ShortList is supported by you, our amazing readers. When you click through the links on our site and make a purchase we may earn a commission. Learn more

Hendrick’s Gin Grand Cabaret arrives - we speak to master distiller Lesley Gracie

Hendrick's opens up its cabinet of curiosities once more...

Hendrick’s Gin Grand Cabaret arrives - we speak to master distiller Lesley Gracie
Marc Chacksfield
01 March 2024
Hendrick’s Gin has opened up its Cabinet of Curiosities once more and launched a new limited-release expression: Grand Cabaret.
Grand Cabaret is said to embody "the surreal world of Parisian life in the early 1920s" and has been made with a fruity freshness and is packed with sweet aromatic herbs.

The new launch joins a number of expressions that make up the Cabinet of Curiosities which began back in 2019. Since then we have seen the limited-edition launches of Midsummer Solstice, Amazonia Gin, Lunar Gin, Neptunia and the more recent Flora Adora.

All of these gins have one special thing in common: they are born from the mind of Hendrick’s Master Distiller Lesley Gracie.

To find out more about the inspiration behind Grand Cabaret, we caught up with Gracie - you can read our chat below.

Hendrick’s Gin Grand Cabaret is available nationwide now - you can get it at Tesco, Morrisons, Ocado and Amazon for £30.

Hendrick’s Gin Grand Cabaret arrives - we speak to master distiller Lesley Gracie
Image Credit: Hendrick's

ShortList: How has being a chemist helped with you and your knowledge of gin and alcohol in general?

Lesley Gracie: Well, when you start looking at alcohol, and you look at gins and whiskies more closely, you begin to see the differences between them. When you put them through the analytical instrumentation that we have [at Gin Palace], you start to pick up on the different elements in terms of the nose, flavour and different compounds that are in the distillation; it is really quite interesting.

For instance, we have found there is a crossover in compounds between certain plants, so when you put them together some elements are accentuated, and some elements decrease. Therefore, it's interesting approaching it from a chemical point of view, as well as from a sensory one.

ShortList: Do you think that being a chemist, where you’re used to making concoctions and potions, makes it ideal for this job?

Lesley Gracie: I don't believe it's solely down to being a chemist, which makes me the right fit for this job, I think my natural interest in plants is the most important.

You can look at a whole range of different plants that are all very similar and from the same species. But, when you look at different types within that species, and understand just how different they are, then the interest in plants is supported by the background in chemistry. It goes hand-in-hand.

ShortList: Grand Cabaret is a great name, it conjures up a Moulin Rouge feeling and aesthetic. How did you distil that feeling into a drink?

Lesley Gracie: It was by looking at drinks that were popular in the era. If you explore the 1920s, it was such a completely different era. Everything was beginning to open up, there were fancy parties, flappers, the Suffragettes, it was at an amazing time!

Then I started to take a look at the drinks people were enjoying, like the Eau de Vie, peach liqueur and cherries for example, which really excited me!

I also researched the history of ‘orderliness’ – something that also fascinated me.

The decadence of the stone fruits, the time period as well as the orderliness movement struck a chord with Hendrick’s Gin and it all came together to give us a really interesting concept and flavour.

Then of course, when Ally [Martin, Global Brand Ambassador, Hendrick’s Gin] creates cocktail magic, it really stands up well in cocktail flavours as well.

ShortList: What do you love so much about gin?

Lesley Gracie: I think with gin, you can basically do more or less do what you want. You can incorporate virtually any ingredient. Whereas the whisky industry for example, is tied by tight rules. Yet with gin, those rules don’t apply. You can get flavours from pretty much any plant (providing it’s not poisonous!), offering you more diversity.

ShortList: More of a personal question, but how do you normally have your gin? Have you got a favourite serve or have a preference for how you like to have your gin?

Lesley Gracie: My favourite serve, or should I say my favourite serve for arranging Hendrick’s Gin is actually elderflower cordial and soda water. I find it really lifts it - elderflower just elevates the whole drink.

But when it comes to cocktails and cocktail creation, Ally does all the work. He's the absolute master, but I'm quite happy to do quality assurance on them to make sure they taste good! Whenwe are at the start of developing a new liquid, I'll get to a certain point in the process and speak to Ally to make sure it pairs perfectly with tonic. Then Ally works experiments with different cocktails, and based on this, sometimes we might adjust the original recipe slightly to make sure that it fits well with everything.

ShortList: In terms of combinations, and with the new Hendrick’s Gin Grand Cabaret launching, were there any botanical combinations that didn't work in the experimental process?

Lesley Gracie: Yes, there are some things that don't work. You can take a plant and you can smell it and taste it and it's good. Then, when you distil it, not all the best elements come through, so you don't get those fragrant aromas and beautiful flavours being dominant similar to when you taste it in its original form. Sometimes you put two things together that you think are really going to work together, and sometimes they just don't work because chemically, they don't balance each other.

ShortList: Have you got an example of those botanicals that might not work? Can you share the mindset of where your creativity was coming from or what you had in mind?

Lesley Gracie: I once made a toffee apple [distillation] that didn’t work - it was the middle of lockdown. So instead, tried a toffee apple jam as it sounded really exciting and takes you back – it reminded me of nostalgic days of running around the fair. But when mixed with a gin botanical, it just wasn't the tastiest. Sometimes you get a botanical and it smells good, but the distillation doesn’t work.

ShortList: What are the top five botanicals used in Hendrick’s Gin Grand Cabaret and why did you use them for this particular drink?

Lesley Gracie: We always use Hendrick’s Gin – our house style – as the base. We started to look at the combination of different stone fruits and the way they came together. We also added herbs because when you put the herbal element in with the stone fruit, it rounds it off.

I am a really strange person and see a new creation in terms of a shape. For me, I like nice, balanced flavours, alongside a smooth shape or stone fruits, it just rounds everything off nicely.