When some Scotsmen, already distillers of Scotch, decided in 1999 to begin distilling a gin, they had the good sense not to name it something like MacAlastair’s or MacFarlane’s. I think this counts as a case of mind over matter: no matter what the gin tasted like, with a name that evoked Scotland and Scotch whisky, it would simply not taste right. Instead they christened it Hendrick’s, a name seemingly well chosen for its lack of a very obvious national character. It sounds like a name from the British Isles, to be sure, but from where within them, precisely? It stands fairly solidly on its own, a fate that the distillers may well wish for their gin.
So, Hendrick’s Gin is distilled by William Grant & Sons, known for Glenfiddich and The Balvenie amongst other caramel-colored tipples. Hendrick’s Gin has been rather well-received since its launch, being rated as “The Best Gin in the World” by the Wall Street Journal in 2003, and garnering much other praise all over the place.
It is an unusual gin. While utilizing juniper—the trademark botanical of all gins—Hendrick’s is marked most by the infusion of rose petal (Bulgarian Rosa Damascena) and cucumber. It is the flavor of this latter cylindrical gourd which is most obvious on first tasting. Cucumber is the unexpected note which defines the melody that Hendrick’s plays upon one’s tongue. Now, this scribe considers himself a gin drinker, and in general approach leans away from gins that try not to taste like good old fashioned gin; this would be those that bury the juniper beneath waves of citrus. If I want my gin to taste so citrusy, I’ll add orange juice to it, thanks very much. When it comes to tipples, I’m inclined towards the traditional rather than the novel. Hendrick’s is most certainly novel, yet it also counts as the first non-traditional gin that I genuinely like. Once in a while, I suppose, someone comes up with a variation on something solid and reliable which actually works. Cucumber adds a warmth and a softness that seems just right, and adds nothing loud and offensive. (For more on the various peculiarities in the process of distilling and producing Hendrick’s Gin, you can visit the relatively amusing website for the stuff.)
One reason Hendrick’s might immediately suit me, however, is that I generally like to drink gin fairly plainly, with just a little water or ice. To what degree the novel flavor of Hendrick’s will please the individual palate when mixed in a variety of cocktails is open to question and would require lengthy study. Experimenting with it in a martini, I found it to be floral and complex, but relatively unsatisfying. It doesn’t seem to me to match well with vermouth, and the end result is not sufficiently clean and smooth for my taste. I quickly came up with a more pleasing alternative, however. Stir the Hendrick’s on its own with ice in your cocktail mixer, for about 20 – 25 seconds, and then strain it into a chilled martini glass. And there you are: the best Hendrick’s martini may be simply Hendrick’s, au naturel (it is 88 proof, so handle accordingly). If anything must be added, I’d make it a cocktail onion.
Price-wise (and especially when one considers that the distillers attest to making it in tiny 450 litre batches) it is not so bad at all. It is priced in my neighborhood as a premium gin, but currently for significantly less than some far more ordinary ones. Of-course, if one is strapped, one might try this poor-man’s Hendrick’s: take a bargain-basement but solid ordinary gin like Gordon’s or Fleischmann’s and add a thin slice of cucumber (I think the English or hot house cucumber is best). You may find it works nicely, but don’t let this keep you from having the real thing when you’re a little more flush. Innovation needs to be supported, after all, at least where it is positive, and it’s a little difficult to think of a more uncomplicated positive event in this world in recent years than the invention of Hendrick’s Gin.
Rating: Nine and a half out of 10 lead pipes.