Production
Production

Production

This "Most Unusual Gin" may be flavoured with rose and cucumber, but its other eleven botanicals are more classic: juniper berries, angelica root, coriander seeds, cubeb berries, orris root, camomile flowers, caraway seeds, elderflowers, meadowsweet, lemon and orange peel.

These are distilled in two different stills, a 1860s Bennett copper pot still and a 1948 John Dore Carter-Head still, both acquired in 1966 by Charles Gordon at an auction of equipment from London's recently closed Taplow Distillery.

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The Carter-Head still with Bennett stills either side

The Carter-Head still was invented by the Carter-Head Brothers who were originally apprentices to Aeneas Coffey, the inventor of the continuous column still. This is basically a steam jacket heated pot still that rises into a feints chamber and then directly into a column still with copper plates forming layers the column-like floors in an office block. At the top of the column is a cooling jacket, which can be used to force reflux but with modern high-quality neutral spirits this function is superfluous, so not used in Hendrick's production. The Carter-Head still was originally designed to rectify the poor-quality base spirit of yesteryear but today this extra distillation and copper contact serves to smooth and round the spirit.

From the top of the column the lyne arm directs the vapour into the botanical chamber, which contains a holed colander-like basket with a three-sectioned outside ring surrounding a central section. It is imperative that the distiller carefully packs the baskets with the orange peel placed first to form a base layer with the other smaller dry botanicals sat on top, otherwise there is a risk that the vapour will push the botanicals through the holes in the base of the basket. Also, the way the vapour (at around 92% alc./vol.) passes through these botanicals affects the extraction of essential oils and so the flavour. From the botanical chamber the now flavoured vapour passes into the condenser directly below where it is liquefied.

The Carter-Head is charged with wheat neutral alcohol hydrated to 60% alc./vol. using reservoir water. The foreshots (high wines/heads) which consist of the first 10 litres of the run are allowed to pass through the botanicals and serve to wash and prepare the herbs and spices for the clean vapours which quickly follow and will be used in the final gin. The heart of the run or 'cut' is approximately 500 litres at around 80% alc./vol. with the rest of the run, being feints (low wines/tails). Distillation lasts around ten hours from turning on the heat to finish. This method of gin distillation is known as the 'vapour infusion method' and is employed by relatively few gin producers.

Conversely, the Bennett still is a fairly standard steam jacket heated pot still (alembic) using the more common 'steep and boil' method of gin distillation. The Bennett still is charged with wheat neutral alcohol hydrated to 60% alc./vol. and the dry botanicals, which are left to infuse in the spirit for a minimum of 14 hours before commencing distillation. (Infusion can be longer depending on the ambient temperature as extraction of the essential oils takes longer in cooler temperatures). It still is heated slowly to avoid burning the juniper berries and detrimentally affecting flavour. As with the Carter-Head, the first 10 litres of the run are discarded as heads before the cut (at around 90% alc./vol.) is made to heart spirit with around 500 litres collected (at an average of around 80% alc./vol.). The cut to faints is made at around 60% alc./vol..

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Lesley's lab

All six stills have a maximum charge capacity of just a 1,000 litres and two Bennett stills are needed to each Carter-Head still to balance production due to the 14 hour infusion period required for the steep-and-boil method employed by the Bennett still. Although even the two original vintage stills have been fitted with modern safety equipment, all the stills are totally manually operated.

The same botanicals are used in both Bennett and Carter-Head stills but to slightly different proportions as the flavour extraction of the botanicals between the two stills is so different. The two resulting spirits are then blended together in roughly equal proportions (the exact blend being a closely guarded secret).

The process water is sourced from the Penwhapple reservoir, high in the hills beyond the distillery. This water is so pure that when used to charge the stills, it is not purified or treated, merely filtered to remove sand, plant matter and such like.

Finally, essences of Bulgarian Damascena rose petals and Dutch cucumber are added, in line with the tale of that infamous sandwich. The rose petals are pressed to release the oil, which is then dissolved with alcohol to produce the essence. Cucumbers are mashed up in water and the flavours are extracted at around zero degrees Celsius using a cold distillation process.

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