Sticking to your knitting can be a tad boring. Hendrick’s Gin is a brand of gin launched in 1999 by William Grant & Sons from their distillery in Girvan and its distinctive cucumber and rose infused spirit has long established itself as a market leader in contemporary style gins. However, in recent years they have become a bit more adventurous, perhaps in reaction to the pressures of the ginaissance, launching a series of limited-edition gins, of which Hendrick’s Neptunia Gin is this year’s (2022) offering. I picked up a bottle at my local Waitrose store.
Hendrick’s used a blend of spirits produced in two different ways. Using a small pot still called a Bennett still which is filled with neutral spirit, the botanicals, and water, it is left to seep for 24 hours. The still is then heated and as it boils, vapours move up the column to the condenser, where they are collected. Once all the alcohol is collected the result is an oily, juniper-heavy spirit.
The other still used, a Carter-Head Still, one of few left in the world, deploys a different method. The botanicals are placed in flavour baskets at the very top of the still through which alcohol vapours pass and extract the requisite flavours and pass them into the condenser. Only lighter, sweeter, floral flavours can be extracted this way. The two different spirits are blended and cucumber essence and rose petal essence is added.
I have always been a little underwhelmed by Hendrick’s, the juniper being a little underpowered for my taste, and Neptunia uses the base botanicals of the original gin, distilled, presumably in the same way, but adds a little twist to justify its existence. The twist is that it is master distiller, Lesley Gracie’s take on a spirit inspired by the tumultuous waves of the Ayrshire coast. Producing a saline gin seems very much on trend in 2022 and there are lots of intriguing, outré botanicals to be found on the coastline, enough to whet the imagination of any self-respecting distiller.
Having made a big thing about the coastline botanicals, Hendrick’s are remarkably reticent about disclosing what they are. A shame as that is their marketing USP for this variant of their familiar gin. Given that it is based on the original we can assume that juniper, cucumber, rose, elderflower, cubeb pepper, angelica, caraway, chamomile, coriander, elderflower, orris roost, and a full complement of citrus elements are in the mix. The littoral flavour, it seems, is introduced by kelp and coastal thyme, but there may be others. There seem to be so many competing flavour profiles that only the most accomplished distiller can hope to tame them to produce a palatable drink.
And Lesley Gracie almost pulls it off. The aroma is complex, a melange of salinity, citrus, herbaceous and floral notes with a hint of earthiness of the juniper. In the glass the spirit is crystal clear and citrus heavy, the dominant citric notes only grudgingly allowing the juniper, the cucumber and rose, and later the floral elements to join the party. The aftertaste is dry and slightly salty, but also quite warm and spicy. It was a rollercoaster of tastes and sensations, more like being on a boat in a stormy sea than watching the waves crashing on to the rocks from the safety of the coastline.
With an ABV of 43.4% it is stronger than their original gin, but it is housed in the same distinctive apothecary’s bottle. The labelling has a maritime light blue as a background and features a picture of a mermaid in case you had not got the message. One from their “cabinet of curiosities” it is an acquired taste, one which will linger on my gin shelf.
Until the next time, cheers!