“Now, using fine leaves picked by pretty maidens,
In a bag knitted by a seamstress who lives in Copenhagen,
Brewed up in a pot made of semi-precious metal,
Let the blessed contents settle in my very special kettle!”
– Professor Elemental, “Cup O Brown Joy”
A couple of years ago I found myself in the now closed down Cedar Grill in picturesque Long Grove, IL; in the company of a great friend of mine, a great beer (which escapes my memory), and a plate of delicious beef brisket. While I still fondly recollect this visit to this very day, I’ll remember the Cedar Grill as the place I had my very first encounter with Hendrick’s Gin. Had it been on the menu I probably would have skimmed past it, but it was a lovely Hendrick’s representative that offered me a Hendrick’s and Tonic. How could I have said no? Back then I thought that the cucumber garnish was “a nice touch”, and appreciated the cocktail’s cool, yet heart-warming nature. It was flowery, like drinking steeped chrysanthemum petals and chewing on the stem of a wild carnation, brought together by the unmistakable flavor of cucumber. I liked it. I loved it. I loved it despite the Dickensian images that gin reminded me of. Gin was dystopian and dreadful; a fog drenched in drab; a rainy nightmare smelling of wet, dusty pavement and soaked wooden crates; a temptress on a Monday morning after a graveyard shift. Sure, the connotation is unfair; there is nothing grim about the contents of gin. It is not born from a heartless factory; it is crafted by blindfolded artists on a tightrope stretched between alchemy and medicine. Drinking that simple cocktail was lovely like living in the moment with your best friend, and felt like falling asleep in your own bed after a humdrum of a day. There was life tapped inside that gin; yarrow, elderflower, juniper, angelica root, orange peel, caraway, coriander, chamomile, cubeb berry, orris root, lemon – an entire bouquet of botanicals from every corner of the world just thriving in their new liquid form. There was something else as well, like the pang of remembering something lost, a melancholic incompleteness; a little something I now recognize as hiraeth. It wasn’t until I got home and did some research when I discovered that one of the key components in Hendrick’s was the Bulgarian Damask rose. Of course. It all made so much sense for a Bulgarian immigrant to take to heart the lingering fragrance and taste of his homeland.
If it is true that we are all made from star dust, then I have no doubt that at one point in time, past or future, I must have been, or will be, in the same constellation with the star stuff of this gin. It was at that precise moment that I stopped loving, and fell in love with Hendrick’s. If gin is your drink or you are curious to hear more about it, and if steampunk, comical anachronism, men wrestling with mustaches, pith-helmeted explorers a la Professor Elemental looking for treasured jungle flowers, the occasional Monty Python non sequitur, or pure, unrefined, thrice-distilled oddity and unusualness are your thing, then you should definitely read about the Mecca for Hendrick’s lovers –
The Emporium of the Unusual!