Gin in a teapot anyone?
Cucumber and roses are part of the mix in a gin brand with genteel appeal
Mixing a perfect gin and tonic at the Henrick’s distillery in Scotland
Cocktail drinking is back in fashion – a little act of defiance, perhaps, against the dreariness of the Age of Austerity. There are historical parallels. Cocktails, albeit illicit, helped to fuel the Jazz Age which lifted spirits during America’s Prohibition Era in the 1920s.
Gin is the traditional base of many great cocktails and the deceptively simple, but hard-to-get-right, summer classic is the G & T, which is gin and tonic water poured over ice cubes and served with a twist of lemon or lime. The drink is perceived to be quintessentially English so it’s a surprise to discover that one of the most fashionable of the many new gin brands is made in a remote Scottish distillery.
Hendrick’s gin is made by William Grant and Sons – a family-owned company best known as a producer of Scotch whisky (which the Scots spell without an ‘e’) and which owns the Tullamore Dew brand. It’s distilled at Girvan, a seaside village near the Turnberry golf resort, overlooking the Firth of Clyde and the stunning volcanic island of Ailsa Craig.
Gin’s distinctive aroma comes from juniper berries, which grow on evergreen trees of the cypress family, but other ingredients such as coriander seeds, orange peel and angelica root are also used to add flavour. Hendrick’s taste was created by adding two novel ingredients: the essences of cucumber and rose petals.
Hendrick’s master distiller Lesley Gracie is one of only four people who know the exact recipe. One of the world’s few female master distillers, she admits that the taste “may not be to everyone’s liking, but it does have a following amongst the most vanguard of gin drinkers”.
Indeed, the label is adorned with the unashamedly frank – and elitist – slogan: “It is not for everyone.”
The black bottle, which wouldn’t look out of place in Dr Crippen’s medicine cabinet, looks solidly Victorian though Hendrick’s is a thoroughly modern creation, launched in 2000.
The brand is in the “super-premium” category – marketing speak for “expensive” – and was introduced to the Irish market four years ago. Its target market the 25-34 age bracket. It’s now sold in more than 400 off-licences and is also stocked in an increasing number of bars throughout the country.
A slick marketing campaign includes promoting “an unusual twist on the traditional tea time experience” where Hendrick’s gin cocktails are served using branded teapots, cups and saucers at selected venues.
Hendrick’s has hired a global ambassador for the brand too. David Piper is a dandy in the best tradition of barking English eccentricity and inventor of “the steam-powered cocktail shaker”. He travels the world teaching barmen new tricks. His creations include a cocktail called the Iron Lady, which is a mix of Hendrick’s gin, whiskey, maraschino liqueur, vermouth and orange bitters garnished with lemon zest. It was developed for a Margaret Thatcher-themed book launch.
Gin’s image has been transformed since it was introduced to England, and subsequently Ireland, from Holland by King William of Orange. Initially the spirit was consumed in industrial quantities especially by the poor and it became the 18th century equivalent of crack cocaine. An ensuing “gin craze” sparked moral panic as vividly depicted in Hogarth’s famous engraving, Gin Lane. Dubbed “mother’s ruin”, it became taboo in polite society.
In the 19th century, gin gradually became popular again and the Victorians built splendid gin palaces, the forerunners of lounge bars. Gin’s respectability was clinched when Englishmen (and their memsahibs) went out in the searing midday sun of colonial India and dissolved the anti-malarial compound quinine in tonic water (to mask its bitter taste) and mixed it with gin.
Winston Churchill allegedly claimed that “gin and tonic” had saved the lives of more soldiers than all the doctors in the British army. In the 20th century, gin attracted aficionados as diverse as James Bond (a martini “shaken, not stirred”) and the late Queen Mother (whose favourite tipple was “three parts Dubonnet, seven parts gin, with a twist of lemon”).
These cocktails seem positively mild alongside some of the truly wacky concoctions on the Hendrick’s website, including the oddly-named London Stormy. The recipe lists the ingredients as Hendrick’s gin, quinine cordial, fresh lime, celery bitters and Irish stout. They should be stirred together and poured over ice into a highball glass and then garnished “with a wheel of lime, rose bud and gherkin all on one cocktail stick”
Rather a long way Betjeman’s genteel suburban Surrey: “And cool the verandah that welcomes us in / To the six-o’clock news and a lime-juice and gin”.
The Ultimate Gin and Tonic
Hendrick’s gin and Fever-Tree tonic served with ice and cucumber
Hendrick’s gin served with apple juice, fresh mint and lime wedges
Hendrick’s gin served with ice, elderflower liqueur, sugar syrup and freshly squeezed lemon juice and Fever-Tree soda water. See hendricksgin.com for more recipes