Come on a gin tasting adventure with Hendrick’s Master Distiller, Leslie Gracie
Attending a gin tasting at 1pm on a Monday is an exciting way to start a working week. It’s even more exciting when it’s hosted by Hendrick’s Master Distiller, Lesley Gracie and you find a tasting mat at your table with six glasses of gin ready to sip.
A chemist with a passion for gardening, Lesley Gracie began working at Hendrick’s parent company William Grant and Son’s in 1988, in various roles including the development of whisky flavours. In 1999 she was appointed the Master Distiller for a new, ultra-premium gin – Hendrick’s.
Small in height but with long, long grey hair, Gracie has eyes that twinkle with her ongoing passion for creating the ultimate gin experiences. “The original brief was to create a new gin but with plenty of balls,” laughs Gracie. “Not light like the predominant ones of the time, something that was a complete sidestep away. Hendrick’s has depth of character, infinitely different floral notes and an English garden [element].”
With anticipation, we begin the tastings…
Genever is the traditional juniper-based malt spirit that was popular in Holland and Belgium, and inspired gin as we know it today. Based on old genever recipes, Gracie blended gin with un-aged William Grant and Son’s Speyside whisky to create a clean-tasting single malt flavour infused with juniper.
2. FIRST DRAFT GIN
Gin has been created at William Grant and Son’s distillery in Girvan, Scotland since 1955. When the great grandson of William Grant, Charles Gordon, purchased two stills at auction in 1966, an old gin recipe was found in one of the stills. Gracie creates a version of this old recipe, a classic London dry style gin. Made with botanicals including almond powder, fennel seeds and lots of juniper, it tastes like a fruitier, lighter version of a modern-style gin.
3. BENNETT GIN
The Bennett is an old type of copper pot still for distilling liquor. Our next tasting is a pure distillate taken from the 1860 Bennett still acquired by Charles Gordon in 1966 which is even now used to create Hendrick’s gin today. The result is a robust spirit, with huge complexity of juniper and coriander. We add a splash of water to the pure gin, and it opens it up completely, brining out its deep floral and spice characters. It’s the Bennet gin that Gracie says gives Hendrick’s its ballsy element.
4. CARTER-HEAD GIN
Hendrick’s other still is a rare Carter-Head, made in 1948 and known for creating a smooth, delicate and fresh spirit. One of the rare aspects of Hendrick’s gin which marks it out from the rest is Lesley Gracie’s decision to combine the gin distillates from both the Bennett and Carter-Head stills. No other gin on the market does this. The Carter-Head gin tastes beautifully smooth and clear, with nice floral and citrus notes.
5. ROSE, CUCUMBER AND HENDRICK’S
The other thing that makes Hendrick’s gin so unique, is that in addition to the 11 botanicals used in the distillation of the pure spirits, Gracie decided to add distillates of rose and cucumber – two quintessentially English ingredients. First we taste a sprinkle of each on the back of our hand, and then it’s time for a taste of Hendrick’s. Aromatic, big on flavour but incredibly smooth, you can immediately detect the robust characteristics from the Bennet still, the smooth follow-through that the Carter-Head gives it, and the unmistakable notes of rose and cucumber. Gracie’s big tip is to leave the gin in your mouth for around eight seconds before swallowing, to really experience the rose flavours.
6. HENDRICK’S ORBIUM
In a quest to discover new expressions for Hendrick’s, Gracie began to experiment with new botanical ingredients. To the original Hendrick’s distillates, she added ingredients commonly found in gin-based drinks: wormwood (found in vermouth) and quinine (found in tonic water), plus blue lotus blossom – a flower often used in shamanic healing. In 2017, Hendrick’s Orbium was released – a limited-run re-imagining of the original Hendrick’s Gin. Orbium has a very distinctive taste, with a strong floral character from the blue lotus which pulls the other floral notes of rose and chamomile up, giving the gin a huge roundness, and a pleasing bitter edge.
7. HENDRICK’S MARTINEZ
To really “put it through its paces”, at the tasting Hendrick’s Global Ambassador Duncan McRae advised us (Toast and Auckland’s top bartenders) to try using Hendrick’s in different cocktails to experience its versatility. He recommends making a G&T, a martini, a negroni, and something "fancy" like a white lady. We taste a Martinez – a classic cocktail that’s deliciously bitter and herbal, and is credited for inspiring the creation of the martini, (recipe below).