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The story of Hendrick’s Gin

Let’s take you back to 1999. We’re all dutifully partying so we don’t upset Prince and because we better make the most of the good times before Y2k sets in. 

But hardly anyone is reaching for the gin. It’s not been cool for a while. The choices are sparse. Most pubs only have Gordon’s, maybe Beefeater. Perhaps a Bombay Sapphire. 

Order a G&T and you get Schweppes tonic, if you’re lucky, and a wedge of citrus that’s been there since the bartender had a go at making Margaritas for the ‘86 World Cup in Mexico. And one wet ice cube.

All in all, it was not the era of gin. Not exactly the right time to launch a gin brand, then. 

Or was it…

This is the story of Hendrick’s Gin

Hot on the heels of the launch of a new expression, Hendrick’s Grand Cabaret Gin (now with a free fan!), we talk about the brand’s history, explain the production process, and what makes it different. Grab a G&T, sit back, and enjoy. 

Welcome to the wacky world of Hendrick’s Gin! Image credit: The Economist

Not-so-humble beginnings

It was Charles Gordon, the great-grandson of Williams Grant, who was prepared to go against the grain and launch a gin back in 1999. His family’s company, William Grant & Sons was known as a Scotch whisky producer, namely for its Glenfiddich and Balvenie single malts, and had a fierce reputation that dated back to 1887. But there was a desire to diversify. Modernise. Branch out into new markets. 

Sailor’s Jerry Rum had already caught the attention of William Grant & Sons, which prompted them to not only purchase the brand but enlist its chief marketer to help develop a signature gin. That was Steven Grasse, later dubbed the “punk rock prince of small-batch spirits”. In the following years, William Grant & Sons also revived Tullamore D.E.W. Irish whiskey and launched Monkey Shoulder, a bartender-friendly blended malt Scotch whisky.

The making of the gin itself was a task saved for master distiller Lesley Gracie, a Yorkshire native who had worked on flavour development for a pharmaceutical company and joined William Grant & Sons in 1988. While her role was originally focused on blended whiskies, malts, and developing new liquids, she was then tasked to create a gin “with more depth and complexity than anything currently on bar shelves”. She was successful. As the Gin Guild says, “The face of Helen of Troy may have launched 1,000 ships, but it is Lesley Gracie’s sense of smell that underpinned the launch of more than one million cases of Hendrick’s Gin a year.”

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The site of all this new gin-making was to be the brand’s grain giant, the Girvan distillery in Scotland. Now capable of producing a staggering 110,000,000 litres of alcohol per annunm, Girvan was established in 1963 by William Grant & Sons in South Ayrshire, Scotland, and was used to create grain whisky for blends and the occasional bottle of single grain (delicious). 

Lesley Gracie at Hendrick’s HQ

How is Hendrick’s Gin made?

So, we’ve got a historic spirits maker enlisting expertise all over the show and boasting a world-class distillery. Not exactly humble beginnings… But creating gin is a different kettle of fish to making whisky and to do that, you need a different kettle of still. Did that work? Because stills are basically like kettles… never mind. 

A pair of stills had been bought at auction by Gordon in London in the 1960s but had sat without much use in a former munitions factory building in Girvan by the time the Hendrick’s brand was born. One was a small pot still, built in 1860 by Bennett, Sons & Shears, and the other was a Carter-Head still constructed in 1948, one of only a few in the world. 

Both were restored and used to create Hendrick’s Gin in small batches, making two spirits with the same botanicals to be married together. According to the brand, Hendrick’s is the only gin that uses a marriage of spirits from both Carterhead and Bennett copper pot still and we can’t see any reason to dispute that. 

The two gin concentrates have quite different flavour profiles. The Bennett pot still, chosen for its small size, enhances botanical flavours by steeping them with neutral spirit and water for 24 hours before distillation. This process, which uses an external steam jacket for heating, yields a heavy, oily spirit with strong juniper, citrus, and earthy notes, like angelica and orris, and results in a final spirit of approximately 75% alcohol by volume.

In contrast, the Carter-Head still produces a subtler spirit with light floral and sweet notes by a different method. It mixes only neutral spirit and water in the pot, with botanicals placed in a flavour basket at the still’s top. This setup allows alcohol vapours to extract the botanicals’ flavours without boiling them, capturing only the lighter, sweeter, and floral essences. 

Cucumber is at the core of Hendrick’s Gin

Why does Hendrick’s Gin have cucumber in it?

Gracie created an original recipe for Hendrick’s, one that she settled on after various experiments in the laboratory. It was a blend of eleven dried botanicals, including the obligatory juniper, as well as lemon peel, orange peel, coriander, yarrow, orris root, cubeb berries, elderflower, chamomile, and angelica.

“But, Adam, that’s only nine?!” 

Yes, but you see the final two botanicals are noted as being the signature ingredients in Hendrick’s Gin: cucumber, and essences of Bulgarian rose. I wanted to give them more emphasis.

Of all things that most people could say about Hendrick’s, if they were put on the spot, is that it’s made with cucumber. It’s become a calling card, giving the gin an air of a British summer’s day.

