Weeds are wild growing plants, that have a habit of going where they aren’t invited and a carefully honed ability to strangle the most verdant of gardens to within an inch of their lives. They are rarely thought of as anything other than a pest, so it was with vast imagination and a seemingly interminable knowledge of local plant life that Heynsqaured developed Ginderella – a gin for which the botanical line up is formed almost entirely of invasive weeds.
Heynsquared is a distillery comprising of two Belgian brothers – Jan and Geert Heyneman – graduates of Ghent University who decided on gin as their spirit of choice primarily because it was the most gastronomic option, thus more suited to their culinary interests.
Having undertaken a three year distillery course and as an expert in determining flora (with a vast knowledge of the taste of all edible weeds in particular), Geert set to work creating the recipe for Ginderella, while Jan worked on the commercial side of the business, building it up to be more than just a great idea.
Most of the ingredients for Ginderella are handpicked from within the city limits of Ghent by the Heyneman brothers. Geert, the city ecologist for Ghent, spent 12 months developing the processes needed to procure the required extracts from the botanicals, with each element distilled separately during the production process.
The locally foraged botanicals used in the gin are Japanese knotweed, Himalayan giant (an invasive exotic blackberry) , giant hogweed, herb Robert, lesser swinecress and ground ivy. The juniper was initially foraged in Ghent, but resources were exhausted quite quickly, so it’s now plucked from the Ardenne. The other two non-local ingredients are kaffir lime (both zest and leaves) and fresh black pepper.
In a time consuming process, each botanical is distilled individually using a base alcohol derived from grain and bought in from Filliers. The distillates are then blended in exacting proportions and cut with water to 40% ABV to create the final gin. The duo use two Kovodel Super Electric stills of different sizes (25lt and 125lt) and chose to create their gin as each ingredient requires a different temperature and length of distillation to obtain the optimal flavours.
Ginderella is currently made at the Craywinckelhof Distillery in Lubeek, a village on the outskirts of Leuven. The distillery, owned by Louis Schrevens, is based in a guesthouse which offers residents the opportunity to brew beer or distil whisky. The brothers hope to move production into Ghent once the Customs and Excise agency approves their licence requests.
Ginderella to taste…
Served neat – an earthy dampness comes to the nose, bringing with it a very green, very herbal feel. Juniper doesn’t particularly make itself known, rather the leaves take hold. That green, leafy feel comes through to the tongue too. Ginderella is sweet in the first instance with a hint of the kaffir lime emerging, progressing towards spice towards the finish as the black pepper kicks in.
In a G&T, we’d suggest serving it with mint to add a fresher mouthfeel. Cucumber, too, would work to add a clean, green dimension. Jan himself suggests a double measure of Ginderella with two thin slices of carrot and 100ml of Mediterranean Fever Tree as a perfect serve.
Ginderella is an entirely unique concept and one that we love the idea of. The gin’s flavour is quite polarising however and it’s worth knowing this before rushing to get a bottle. It’s clear that this is not a please all gin, and that Ginderella will be hit and miss with many who taste it. Even the team here at Gin Foundry HQ were split in two as if we were doing a Marmite tasting…
What is also clear is that the Heyneman brothers have created their product with an obvious love and deep understanding of the land. It is to their credit that such an outlandish concept has come to fruition and that they have managed to instil the idea of terroir, not just by using what most people assume to be nuisance plants, but also by harvesting from within an urban environment. Conceptually, the gin is both unique and captivating.
That said, we have our doubts over whether or not as a package, it is good enough to carry much further than Ghent. The gin is polarising sure, but this can work as an advantage as much as a disadvantage. In terms of branding however, there’s clear work to be done. The bottle is not overly busy, but there isn’t really any sense of “premium” about it and that is something that ought to be rectified in time. A quick look at their presence on other platforms and their media assets, indicates they are more than capable to do so and no doubt this will be fixed in the future.
Outside of their flagship gin, we applaud the brave explorations that the Heyneman brothers make with distilling. They’re currently working on a wild mushroom liqueur and also do a spot of third party distilling which has seen them make a gin for barbecue champion Peter De Clercq. There’s also Travak Gin, which is exclusive to the city of Ghent and made using weeds collected from within a square kilometre of the city. They’ve also created a Dry Vermouth using wild weeds, so it is obvious that they’re fully invested in the idea of creating a wider portfolio of products using the same ethos.
We do genuinely hope that both Ginderella and their other gins grow; the Heyneman brothers have come from a place of love – for gin, for botanicals and for Ghent – and with their unique knowledge of distilling and local plant life that challenges conventions. We’ll keep a firm, optimistic eye on the brand and hope to report back soon…
For more information about Ginderella, visit their website: www.heynsquared.com
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