Victorian Britain was rife with entrepreneurs. It was the golden era for ambitious young men looking for ways to acquire fame and fortune. Much was still to be discovered and was not yet understood, not yet made practical or commercially available. Mystique, adventure and pioneering spirit were all set to the back drop of seemingly impossible things being overcome by the latest intrepid soul with the tenacity to pursue their dreams.
Broadly speaking, one can attribute Victorian entrepreneurial successes into two categories. Those who innovated with new technology, research, or new thought – and those who discovered something new and brought it back from afar.
Whilst this summarises 100 years of history in quite broad brush strokes, encapsulating up the thousands of companies and ideas that went boom (and for many then bust) – it’s fair to say that a vast majority of successful Victorian era companies all have something in common. Foresight.
Discoveries don’t just occur on ones doorstep. New inventions seldom come in the shape of an apple falling on someone’s head. They are months and years in the making, with arduous research undertaken before the slightest breakthrough occurs. Granted, some are not worth the wait – for example does one really need a custom made thinking cap or will any hat do?
Regardless, to arrive at a point where one’s latest invention, be it wobbling jellies, a steam engine or a previously unheard of lizard are being celebrated – there needs to be a group of people willing to take a gamble, to dream and most importantly, to embark on an adventure. Being first cost some explorers their lives, finishing an overly ambitious project cost many their fortune.
What does this have to do with Gin in the year 2014? Well, in this new renaissance of gin, nothing much has changed. If one looks at the gins that have emerged and been truly successful since 2000, arguably the starting point for the new gin era – new innovation, original thought and new discoveries have been the primary reason behind some of the success stories. Sure, no one is dying to race their way to the Antarctic, nor are some waging war in some far flung Indonesian island to have the sole right to import spice – but the principles are the same. Having the foresight to plan something new and the tenacity to make it happen results in successful, much-loved products.
There are three or four gins that deserve respect as pioneers and whose approach have reaped the rewards. Bombay Sapphire clearly lead the way and showed there was a demand for a premium gin, the first for many years to do so. Sipsmith forced a change in UK laws to allow craft distillers to distil with much smaller stills. Chase Gin have gone a long way to steer conversations towards where and how things are made, furthering provenance and transparency in the category. Hendrick’s Gin are also without doubt a huge player in the renaissance of gin. Since 2000 they have been paving the way for the category, with new ideas, new ways of marketing, original concepts and a flavour profile that has the unusual combination of pleasing a gin audience as well as attracting new legions of fans to the category.
Closely attached to the Victorian aesthetic, with its squat medicinal bottle and graphics, Hendrick’s is one of THE success stories in this juniper based revival. The question is, however, how does a gin company carry on innovating when its conquered new ways of thinking and distilling? Does it still have the Victorian zeal and spirit that it likes to associate itself with? Thinking outside the box is one thing, but when the box was previously filled with some of the most peculiar ideas – taking it one step further is quite a challenge.
Thankfully, Hendrick’s Gin seem to have taken their ambition to a whole new level and have decided that – much like explorers in the early 1900’s – it was time for a quest to a far flung location, in search of new frontiers…
Back in the spring of 2013, Master Distiller Lesley Gracie and Global Ambassador David Piper ventured into the Venezuelan rainforest under the stewardship of renowned explorer Charles Brewer-Carias and expert botanist Francisco Delascio. The fantastically bizarre quest was held with the purpose to find a decidedly delectable botanical with which to create a new limited batch of gin.
They also, rather handily, sent a camera crew out with them too, and the video they have created explains the perils of their journey much better than our words ever could.
Over the course of the trip the team covered several different terrains of the Guayana Highlands, from savannahs and mountain foots to riverbanks and the deep jungle. Armed with her tiny ten-litre alembic still, Lesley made a number of distillates from promising plant species, but it was one botanical in particular that captured her senses, ‘Scorpion Tail’.
Distilling in the heart of the jungle, Master Distiller Lesley Gracie prepared 8.4 litres of Scorpion Tail. It is now a key ingredient of Hendrick’s Kanaracuni, which is named after the village where the expedition team was based during their two-week research trip.
