Hendricks Search of the Perfect Botanical

View of areaby Andrew Chalk

If you have a successful and distinctive gin on the market, do you rest on your laurels? Is the recipe put to bed? Not if you are Hendrick’s, the family-owned distiller of the cucumber-rich spirit that is always the first to be recognized in blind tastings. They explore for new botanicals that stretch the limits of the definition of gin.  

Hendrick's Kanaracuni MartiniHendrick’s Kanaracuni Martini

So it was when veteran explorer and naturalist Charles Brewer-Carias invited them to the virtually uncharted interior of Venezuela, far up the reaches of the Orinoco river where the botanic diversity might well yield new aromatics and flavors.

Hendrick’s brand ambassador David Piper and master distiller Lesley Gracie, with Brewer-Carias, botanist Francisco Delascio and a small crew consisting of a medic and video guy headed to Kanaracuni, a tiny village deep in the Venezuelan rain forest, for two weeks of daily expeditions to forage for botanicals. So remote was Kanaracuni, that it took Gracie five flights, starting in Glasgow, Scotland, with three within Venezuela, to get there. They eventually landed in an open space in the jungle via single-engine plane.

Lesley making the distillateLesley making the distillate

Gracie took her ten-liter alembic still and distilled a different witches brew from the assembled herbs and flowers each day. It was one particular flower that caught her attention: the “Scorpion Tail” plant. She distilled 8.4 litres of concentrated Scorpion Tail and returned it back to the Hendrick’s distillery in Scotland, evading the machine-gun rich security of Caracas airport.

She blended the Kanaracuni concentrate with Hendrick’s to yield just 560 bottles of Kanaracuni gin. It will never be available retail. Instead it was destined for bartenders in select cities around the world.

David & the chiefDavid and the Chief

As a major U.S. market, Dallas was among those cities, and last week David Piper and Leslie Gracie presented it to a get-together of the city’s best bartenders at a one-of-a-kind event at the Dallas Zoo. We tasted the Kanaracuni gin, with its its complex deep green note, accompanied by hors d’oeuvres with a south american focus. We snacked on mealworms and crickets while watching a movie of the trip. The Dallas Zoo brought out animals from the region for the impressed bartenders to get close to. At the end, there was a chance to shoot ‘poison darts’ at Piper using the traditional hunting weapon of the Kanaracuni people.

Nosing Scorpion Tail plantNosing the Scorpion Tail plant

Why do this when you have no product to sell at the end of it? Well, who will bartenders recommend when a customer asks for a specific gin in their cocktail? It is all part of burnishing the reputation, and that Hendricks did with aplomb.

IMG_20140803_162255Yummie mealworm snack


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