Hendrick’s Gin Palace

Girvan, Scotland | C.2018

Photo Credit: Accidentally Wes Anderson

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Gin & tonic? Tom Collins? How about a Negroni? Pick your fancy, but throughout history, Gin’s popularity has at times been on the rocks. The spirit’s spotlight began to brighten in the early 1800s just as legislation was locking down on how merchants could distribute their wares. New safety laws made it impossible for Public Houses [or ‘pubs’ for short] to stay afloat, but gin makers didn’t let this stop them. Instead, they transformed the playing field, doubling down on once dingy establishments and turning them into ‘Gin Palaces’ decorated in mahogany, brass, and gold embossed mirrors. Unfortunately, this golden age was short-lived.

By the late 20th Century, the spirit had fallen out of favor as patrons were bored of the ‘sensible’ single-still, London Dry Gin. Thankfully, in 1999, that would all change in an unusual, arguably less opulent “Gin Palace” — an old bombproof munitions shed on the Scottish Ayshire coast.

Inspired by the memory of a summer tea party, Charles Gordon tasked the young chemist Lesley Gracie with crafting a unique take on the old mainstay utilizing two peculiar ingredients: cucumber & rose – certainly an odd request for gin notes of the time. An even greater challenge? He set her up with two separate types of stills he had purchased at auction a few decades prior — a Carter-Head from 1948 and a Bennett old enough to know Queen Victoria. This would have seemed like a Herculean task to any standard gin distiller, but perhaps through a touch of magic – or maybe just a good guess – Gracie cracked the code.

In an unheard of approach, Lesley orchestrated two separate distillation processes with a singular bed of botanicals, ultimately concocting a unique new formula for the traditional spirit and the base for Hendrick’s Gin. Like the everlasting gobstopper, the original recipe remains a trade secret, and using Lesley’s now beloved fraternal twin stills, it is chemically impossible to plagiarize the mixture.

But just as drinking establishments went from dingy to chic, Lesley’s laboratory was also in need of an upgrade. So in 2018, the Hendrick’s team elevated their own home base from bomb shelter to proper ‘Palace’. They erected a Victorian-inspired palm house equipped with a lab and lecture hall that would make even Mr. Wonka jealous. Surrounded by gardens of botanicals there are even two solariums filled with tropical fauna from Lesley’s past adventures to the Amazon and beyond – and even a rogue Scottish grown banana can be found ripe for the picking. 

Though Lesley is at the helm with her literal “Cabinet of Curiosities” (seriously, she’s got one) upon arriving at this peculiar palace, guests are encouraged to “Step inside and open your mind.” Maybe that’s Lesley’s way of saying one can’t mimic the magic in the original bottle, but there are recipes still waiting to be written – or maybe room for one more good guess.

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