Scorpion Tail has a strange flavour when tasted on its own as an individual botanical distillate. It has a rich, green, leafy nose, but when tasted, develops a pronounced spice and warmth. It seems to combine the herbal and spiced flavour spectrums in a way that had previously been unheard of in the context of a gin. Cardamom has a similar effect, but we’ve never tasted any which combined such a deep green note with the clarity of peppery heat in the way Scorpion Tail does.
If you want a full deconstruction on how Hendrick’s Gin is distilled, please see our post on it HERE. However, just for you distillation geeks out there we’ll go into a top line as to how Kanaracuni is made…
As you know, Hendrick’s Gin is made by combining two separate distillates created in two separate kinds of still. One is a Pot Still (which they refer to as a Bennett Still) and the other is a Carter-Head Still. Once combined, they add Cucumber and Rose essence, add more spirit to achieve the right concentration flavour and then cut with water to the required bottling strength.
For Kanaracuni, they’ve changed the ratio between the Carter-Head Still to Bennett Still very slightly and also added the Scorpion Tail distillate with the Rose and Cucumber. It is then bottled at a slightly higher strength of 44% ABV.
Having travelled half the way around the world, braved 2 weeks in the jungle, faced tribes with bows at the ready and smuggled back 8.4 litres of concentrated distillate – through Caracas airport no less – one would think that a new variant on Hendrick’s would need to dominate the shelves of bars around the world to warrant the expense. Quite the opposite. Hendrick’s Kanaracuni will not be available for retail and just 560 bottles will be available across the world.
Hendrick’s Kanaracuni has a more pronounced leafy note to nose. Floral wafts are fixed by spiced undertones. Compared alongside the original Hendrick’s, it has more discernible flavours & a touch of sweetness. To taste, the sweet leafiness gives way to a peppery spice. Citrus jostles for space behind. Spice / heat then powers in but rose & cucumber still come through despite Scorpion Tail being a potent addition, and with it bring that familiar Hendrick’s DNA. Kanaracuni leaves a jammy sweet rose-like finish behind. Kind of like Hendrick’s Gin on steroids. Great tasting gin perfectly suited to a Martini.
It will only be available to a select few bartenders and served at Hendrick’s events held by their team of ambassadors around the globe. Aside from the fact that having more bottles available is an actual impossibility – It would require further expeditions to the jungle as the Scorpion Tail botanical needs to be distilled on site, fresh and to a specific spec, it’s also inconsequential. That’s not the point of the gin.
The point of Hendrick’s Kanaracuni isn’t to create a new product to add to their sales or to begin a series of Hendrick’s spin-offs or even to create a wider portfolio to compliment the original Hendrick’s Gin. Far from it. To bring it back to our original point about foresight – Kanaracuni is more about allowing a creative team the chance to explore new ideas. No doubt one day they will need new thinking, a new variant or even new packaging to continue growth, but that is still far away – Hendrick’s doesn’t need a refresh yet. It has grown from a relatively singular brand identity to a complex proposition, layered and geographically specific. Unusual has many forms and is being expressed in many different ways in the 80 plus countries worldwide where Hendrick’s Gin is now available.
At the moment developing Kanaracuni, braving the jungle and furthering other projects is about having the foresight to foster a culture where seemingly absurd ideas, outwardly impossible tasks and other projects can not only be considered – they can be delivered with panache. No other company would (or even could) do this, as fostering a commitment to pursuing brave ideas is rarely seen as a good way to explain to stake holders that the future is looking bright.
In many ways, other than an idea which has been a delight to see come to fruition, an amazing gin to taste and an extraordinary story to tell amongst their arsenal of peculiar dinner conversations – Hendrick’s Kanaracuni is a reminder that despite being considerably bigger 14 years after its inception, Hendrick’s is staying true to its original spirit. True to the spirit of the Victorian era to which they have become synonymous.
Hopefully their continued commitment to the niche, the unusual and to the plainly ludicrous is celebrated for what it is, much like the gin – delightfully peculiar and particularly refreshing.
For more information about Hendrick’s Gin, visit their website: uk.hendricksgin.com
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