Hendricks Gin: Cucumber, meet Rose

I think most people who have spent any time at all with a bottle have a particular spiritual nemesis (mine is bourbon, which makes me weep like a baby).  But for some reason, gin has this notoriety of turning Dr. Jekylls everywhere into drunk, venom-spewing Mr. Hydes.  I heard this theory the other night while bartending, that the culprit is a sensitivity to juniper berries, which seems plausible. In its unripened form, the juniper berry is hard and green which lends the tannic bitterness to both the gin and its drinker.

Then there’s the seedy side of gin–the roaring twenties with luscious egg-white thickened cocktails. Of course these fancy cocktails came into existence because of the foul taste of nefariously produced ‘bathtub gin.’ Trust me, no one wants an extra-dry martini with soap scum floating at the top.

But we no longer have to resort to the bathtub as distillery, we can leave it to the professionals.  Hendrick’s, for instance, makes a gin so deliciously pure and clear that you are never in danger of a sudsy aftertaste.  Infused with cucumbers and rose petals, this gin has that classic herbaceous quality characteristic of a high end spirit. Unlike London Dry styled gins, the herbs employed in building its aroma aren’t boiled in the still, rather they are steamed, their vapors lending subtle flavor to the liquor. Although it is herbaceous, Hendricks doesn’t drag your palate through the herb garden as does Herbsaint or Absinthe. It may be a bit frilly for Tanqueray drinkers but it is worth straying from the flock for those with an adventurous spirit. And it led the revolution of apothecary styled liquor bottles.

Fun with Mixology: The Hendricks Rosegarden
2.5 oz Hendricks Gin
1 oz Rosehip Liquor
Splash Pink Grapefruit Juice
Fee Brothers Grapefruit Bitters
Shake vigorously, strain into chilled martini glass. Garnish with rose petals or a cucumber wheel

Portland Distiller’s Row

New Deal Vodka Line

(c) New Deal Distillery

The craft distillery scene in Portland is so massive that it even has its own guild, started with seed money from the state of Oregon. For me, having come from a Pennsylvania, a state (er, Commonwealth), with  punitive liquor laws, to see Portland’s magical guild of micro-distilleries and state-funded togetherness threw me for a loop. Really? The state is helping someone sell booze and treating the distilling process as an art? Not the liquor control board I know.

Oregon isn’t the only state with guilds for artisinal distillers, but they certainly appear to be the best organized and most articulate about their mission–to bring their craft liquor to as many people as possible. Their branding is hip, well-considered and well-placed, which gives them a craft edge with the brand credibility of a major.

What strikes me as uniquely Portland about the distillers and their guild is their willingness to work as a collective of companies even though they have potentially competing products. The global liquor conglomerates don’t usually do this. They tend to have one line each of whiskey, vodka, gin, tequila and maybe a few bourbons or different price point lines of one spirit.

It’s an industry with cutthroat competition at its very core (think of the fact that the prohibition era incubated organized crime as we know it). However, this ragtag group of distillers all just want to get along, bonding over their passion for the craft. OK, it might not be as touchy-feely as all that. In working together, the distillers hope to get bulk buying power, more visibility and the ability to reach a broader customer base.

This is a smart move. The aforementioned global conglomerates all have ginormous operating and marketing budgets and can take out consecutive ads on the back of Rolling Stone (not cheap).In reality, as individual brands, these micro-distillers (or at least the best of them) may as well roll over to Beam Global now and all of the craft will go out of the relationship.

This brave new world of spirits leaves me with a challenge. I have to try them all! How? It will be a job of work but I will muscle through it.