Rusty Sky: Hendricks Gin

Christmas 2009, Eve came over to my house to exchange Christmas gifts.  I had mentioned a drink that I love known as the James Bond Martini which is created using gin, vodka and Lillet blanc. She said that she would like to try it, so I made us each one.  The key to all martini’s is to use the absolute best ingredients and gin is no exception. I have tried many and I still stick with Hendrick’s. It is beyond good. It is like comparing Two Buck Chuck Cab to Joseph Phelp Insignia Cab. In this article, I would like to go into the history and process that makes this gin so unique and fantastic .

Hendricks is located in Girvan which is a small fishing village in South Ayreshire, Scotland . The heritage of Hendrick’s started with William Grant who built Glenfiddich Distillery in 1886.  The Grant family own and distill Scotch whisky and many other spirits under the name William Grant & Sons Ltd.  Hendrick’s gin was introduced onto the market in 1999.  In 2003, it was named the best gin in the world by The Wall Street Journal.  The San Francisco World Spirits Competition, awarded them two double gold, two gold, and two silver medals in the years 2004-2005 and 2007-2010. The Beverage Testing Institute gave the gin well-above-average scores of 93, 94 and 95 in 2007, 2009, and 2010, respectively.

The master distiller for Hendrick’s Gin is Lesley Gracie.  She is one of only three people that know the secret recipe for this fine gin.  Lesley’s background is, you guessed it, chemistry.  To me, chemistry is extremely important in understanding and creating fine alcoholic beverages.  Let’s face it, it is all about chemical reactions and interactions.  Lesley was given the challenge to create a high quality gin for the company.  Spending a lot of time in the laboratory, she created a gin blended with juniper berry, angelica root, coriander and orris root, chamomile and of course an infusion of cucumber and rose.  Here are some very interesting facts about the distillery where Hendrick’s Gin is made.  In 1966, Charles Gordon (William Grants Great Grandson) purchased an 1860 Bennet Copper pot and a 1948 Carter-Head still and restored them.
Hendrick’s gin uses an extremely unique distillation process.  Their distillation process uses two stills instead of the typical single still used by other gin producers.  There process is as follows.  Hendrick’s adds a neutral spirit and water and a recipe of botanicals to the Bennet copper still.  The mixture is allowed to soak (cold) for 24-36 hours extracting the flavors from the botanicals.  After cold soaking, the still is heated to a boil causing a vapor to rise which collects on a cold condenser where the vapor is returned to liquid  The liquid is then collected for the next step.  The collected liquid is transferred to the Carter-Head still for a second distillation process.  This is where the lighter floral and sweet fragrances are infused into the gin.  All botanicals used in the Carter-Head are placed in a basket at the very top of the still. So instead of boiling the botanicals in the pot as done in the Bennett still where very strong aromatics as juniper are created in the spirit, the Carter-Head bathes the botanicals in the alcohol vapors only as it passes through the basket. As the vapor rises up through the still going through the basket of botanicals,  the hot alcohol vapor extracts the lighter, sweeter floral flavors from the botanicals before collecting on the cold condenser and returning to a liquid.  A lot of the heavier products collected from the first distillation are left behind during this second distillation.  This process is what gives Hendrick’s Gin its distinctive aroma and flavor.  The antique stills produce only 120 gallons of gin at a time.  Only 200,000 cases are produced a year.

Lesley always samples each of the 120 gallons produced much like vintners sampling barrels. Lesley does not want to modernize her process as it is the antique equipment and hands on process that makes this extremely delicious gin what it is.  If you have never sampled gins, I challenge you to sample a variety of gins then try Hendrick’s.  I loved Tanqueray, Tangueray 10 and Blue Sapphire before I was introduced to Hendrick’s.  To me, there is no other gin that can compete with it.  If you know of one, please tell me so I can try it.

Before I forget, if you would like to try the famous James Bond Martini that convinced Eve that there is such a thing as fine gin, the recipe is as follows.  Pour 3 oz gin, 1 oz vodka and 1/2 oz Lillet Blanc into a cocktail shaker half-filled with cracked ice. Shake well, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon.


Rusty Sly