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Blog: Martin Pilkington visits the Hendrick's distillery

Published:  03 November, 2011

William Grant's seems to be on a creative roll with marketing to the press of late. Last week Glenfiddich hosted their One Day You Will event - featured in a previous blog - and this week was the turn of their Hendrick's gin brand.

Comparisons are invidious and in this case unhelpful as the former was largely a consumer event with a few journalists in attendance too, and the latter, the subject of this piece, very much a press trip.

The central aspects of any such trip, however clever the peripheral stuff may be and in both cases it was very smart, remain the distillery visit and the obligatory guided tasting session. Journalists attending all love to be amused but we are paid to be knowledgeable and such visits and tastings never fail to reveal new stuff.

As regards the amusement the highlight was A Genteel Tipple through Gin in Literature provided by writer Damien Barr. He was funny, involving and educational all at once - a chair in Literature and Spirits surely awaits him eventually. Like all right thinking people - i.e. me - he obviously has a soft spot for P.G. Wodehouse, whose work featured along with Kingsley Amis, Ian Fleming, Dickens, and even Byron to name but five. The readings and discursions were accompanied by tiny tasters of various relevant cocktails whose making was demonstrated by the Hendrick's UK brand ambassador Duncan McRae. Loved the White Lady and the Martinez, not sure about the St Germain des Près (featuring elderflower and chilli tincture) though some colleagues were obviously won over.

Hendrick's is an odd bird as gins go, both in the distilling where some of the spirit is put through a Carter-Head and some through a Bennett still to capture the flavours of 11 botanicals with two different set-ups, the results blended in an undisclosed ratio (I'd take a wild guess at 50/50), and the further flavouring with essences of rose and cucumber. (With post-distillation additions the gin doesn't qualify as a London Dry).

The tasting allowed us to compare the distillates from the two stills - surprisingly different, the Bennett bringing out the floral (chamomile, yarrow) notes while its pair highlighted the citrus; the pre-essence blend; and the final product where the rose and cucumber (essences nosed but not tasted) are present.

While the gin is now sold in more than 70 markets the Hendrick's team has no pretensions to world domination, indeed the packaging and personnel, global ambassador Xavier Padovani included, make it clear it is not for everyone. Made in small batches as a decidedly premium product there wouldn't be enough of it to dislodge the bigger brands anyway. The interesting flavour palette apparently appeals to mixologists, though to my taste it's best in a plain G&T with a slice of cucumber to bring that essence even more to the fore. It seems a pity to mask its unusual qualities with a list of ingredients as long as those in the legendary Green Swizzle discovered by Bertie Wooster.

Hendrick's was only launched a little over a decade ago, though the old-fashioned stubby bottle might make you think otherwise with its suggestion of something found in a Victorian pharmacy. That dark bottle is not just about image; laudably the colour means that recycled glass can be included.

People you meet at distilleries, perhaps for obvious reasons, always seem to be passionate about what they do, and committed - you meet plenty with long service. Lesley Gracie who oversees the making of Hendricks and provides technical support and input to other William Grant's sites is another such, 23 years with the company and still full of enthusiasm for her work. Her chemistry background informs the techie stuff while her artisan flair fits in nicely with what is a somewhat quirky brand.

The trip succeeded in amusing and educating in equal measure, some of the amusement and no little education coming as ever from fellow journos, a real international bunch this time. I for one had never come across Cubeb berries, one of the botanicals used. Most of us had far shorter service in our trade than distillery staff often boast, but plenty of commitment was evident in investigating the different uses of the gin. Selfless.