Above: Lesley Gracie with her new baby, Hendrick’s Absinthe
You can always expect the unexpected from those curious minds at Hendrick’s. The tone was set with Hendrick’s Master Distiller Lesley Gracie’s vision to infuse a most unusual combination of rose petals and cucumber along with 11 other botanicals in a gin (second nature now of course but downright bonkers in 1999 when it launched). Today it continues with the launch of Hendrick’s Absinthe.
Yes, you read that right. The forward-thinking Ms Gracie has worked her magic on what must be one of the most fascinating, totally misunderstood drinks categories of all time: absinthe. “It’s a little outside the spectrum that we usually function in but Lesley has taken absinthe and reimagined it for a modern age,” says Global Ambassador Ally Martin. Not for the sake of it, we might add but because the team feel that our palates are ready.
Above: Ally Martin
It’s the day before the big launch where the brand new liquid – until now only spoken about in hushed tones by a handful of people and seen by even fewer – will be revealed to a handful of key bartenders. Understandably Ally is excited and a wee bit nervous. “The idea has been germinating for around 13 years,” he continues. “At the time Lesley was focusing on wormwood and quinine but she became fascinated with wormwood and the absinthe seed was sown. Hendrick’s Absinthe has been three years in the making”
At first it seems like an unlikely transition from gin to absinthe but when you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Absinthe is a spirit associated with poets and artists and dreamers – people who dare to defy convention. Much like Hendrick’s… “As a category absinthe has been neglected for a long time, and like gin until a couple of decades ago, was seen as a scourge of society. But it’s also similar to gin in the way that it’s produced as it’s a botanical spirit, and that’s been really exciting for us.”
So what’s it like? We tasted it straight, at room temperature; in a Corpse Reviver #2; then lengthened with tonic, and again with ginger beer. Ladies and gents, we’re happy to say we have a hit on our hands. Each drink brought out a different nuance of Hendrick’s bold take on the category, balancing complexity and freshness in equal parts.
It’s absinthe alright but not in that aggressive slap-you-around-the-chops kind of way that most people think of. Under Lesley’s direction it’s given a lighter, brighter, crisper character, making it much more approachable. And more importantly, enjoyable. We put that down to Lesley’s winning ways with florality. “We’ve pushed up the botanicals,” confirms Ally. “At the core there’s wormwood and star anise but in Hendrick’s style, it’s blended with a palette of yarrow, elderflower, neroli, rose and cucumber.” Also worth noting, it’s been dialled down to a more agreeable 48% abv, meaning that it plays nicely with other ingredients.
“We’ve looked at every cocktail recipe that would have had absinthe in and they’ve stood up to the test,” says Ally proudly. “Hendrick’s Absinthe has really brought a new characteristic to drinks like the Corpse Reviver #2 which previously would have had two dashes of absinthe with the gin, but what you have now is our absinthe replacing the gin.” It certainly gets our thumbs up. As do the longer drinks mentioned earlier.
Where can you get to try it out? ‘Fraid that you’re going to have to wait for a while. At the moment only 4,000 bottles have been produced and as of today, they’ll be in the trusted, very creative hands of 30 key bartenders in the UK. In true Hendrick’s style, the absinthe was introduced in dramatic, totally unexpected fashion last night. “We’ve invited the bartenders to meet us at Lyaness under the pretence that we would be taking them to a secret location just outside London,” Ally explains ahead of Operation Hendrick’s Absinthe Reveal. “On the way, the coach that we’re travelling on will ‘break down’ just outside a church on Euston Road. Then a ‘vicar’ will appear and offer the bartenders a cup of tea before leading them into a crypt. It’s dark and a little bit spooky which adds to the intrigue and drama,” he says with a glint in his eye. “We’ve built a secret wall which Lesley will be seated behind – all very Belle Epoque in style – and we’ll reveal the bottle as well as the person who created the liquid inside it.”
More details coming soon.