But it wasn’t that simple for Gracie to create. Cucumber is difficult to distill and in the early trials it would soften, blacken, and reek of cabbage. So it and the rose are handled differently. Gracie steeps the other nine botanicals for a minimum of 14 hours to extract the essential oils and flavours, then adds the rose and cucumber after distillation. 

The Hendrick’s Gin Palace

The Hendrick’s Gin Palace

The popularity of Hendrick’s Gin meant demand increased and so in 2015 an exact copy of the 19th century Bennett still was added. But that was only a precursor to the creation of a full-scale distillery for Hendrick’s, within the Girvan compound on the Ayrshire coast. 

Costing an estimated £13m, the construction of Hendrick’s Gin Palace began in 2016 and then opened in October 2018. Gin Palace is not an understatement: this place is one part Wizard’s chambers in Oz, one part Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, and another Queen Victoria’s favourite garden. It boasts a laboratory, a library, accommodation, a lecture theatre, an outdoor service area, three greenhouses, and three still houses. The main glasshouse is used for events, while the two smaller glasshouses are used to grow botanicals, one dedicated to growing Mediterranean plants to experiment with and another to simulate a tropical rainforest.

From a production set-up, the new step-up gave Gracie six stills to play with, four Bennett stills (three replicas and the original antique still from 1860), and two Carter-Heads (the 1948 original and another replica). Production remains intentionally small-scale, however, with Gracie overseeing the distillation of only 500 liters at a time to maintain quality control. This is very much her space to experiment, and you’ll notice from the Hendrick’s range that the way her sense of smell triggers memories and stories is a massive inspiration for the gins she creates.

Hendrick’s Gin has always walked its own path

The Hendrick’s Gin way: “a gin made oddly”

It wasn’t just great liquid that set Hendrick’s apart, however. From the start, it’s been a brand, one that has been cleverly marketed. The old Victorian medicine-style bottle was unlike anything else in drinks when it was launched, a roll-out that was done quietly. Bartenders were invited to try it first as the company directly contacted bars and hotels, letting the liquid speak for itself through word-of-mouth. 

The timing was perfect as the gin didn’t so much ride the coattails of the burgeoning cocktail scene of the new millennium as much as form part of its basis. The infusion of rose and cucumber gave the gin a different flavour profile that the bartenders appreciated. But it also provided the marketing department with an edge in the market. William Grant & Sons had a point of difference that it could celebrate and it wasted no time choosing to do just that​.

Hendrick’s was presenting itself as “a gin made oddly”, and leaning on a quirkier, more experimental vibe that resonated with increasingly curious consumers. Gin was nowhere in 2000, but a decade later that story was very different. Hendrick’s got in at the ground floor, establishing itself first as a cool outsider before becoming a household name right as the gin boom began to blossom. 

Hendrick’s Neptunia is one of many recent arrivals

The Hendrick’s Gin range

But the new kid on the block inevitably grows up and it soon became time for the brand to branch out and offer new additions to its core offering. You need a flavoured gin to be competitive today and Hendrick’s responded in kind. Lunar, Orbium, Neptunia, Flora Adora, and Grand Cabaret have all hit the market since 2017, with an absinthe joining the roster too. Here’s the range in full:

Hendrick’s Gin 70cl: The classic. The original. Since 1999.

Hendrick’s Grand Cabaret Gin 70cl: A sweet, aromatic gin, Gracie was inspired to create Grand Cabaret after learning about a 17th-century French experiment, where distilling mounds of stone fruit unexpectedly yielded a truly tasty concoction.

Hendrick’s Orbium Gin 70cl: Hendrick’s first new product after the original was released in 1999, Orbium is called a quininated gin, as it was distilled with additional extracts of quinine, wormwood, and blue lotus blossom.

Hendrick’s Neptunia Gin 70cl: A gin made to capture the glory of the sea, Gracie made Neptunia to honour her local Ayrshire coast and infused the expression with a host of coastal botanicals.

Hendrick’s Lunar Gin 70cl: A moonlit evening tending botanicals in the hothouse gave Gracie the idea to make this warming, spicy expression, inspired by that big ol’ ball of cheese we call the moon. 

Hendrick’s Flora Adora Gin 70cl: a very fresh and floral affair, as you might have guessed from the name, Flora Adora ramps up the floral botanicals, particularly those favoured by the pollinating insects who inspired Gracie.

Hendrick’s Absinthe 70cl: The first spirit Hendrick’s made that isn’t gin, its absinthe was really a gift for bartenders who aren’t afraid to experiment. It contains the classic Hendrick’s duo of rose and cucumber as is only 48% ABV, it won’t blow your head off.  

It’s worth taking a page out of Gracie’s book and doing some experimenting to find your favourite. We’re going to raise a glass of a classic Hendrick’s G&T to the brand right now though, if it’s all the same to you, and try to work out a clever way to conclude this story. 

Something like… “A gin by any other name wouldn’t smell as sweet. Because it doesn’t have rose in it.” No, that was rubbish. Come back to me. 

Nothing about this is ordinary

Hendrick’s Gin & Tonic

50ml Hendrick’s Gin

150ml tonic water

3 thinly sliced rounds of cucumber


Combine all ingredients in a highball glass filled with cubed ice, then lightly stir and garnish with three thinly sliced rounds of cucumber.

The post The story of Hendrick’s Gin appeared first on Master of Malt Blog.

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