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Lesley Gracie – Hendrick’s Gin

lesley making a distillate with scorpion tail
distillery front doors
Written by Gin Foundry

To get a better idea of life behind the scenes and the people who are at the heart of our favourite spirits – we decided to launch a Meet the Maker micro series. Here – we catch up with Hendrick’s Gin’s Master Distiller, Lesley Gracie.

Gin Foundry – Hi Lesley, good to catch up again! For those who don’t know you – how long have you been distilling and what made you choose it as a career?

Lesley Gracie I have worked in the Technical Team for William Grant and Sons for 27 years. In my previous job I did some work on flavours and so when I started I was given new liquid development work as part of my remit which developed over the years to be my main role. So it was never a conscious decision to be a distiller but working with gin and the potential to investigate new flavours and flavour combinations is a real thrill. You are never totally sure of the outcome and that in itself gives me a real buzz.

It’s funny many grow into it. Given you oversee new liquid development and making Hendrick’s day to day, what’s your favourite part of making gin?

I really enjoy the whole process, from assessing all of the botanicals and ensuring that they meet our stringent specifications through the many stages of production through to the finished product. Working for a family business gives us the ability to investigate new botanicals and flavours and understanding their unique chemistry.

From a flavour perspective, what do you think makes Hendrick’s unique?

Hendrick’s took the gin world by storm when it first launched back in 2000. The combination of the two types of still and the botanical recipe, including the rose and cucumber elements, ensures a balanced and instantly recognisable product. The number of other products launched since Hendrick’s which contain cucumber shows that we are not the only fans of the green fruit.

It’s definitely recognisable, with it’s signature garnish or on its own. Are you worried about scaling up further as the brand grows? Have you got plans in place on how you’d approach it and when do you think that time will come?

We introduced a new still last year which is an exact copy of our beloved Bennett still which was built in 1860. Careful commissioning and monitoring of the new still, known as the Carrick still, has resulted in us being able to produce an identical distillate to that produced on the Bennett still. Our expertise with our beautiful stills means that we have no worries over brand growth especially as more and more people are discovering our delightfully peculiar elixir.

The Girvan Distillery site is an amazing place and the Hendrick’s Gin Palace within feels like a space onto its own, but do you get distillery envy when you see some-one else’s set up?

Not at all – our stills and the atmosphere in our Gin Palace is a primary inspiration for the Hendrick’s brand and all of our visitors immediately comment on the aroma and feel of our distillery. Whilst I have seen some stills around the world that I would like to try, they would have to be transported to Girvan for proper assessment!!

Aye, there’s no place like home! In your opinion, do you think there is a loss of quality in making a concentrate as opposed to doing a one-shot gin? There’s a lot of talk about it amongst super geeks but does it even matter?

Making a concentrated essence and ensuring that it meets the exact analytical and organoleptic requirements makes sense in some ways as it helps with finished product consistency. However great care must be taken with the concentrated essence to ensure that it is protected from any potential factors which may affect the quality.

To a large extent we agree, it’s the overall quality that is key no matter how you make it. Everyone has a different opinion on what is a small or large “batch”. What do you think a small batch gin is and do you think there should be clearly defined guidelines as to what should qualify and what shouldn’t?

I think the most important thing for any product is integrity. If someone produces an excellent gin then celebrate the gin and do not try to falsely describe it just to try to make it sound better – let the product speak for itself.

You’ve got a long way to go before retirement, but given you make such an iconic gin and were integral to its development (and having also developed other spirits) – do you ever think about what legacy you will leave behind? If so, what do you think that would be?

This is really difficult to answer. I thoroughly enjoy my job and the flexibility I have to experiment with new and novel ingredients and recipes. I suppose that it is the enjoyment of the job itself and the thrill of the “what if” that I hope to be remembered for.

From a creative perspective, have you done everything you wanted to do or have you got some ideas for gins you’d really like to make next?

There are always new things to try. Our expedition to the Venezuelan rainforest inspired me even more to try different things. The laboratory always has some new or strange plant sitting in alcohol waiting for us to see how it noses, tastes and fits with other flavours.

The Hendrick’s Karanacuni was inspiring in its own right, the trip looked like so much fun too we can imagine it sparked quite a few ideas. What’s your favourite way to drink your Hendrick’s?

For me Hendrick’s is best served with elderflower cordial and soda water. Nice and simple!! The chances of me being able to locate two halves of a cocktail shaker and the necessary accoutrements in my kitchen are virtually nil. Therefore leave the serious stuff to the bartenders!! They do it much better than me anyway.

GF – Sounds like our type of drink –  thanks Leslie!