I’m not a big gin drinker, but I’m a fan of Bombay Sapphire. Yes, it’s pricey, but it’s also crisp and has pleasing herbal flavors. Ten botanicals, to be exact: almonds, lemon peel, liquorice, juniper, orris, angelica, coriander, cassia bark, cubeb berries, and grains of paradise. The grains of paradise make the drink, of course.
How much do I like Bombay Sapphire? I have a spritzer of Bombay Sapphire perfume. No, it’s not just gin in a perfume bottle. The Bombay Spirits Company had a promotion a few years back, in which an internationally known perfume designer created a cologne that evoked the sensibility and scent of Bombay Sapphire. Or something to that effect. You could buy it for a limited time in certain international airport Duty Free shops, or you could fill in a form to try to win a bottle.
I filled in the form, and I won. It even has the signature of the perfume designer on it, in gold marker. So if you notice that I smell like a nice Martini first thing in the morning, now you know why.
But back to our current story. The main flavor of most gins is juniper berries — they’re the key difference between gin and vodkas, the simplest of the distilled spirits. Various gins blend in other herbs as well and this is what distinguishes one high-end gin from another. If you’re having a drink that uses a flavorful mixer, like a Gin and Tonic, a Tom Collins, or a Gimlet, then a middle of the road gin will do fine — you wouldn’t taste the subtles herbs anyway. But if you’re having a Martini or a Gibson, then it’s worth your while to pick a special gin.
As much as I enjoy my Sapphire Martini, sometimes I want variety. In this frame of mind, I recently picked up a single-serving bottle of Hendrick’s at the checkout counter. The bottle is practically medicinal-looking: dark amber, round and slightly squat, with a very old-fashioned label. It looks like something milady would call for when she’s overcome with the vapors.
Hendrick’s doesn’t smell much different from Bombay Sapphire, but boy, does it taste different. It’s distilled in Scotland, so one might expect it to have a bit of bite. What one might not expect is the massive pine flavor it carries. Kind of like chewing on a branch of Christmas tree, or maybe a sprig of rosemary. Once the pine calms down, the juniper comes in, and the drink tastes like gin again.
The offical website talks about cucumber and rose petals, and they might have been there but they aren’t the main players. The pine flavor, on the other hand, sticks around to the bottom of the glass. A Hendrick’s Martini is not one that goes down quickly; rather, it insists on slow sipping, savoring, contemplation.
Has Hendrick’s replaced Sapphire in my liquor cabinet? It hasn’t replaced it, but I’m inclined to keep Hendrick’s on hand, for thoughtful evenings. It could become my winter gin — an alternative not to other gins but to a bourbon by the fire.