Gin is a tricky spirit. Like many of you out there, the team here at French Oak has historically been split between love and toleration of gin. And with good reason. Gin has a very distinct flavor, one that is made from a specific distillation process that incorporates juniper berry and a blend of botanicals (various herbs, roots and spices). To some, the flavor is refreshing and elegant. To others, it can be overwhelming and seem almost medicinal. We often find ourselves on an unsuccessful quest to find a style that’s appealing to even those that tend to turn away from gin-based cocktails.
So you can imagine our anticipation when we were invited by Hendrick’s Gin to attend The Delightfully Peculiar Cocktail Academy, a crash course on gin mixology at Catalyst restaurant in Cambridge’s Kendall Square. When we arrived on the cold and rainy December evening, we were greeted with Hendrick’s take on a gin cucumber mojito. The cocktail went down a little too easy… maybe because it was Monday night, or maybe just because it was delicious, but either way, it set the stage for a series of bright and tasty drinks to follow.
We were ushered into a back room set up like a lecture hall – this was an academy after all – where we selected our seats and introduced ourselves to our “classmates” that we would be sharing ingredients and tools with for the rest of the evening. Jim Ryan, Hendrick’s brand ambassador, then introduced himself, and walked us through a brief overview of the relatively young brand. Founded in 1999 in Scotland, the makers of Hendrick’s aimed to create a gin that stood apart from all others. And you can taste their success thanks to the great care master distiller and lead chemist, Lesley Gracie (yes, a woman!), takes in creating each small batch (450 liters or less). She uses a blend of 11 different botanicals ranging from the aforementioned juniper berry, to caraway seeds, to chamomile and lemon peel. But what makes Hendrick’s flavor especially unique happens during the final stage of creation, when the spirit is infused with rose petals and cucumber.
Throughout the rest of the evening, we dutifully followed Ryan’s precise instructions to craft an Elderflower Cooler, a Cucumber Lemonade, and a good-for-groups Tenured Punch. The sweet, yet tart, Cucumber Lemonade was dangerously good, and put everyone in a summertime mood, while the Tenured Punch reminded us that you can still offer a crowd something that’s both delicious and sophisticated. Conversation during the “class” centered mostly around gin’s versatility. Ryan mentioned that it could easily be swapped out with vodka or rum for interesting takes on other traditional cocktails.
We left with a new found appreciation for a spirit that doesn’t always get the credit it deserves, and a desire to throw a party where we could serve all our guests a punch that would knock their socks off – in a good way.
3 parts gin
2 parts fresh lemon juice
2 parts simple syrup
2 parts sparkling water
Combine all with a few ice cubes and stir. Garnish with cucumber spear.
Tenured Punch (serves 10-12)
8 oz simple syrup
8 oz sparkling water
20 oz weak green tea
4 oz Lillet
4-6 dashes Angostura bitters
Pour all into a large punchbowl, float large ice cube/ring in the middle. Mix thoroughly and garnish with lemon and cucumber slices.