then that I joined the family business. As gin in the UK was still not a growing market, we focused on developing our gin overseas, which is where we still sell most of it today.
Your core range of recipes come from the family archive, but lately it seems you have been busy coming up with some new ones! Could you tell us a little more?
All of our gins are made to traditional family recipes although some of them had not been made for a while. Our Hayman’s Gently Rested Gin, for example, is a lovely gin. Prior to 1861 gin was sold from old Scotch whisky barrels; this was not done to add flavour, the barrels were used purely as transportation vessels. To create our Gently Rested Gin today, we rest the gin after distillation in a barrel to stay true to the original process. The short resting period makes the gin a little more mellow, and makes it a great gin to enjoy in a Martini.
It seems that along with craft beer, we have entered a renaissance of gin. Where do you guys see yourself in this new, abundant landscape of distilleries and possibilities? Are there any trends or exciting developments in the gin scene that you think we should look out for?
Although there are lots of new gins, we feel our place is quite unique. Many of the new style of gins are fairly bold and punchy in their flavour profile, whereas the style of True English Gin we make is far more balanced. We distil our 10 botanicals together to create our gin – it’s very similar to music, where several instruments play together in harmony to create one piece of music. A lot of the well-known gins are today made on a vast scale, which is a very different process to the small-batch distillation that we follow to this day.
What’s a ‘day in your life’ like? Could you give us an insight into the gin business?
Every day is different… As we have a large international presence I try to respond to overnight emails first thing. I’ll then head into the distillery and the day is made up of catching up with the team, hosting visits, planning overseas trips as well as brand development. I’m usually home by 8pm and then I try to relax with my wife.
What’s your greatest/most memorable professional moment been, so far?
There have been quite a lot, but the most recent one has been the opening of our new distillery in London. It was a huge project that fulfilled a 30-year ambition for me and my family.
Where do you get your ideas?
I travel quite a lot so I find flying is a great time to think. Holidays too – I always try to read a business book when I’m on holiday. I find most of them very inspirational.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had, how did you overcome it, and what did you learn from it?
Owning and running a business presents lots of challenges; it’s difficult to pick one. The new distillery is probably the most recent.
Who’s the person who’s most inspired you in your work? Is there anyone that you draw inspiration or strength from, or do you have any specific influences?
I enjoy reading a wide number of books about how others have succeeded with their companies or sporting team. My Father has incredible persistence – to buy part of the company back and start again was brave. He has strong values and principles as well as a great work ethic. Next year he will celebrate 50 years of working in the gin industry.
What do you enjoy most and least about what you do?
I am very fortunate that I have travelled all over the world with my job. I love visiting other cities and countries at the same time as talking about how we make our family gin. The downside is the combination of jet lag and all the matters that need picking up once you are back. I don’t really suffer when I’m away, but once I am home I guess I relax and it can take a few days to feel normal. Now I have a young family it is certainly harder.
What advice would you give to aspiring drinks professionals who’d want the kind of career that you’ve had?
Work hard and listen to others. There is no easy shortcut to success – you have to be committed and very much enjoy what you do. Perseverance too: if you are going to do it the right way, it takes time.
If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing instead?
Tough question – I was born into an English gin distilling family so joining the family business was what I ultimately wanted to do from an early age. I enjoy flying and travel so maybe something to do with that!
If you could get anyone to try Hayman’s (fictional or real, living or dead) who would you pick and which of the gins would you like them to try? Assume that they go on to be your brand ambassador…
It would have to be my great-great grandfather, who was also called James. He founded the family business and created all our family gin recipes. I would like him to try Hayman’s London Dry – it is the hardest style of gin to make as it’s all about balance. I hope he would be proud that we are still making gin today in London using his recipes, just a few miles from where he started.
And we always ask three customary ridiculous questions…
If you had to be transformed into any kind of household appliance, but retained your memories, ability to speak and personality, what would you pick?
A radio – lots of stations these days for many occasions. Overall I like to have fun at work, but some days or weeks I have to be a little more serious.
If you had to employ any character from The Simpsons to come and work with you guys, who would you pick, and why?
I’ve never watched the Simpsons so I don’t know the characters!
If you were forced to fend off an alien invasion and singlehandedly save mankind using only the tools available at the distillery, how would you do it?
I’d ask them all put their heads in a fully charged still for 30 seconds. The combination of the high strength English Wheat Spirit and the oils of the botanicals is incredibly intense. Everybody always wants to nose it and it gets them every time with its intensity!