How did you become a master distiller?
It lies in my fascination with flavours and how they work together. From an early age, I was fascinated with the curious world of botanicals, and at the age of four, in Yorkshire, I began serving my family teas derived from various plants and twigs. I developed my interest in science and experimentation at the University of Hull, where I studied chemistry. From there I had a successful career in the pharmaceutical industry for 12 years before relocating to South Ayrshire in 1988 to marry. Here I joined the technical team at the William Grant & Son’s distillery as a chemist, where I worked across a number of areas including the development of flavours in whisky. In 1999, I was approached by former chairman and great grandson of William Grant, Charles Gordon, to create an ‘ultra-premium’ gin – Hendrick’s. I was appointed as the master distiller, and from there went on to spearhead the development of the world’s most unusual gin.
What is a still, and how does it work?
Hendrick’s Gin continues to be made with the marriage of two types of distillate and two types of stills – one that has bathed the botanicals and one that has steamed them. The Hendrick’s family of stills has flourished and now stands at a proud six – four Bennett stills including the original antique copper pot still hailing from 1860, and three precise replicas. Then there are two Carter Heads, including one original constructed in 1948 and one exact reproduction. The new stills have been active for almost a year, producing the same delicious liquid that tastes exactly like Hendrick’s did on the day it was launched.
Hendrick’s has been really innovative with its distillations. How do you go about experimenting with new techniques and infusions?
Hendrick’s Gin was born out of playful curiosity, and a delight in the unusual. Our fundamental belief in the value of self-expression empowered me and our innovation team to try everything and anything once, no matter how frivolous it seems. We believe great ideas can come from the oddest places, and by exposing ourselves to whatever stimuli available, connections can be made that might offer the next breakthrough in taste or flavour. As a fifth generation family distiller, we have the luxury of thinking long-term, not having to answer to shareholders whilst having the support of the family to explore the outer reaches of experimentation on a daily basis.
What innovations do you have planned going forward? Any hints you can reveal?
We have a long and proud tradition of exploring new tastes and flavours, and producing new variants that have purposefully focused on the bartender community. Newest to launch will be Orbium, a Quininated gin, or what Hendrick’s would taste like in a parallel universe. It’s made with Quinine, Wormwood and Blue Lotus Blossom. Another variant soon to launch is the limited-edition Midsummer Solstice, which is infused with floral essences and flavours that capture the ‘aromatic intensity of a midsummer day’.
What inspired your love of botanicals?
Working as master distiller for Hendrick’s brings together two of my passions: gardening and innovation. I love flowers and plants. Right from when I was little, I used to mess about in the garden and pick flowers. And gin is the best spirit you can do different things with; it really gives you the opportunity to experiment – I use the word ‘play’. I didn’t wake up one morning and think ‘I want to be a gin distiller’; it’s just one of those things that happened.
What’s the best way to drink Hendrick’s Gin?
Hendrick’s Gin is primarily infused with English Cucumber and Bulgarian Rose. Traditionally, it is served with refreshing tonic water.
Article excerpts from https://www.houseandleisure.co.za/