Alchemists were the original apothecary. And what wonders they concocted. Dame Edith Sitwell’s English Eccentrics cites a long list of restoratives that were doled out in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries to invalids suffering an array of ills. Along with sundry plants and herbs, ingredients included live hog lice, black tips of crab’s claws, the inward skin of a capon’s gizzard, goose dung, human skulls.
Remedies became more refined over the years, with a plethora of paregorics and soporifics coming to the fore in order to soothe what ailed ye, and yes, to help ye sleep.
Gin has a long history as a medicinal. It was first produced in Holland in the 17th century and sold in chemist shops to treat, namely, stomach complaints, gout, and gallstones. To make it more palatable, the Dutch added juniper (From jenever. Hence, gin).
Now there is gin. And there is Hendrick’s Gin. Hendrick’s is a wondrous elixir that comes packaged in a quaint apothecary’s bottle reminiscent of the Victorian era. The apothecary bottle was originally intended to protect the healing powers possessed by the liquid within. It only makes sense that a gin as intricately flavored as Hendrick’s, as expressively powerful, as infused as it is with “delightfully odd” aromatics, would be bottled in such a vessel.
Counting among the 11 botanicals used in Hendrick’s (with a notable exclusion of hog lice, goose dung) are angelica, chamomile, caraway, coriander, meadowsweet, lemon and orange peels, orris root, and, of course, juniper. Its final triumph is the addition of Dutch cucumber and Bulgarian rose petal. This gin is an aromatic wonderland.
The distilling process plays a great role in imparting these gorgeous aromas. Using Carter-Head and Bennett Stills (both built in the 1860s, the Carter-Head being only one of four operating in the world today), the botanicals are steeped in neutral grain alcohol in the Bennett Still while a much more “luxurious distillation” takes place in the Carter-Head. It is there that baskets of botanicals experience a steady vapor passing over them before returning to liquid form. A leisurely bath, indeed! The two spirits are then combined with the rose petal and cucumber.
It is difficult to convey the delight one experiences once Hendrick’s is in the mouth, on the palate. It forces one’s eyes closed. It positively dares one to swallow. Offer Hendrick’s to one who professes an aversion to gin, and you will most likely witness a most zealous conversion. Hendrick’s is divine on its own or with a splash of soda or tonic. And with its rich infusion of spices and herbs, it makes a great cocktail.
I had the pleasure of meeting one of Philadelphia’s finer mixologists – Katie Loeb – at Chick’s Wine Bar. This goddess of varietals is a connoisseur of wine and spirits who revels in creating her own cordials and grenadines for mixing in the classics, as well as in cocktails of her own design. And, like me, she has a fondness for Hendrick’s.
I decided to stick to the classics and Katie made me the finest gimlet I’ve ever experienced. Van, another customer, had his mixed with Tanqueray; and the difference, in a side by side tasting, was significant. My drink was much more delicate, his not so refined.
Then it was to the Gibson, the classic martini garnished with pickled onions. I was eager to see whether the spices, herbs, and floral aromatics in the Hendrick’s could hold up to an onion or two. My companion Paul wasn’t as delighted as me – he likes his Gibsons a bit coarser – but I was thrilled at the subtlety that Hendrick’s imparted to this drink.
Of course I had to try some of Katie’s other creations (not all gin based). And after a few, I can highly recommend a trip down to Chick’s Wine Bar and, if Katie is in, ask her for the Aviatrix (her twist on the Aviation), or her amazing Mumbai Mule (alas, no recipes were doled out, but all drinks were full of surprises and Katie’s perfect, loving touch! She’s genius, she is).
So whatever ails ye, be it dropsie, chilblains, good old-fashioned religious or love melancholia, or perhaps nothing at all, Hendrick’s Gin (straight up or concocted in a fashion) is sure to be the cure you are seeking. I leave you with the classic Hendrick’s Gimlet. Simply shake, strain, raise to lips, smell, sip, and sigh.
2 oz Hendrick’s Gin
½ oz Rose Lime Juice
1 lime wedge
Pour the gin and lime juice into a mixing glass ½-filled with ice cubes. Shake then strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with lime wedge.
Special thanks to Dame Edith Sitwell, Katie Loeb at Chick’s Wine Bar, Cocktailer Extraordinaire Paul Aliferis, SG, and www.hendricksgin.com, one and all, for providing content, insight, great reading, company, and, ultimately, a lovely experience. It was a pleasure.