Hendrick’s Gin is an intriguing liquid.
Far from the ‘old’ spirit it’s often thought to be, it was only created in 1999 – making it far younger than the apothecary style bottle would have you think.
There are also those who would also suggest that it’s a little bit of a ‘one-trick wonder’ – the cucumber garnish being the feature most heavily leant on.
I’d have to quietly disagree.
As I believe I’ve mentioned before, Hendrick’s is a bit of a geek’s paradise. Using two separate stills in it’s creation to layer the flavours, at the end, essence of cucumber and rose to the liquid to create the final flavours. are added at the end.
As part of their Grand Tour of Enlightenment, Hendrick’s invited a number of those from the hospitality industry to delve into the ‘Quintessential Anthology of Gin in general and Hendrick’s in particular’. A journey through time, looking at juniper and juniper flavoured spirits – from the earliest uses of juniper as a medicine, through to the earliest juniper infused spirits – the earliest recipe for genever dates from the 13th century, whereas the earliest gin recipe known is from 1495.
But for me, far more fascinating, was a deeper view of the production methods behind Hendrick’s Gin.
Of the two stills used, the Carter-Head still is behind the more delicate floral flavours. During distillation the heated spirit passes over the botanicals which are held in a basket. This means that the spirit has less opportunity to permeate the botanicals and break down their cellular structure. Without as deep a reach as the spirit into the body of the herb or spice, the flavour is lighter and more gentle. A diagram and images of the Hendrick’s Gin still can be found here.
The Bennet Still is more traditional. There’s a period of direct maceration, before the heat applied. This producers deeper, heavier, oilier flavours.
At the end of both distillations processes, they are blended together and the cucumber and rose essences added to create the final product.
During the Tour of Enlightenment we were lucky enough to try these elements separately.
From the distillate from the Carter Head still with it’s light almost pretty notes, to those from the Bennett Still with it’s heavier flavours. With the cucumber and rose removed from the equation, they were pleasant, but not the quintessential Hendrick’s. The skill for that comes in the addition of the extra flavours, and in the blending.
Rose and cucumber don’t distill well – heat causes them to become bitter and unpleasant. These are distilled separately in a vacuum still – the vacuum allows for distillation to occur at a lower temperature, avoiding the bitterness.
Finally it’s the skill of the Master Distiller in blending all these spirits together into one. Lesley Gracie is the Master Distiller for Hendrick’s and one of the top female distillers in the world.
A chemist by trade Lesley collaborated with Charles Gordon to create the perfect gin – joining him in his search in 1988. They finally succeeded in 1999 and she is now just one of four people who know the full recipe for Hendrick’s.
It’s her taste buds and her knowledge that allow for the final blending process and water is added to move Hendrick’s to it’s ‘perfect’ ABV – 41.4%.
The result is a light floral gin, still with a definite juniper backbone – but avoiding that heavy juniper scent at the forefront – making it a very accessible gin, and perhaps one of the biggest reasons for it’s popularity.
As for the cucumber garnish? I’d highly recommend rosemary, or if you like florals, rose petals as an alternative. Cucumber is great, but it’s not the only way.