Can you imagine gin that has the subtle aromas of cucumbers and roses?
That was the one question that David Stewart, the master blender at William Grant & Sons distillers, was toying with one evening as he sat in a garden sipping his secret drink, a gin aperitif. It was the fag end of the last century. His 100-year-old company had already made itself a name in the field of Scotch whisky (Glenfiddich, Grant's). Now, why not try a Scottish gin featuring the tang of roses and (he looked fondly at the cucumber sandwich in his hand again), cucumbers!
It was a radical thought in all ways.
At the same time, Lesley Gracie, a degree graduate from the Royal Society of Chemistry, London, joined William Grant & Sons. Her love for nature and botanicals even from her childhood coupled with her experience of making new medicines palatable at a pharmaceutical company primed her for the new job at the Grant's.
So when David Stewart tossed the idea of the new gin with fancy aromas Lesley spiritedly grabbed the ball.
To begin with, the duo wanted to see how the pungence of a juniper-led spirit distilled in an old Bennett pot still from 1860 could be cut by a lighter, subtler one born in a Carter-head still. To that perfect marriage, they showered essences of rose petal and cucumber in small quantities before diluting the mix to a bottling strength around 42 percent alcohol. Hardly did they know what they were painfully constructing would roll out soon to revamp a whole industry.
Finally, Lesley and David perfected a unique and groundbreaking recipe inspired by nature. A new gin, distilled 21 times, something the world had never seen, was born.
What should the new product be called?
It was Janet Sheed Roberts, the oldest member of the William Grant family who named the gin - Hendrick's. She had in her mind a gardener, Hendrick, who tended plants at her home in Dufftown when she was young. Perfect for a drink inspired by nature.
In 2000, just one year after Hendrick's was launched in Scotland, William Grant and Son's took the new product to the US market. Not without trepidation, for they knew, anything from the Continent that dares to call itself gin other than the usual London dry style would be treated with contempt.
But no. The instincts of David Stewart and Leslie Gracie's hard work and knowledge could not go that wrong. Eyebrows were raised of course at the beginning, but that could not prevent Hendrick's from finally romping home as a victor. The new gin became a rage in the US, ringing in what aficionados later called a 'ginaissance,' inspiring other gin distillers to dare out of the beaten track. Even the dark glass bottle of Hendrick's inspired by the aesthetic of Victorian apothecaries became a talking point among drinkers. William Grant & Sons carved out a new niche in the premium gin category too.
A sensation can be a very fleeting thing in the world of spirits unless supported by some intelligent marketing.
Cucumber day, motorcycles, side cars, trams, hot air balloons, the marketing wing of Hendrick's was adding new chapters to the textbook of the advertisement industry. 'The most unusual gin' on its label proudly refers to 1886 as its establishment date, a nod to the founder of the company - William Grant.
So what would you get than roses and cucumbers from a bottle of Hendrick's?
A lot. Your taste buds would be busy teasing out other botanicals like juniper, coriander, orange, lemon, angelic, orris root, cubeb berries, caraway seeds, chamomile, elderflower, etc.
It all began from one man's daydream in a garden.Manu Remakant is a freelance writer who also runs a video blog - A Cup of Kavitha - introducing world poetry to Malayalees.