First launched in 2001, Hendrick’s Gin has been the success story that has set the template for modern gin brands to follow.
Hendrick’s Gin‘s beginnings have multiple stories, from the distillery Malt Master finding inspiration in the garden to an American agency claiming to have created it all. The truth is, as always, somewhere in-between. Seeing the gap in the market, William Grant and Sons decided to release a premium gin in 1999. Working with their famed Malt Master David Stewart and Lesley Gracey (who still distils Hendrick’s Gin to this day), they developed a flavour profile for a gin inspired by eating cucumber sandwiches and British gardens. The brand identity was then developed by an American agency with a brief to focus on unique and unusual Britishness. It took Lesley 21 distillations to finalise the recipe and in the year 2000, a new giant was born.
We’re often asked about how long Hendrick’s has been around since many point out the 1886 date found on the label of their Victorian looking bottle. This is a reference to when the first William Grant distillery was created, not the gin itself, although it does show just how much experience they have in creating world class products. Based in Ayrshire, the Hendrick’s Gin Palace is based at the family-owned company’s Girvan grain distillery. Housed in a small cottage-like building, the Hendrick’s site has two stills, operated by Lesley Gracey and John Ross who oversee the process from start to finish.
Hendrick’s Gin uses a blend of spirits produced from a Carter-Head still and a small pot still originally built in 1860 by Bennett, Sons & Shears. Both have been restored to working order after being bought at auction in the 1960′s. The two stills produce noticeably different styles of gin due to their different constructions, the amount of copper contact and the methods of distillation.
The Bennett pot still produces a heavy, oily spirit with a strong juniper-flavour. Hendrick’s macerate 12 botanicals (juniper, coriander, angelica root, orris root, orange peel, lemon peel, cubeb berries, grains of paradise, caraway seeds, elderflower, yarrow and chamomile) for around 24 hours before switching on the stills. Although oversimplifying the process dramatically in essence, the botanicals are added into the liquid and effectively boiled, which allows most of the flavour characteristics to pass directly into the spirit. This type of distillation is quite common amongst gins (although this doesn’t make it any easier to produce a top quality spirit!).
In contrast, the spirit derived from the Carter-Head still is much more subtle with light floral and sweet fragrances. This is because all the botanicals used in the Carter-Head are added to a basket at the very top of the still. Rather than macerating and then boiling the botanicals, which produces the strong pungent spirit of the Bennett still, the Carter-Head bathes the botanicals in the alcohol vapours only. By doing so only the lighter, sweeter and floral flavours are able to be extracted by this method, which gives the spirit its distinctive character.
Both stills take around 12hours to run, each producing a 500 litre hearts cut running off the stills at 80% ABV.
Both styles of distillation are used in the production of other brands, but it’s quite rare to see both being used in one spirit. For example, Monkey 47 and Sipsmith V.J.O.P combine both these methods to great effect, although they do so in the same still whereas Hendrick’s Gin is unique in having two separate copper stills, distilling in two different methods. Tasted independently of one another, and before the signature additions of cucumber and rose, neither are particularly great gins. They combine to become much more than the sum of their parts to say the least. The Bennet still gin is somewhat waxy and botanically intense. The Carter-Head is less cooked, but lacks some of the deeper notes. Once combined they round each other off and provide a complete spectrum of flavours.
As we alluded to above – Hendrick’s Gin even goes one step further, as once the two spirits are blended, there is a further addition of cucumber and Bulgarian rose petal essence before the spirit is cut with water and finally bottled at 41.4% ABV. We’d recommend that if you don’t like gin or don’t know where to start, this is the place to do so as Hendrick’s is not a big juniper gin. That said, the juniper may be lighter but it’s certainly there, creating the base for a clean, floral and refreshing gin. Regardless of whether the cucumber flavour is distinct from the other twelve botanicals, the addition of it definitely adds a fresh quality to the ensemble helped along by the rose which can definitely be picked up on the aroma. Cubeb berries, elderflower, chamomile and yarrow are some other botanicals that bring a more unusual offering to the mix, giving the floral edge some depth while also complimenting the more commonly used coriander, angelica root, lemon & orange peel and orris root – who work to provide a solid backbone to the overall gin. Juniper is present all the way through, framed by all the other botanicals so that it sits as part of a group as opposed to being the single botanical determinable at any given point.
There’s no doubt that Hendrick’s Gin has been spearheading gin’s resurgence since the early 2000’s and can now be found in all bars across the globe, with glasses of Hendrick’s and Tonic adorned with a slice of cucumber instead of lemon or lime. Their bottle shape with Hendrick’s engraved on the side and their deep black tint is so memorable that they often get recycled into new creations well after being finished, furthering their brand recognition. Hendrick’s has also managed to combine the unusual and quirky with the stylish and charismatic in both branding and marketing activities. It’s quite an achievement as such a strong identity can be easily pigeon holed and become tiresome, so it’s saying something of the skill of the brand team to have kept it current and fresh at each step of the way.
With tireless ambassadors like Duncan McRae weaving a web of shenanigans everywhere they go, the brand has grown so dramatically that it has become one of the gin category’s leading players. It’s good to see the Hendrick’s team go from strength to strength and making waves; their investment in ideas and clever design has paid off and done the liquid justice. It’s a matter of time before it starts to make an appearance on the top seller lists as their volume grows. Having reached over 500 thousand nine litre cases sold in over 80 countries worldwide – Hendrick’s has already become many bars go to premium offering.
All that’s left to do is sit back and enjoy seeing them concoct more unusual ways to entertain us all.
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