I love gin. I also love highlighting the women who work in wine and spirits. Here’s a look at one of the most popular brands in the world and the woman that crafted it.
Hendrick’s Gin, owned by William Grant and Sons (owners of Glenfiddich Scotch Whisky), was launched in 1999 and broke the gin mold with its trademark bottle and characteristic cucumber and rose driven botanical bill. Lesley Gracie, Master Distiller for Hendrick’s, was tasked with creating a gin that defied convention. She did just that.
While looking to the past for inspiration (English rose gardens and cucumber tea sandwiches), Gracie didn’t hold to it strictly; even taking a step away from the popular hallmark style of London Dry Gin* and instead focusing on quality and flavour. Even the bottle itself was groundbreaking – dark and squat, reminiscent of a Victorian Era Apothecary bottle. And yet, defying convention is what helped Hendrick’s rise to the top. In 10 years, from 2007 to 2017, they went from selling 73,000 cases of gin to selling over one million. They were arguably the ones to kick off the craft gin scene and brought about a “ginaissance” helping to bring gin to a more prominent place in the consumer world.
An avid gardener and creator, Gracie never set out to be a gin distiller. As with so many of the best things in life, it happened organically. From Yorkshire, England with a background in pharmaceuticals, she moved to Scotland and began working for William Grant and Sons in 1988, moving quickly to their liquid development department. A decade later, Charles Gordon (president of WG&S at the time) tasked her with creating a gin that eventually became Hendrick’s.
Located in South Ayrshire, the modest operation underwent a £13 million recreation with the unveiling of The Hendrick’s Gin Palace in 2017 – a new, brilliantly modern distillery across the street from the original distillation house. The construction of this “playground for experimentation, invention and curiosity” allowed for a doubling of production and includes several replicas of the original copper stills – a Bennet still from 1860 and a Carterhead from 1948, both of which are still in use today. But the stills aren’t the only impressive items of note – there’s also a walled, Victorian style garden, and the distillery itself is flanked by two enormous greenhouses, which are used to grow any number of unique botanicals and flora from around the globe. Master Distiller Gracie also has a new laboratory, flavour library, lecture theatre and bar at her disposal. How I wish I was in her shoes right now!
For having such an enormous workplace/playground built for her, she’s not let it get to her head. Even in print, her quirky and vibrant essence shines through. Just reading this article gives a sense of her genuine spirit and makes Gracie sound like a woman after my own, curious heart.
And Gracie isn’t the only woman important to Hendrick’s gin. Janet Sheed Robert, the oldest member of the Grant family (and at the time of her death was 110 years old, making her the oldest woman in Scotland), named the gin – after an expert family gardener.
*London Dry Gin has legal specifications regarding its labeling use. One of these requirements is that no flavouring substances can be added after the final distillation. Hendrick’s signature cucumber and rose botanicals are added AFTER distillation, which makes them ineligible for the London Dry status.