It’s like a dream for craft cocktail consumers, everywhere. The cocktail renaissance has touched nearly every spirit in its long quest to bring well-constructed cocktails back to the fore. Popular culture has done its part, elevating old fashioned libations – like the old fashioned, itself – to finally eclipse orders of Red Bull or Bud Light from bartenders everywhere.
Whiskey, Bourbon, Amari, Tequila, and even Tequila’s wayward sibling, Mezcal, have become stars of the top shelf, considered the choice of refined palates and fine craftsmanship. But, for the most part, though its regard has benefitted greatly from the cocktail revival, gin has remained the same, with no flourishes and no magic. A flavorful mix of botanicals added to a blank slate, it has myriad places to go, but the spirit languished in a sea of basic-ness until, in 1999, a Scottish company took some chances and added cucumber and rose flavors to a traditional bouquet used for gin, and something delightfully unusual was born.
Now, in what can only be considered a flight of terrific fancy amid the golden age of cocktails, the masters at Hendrick’s have done it yet again. Releasing their first publicly available limited-edition product, Orbium, into the world. Hendrick’s has taken gin and elevated still higher with natural refinements and a first-to-market quinine gin, adding wormwood and lotus flower flavors to their foundational offering, and crafting a true gin-lover’s experience in the process.
We spoke with Brand Ambassador, Mattias Horseman, at the San Antonio Cocktail Conference about this limited edition offering and why Hendrick’s saw fit to bring this product to the world, and do so in such a flamboyant fashion.
But first, it is imperative that we share a review of Orbium, as the flavor of this brilliant liquor speaks almost everything one needs to know about why this product would make it to shelves, right next to Hendrick’s classic gin. Primarily, Orbium possesses the best elements of a classic gin and tonic, but with the subtler nuances of gin given a moment in the spotlight. This gin has perhaps the longest legs of any spirit we’ve seen, and the aromatics immediately shine through, giving the taster hints of elderflower, rose, cucumber, and a languid herbaceous flavor not common in gin. One imagines that this could make for the ideal gin and tonic, but may only need the effervescence to bring out still more botanical notes. It’s like a playground for flavor profiles, with additional ingredients in a cocktail bringing out different elements of Orbium, while still building on the foundational Hendrick’s quality.
If it tastes like something entirely new, that is absolutely by design. As Mattias explains, it all comes from master distiller and William Grant and Sons director of liquid development, Lesley Gracie.
“She’s the trailblazer with this whole modern gin movement,” he explains. “I tried over like 20 different gins that she’s made over there and I was like, ‘Why don’t you release this, it’s fantastic!’ And she says, ‘well, that’s not groundbreaking.’ The first thing that she really wanted to innovate, it was going to be something really special.”
To give her the room she needed to truly experiment, Hendrick’s gave Gracie her own space – a lot of it.
“We just launched a brand new distillery, literally about 300 feet away from where our old one is in Girvan, Scotland” Horseman reveals. “And it is absolutely beautiful. Our new ‘gin palace’ is probably one of my top three favorite places on the planet. It’s like Alice in Wonderland meets Willy Wonka and then they went down a different rabbit hole; and she didn’t drink a little potion, she drank Orbium.”
Horseman isn’t exaggerating unnecessarily. The additional botanicals in Gracie’s triumphant experiment – lotus flower, wormwood, and quinine – certainly evoke a fairy tale element that begins with the bottle, which looks like an alternate take on the classic brand. But the sentiment that one’s crossed over into an altered reality doesn’t stop at the bottle.
“This is the same 11 botanicals as Hendrick’s – still with the rose and cucumber,” Horseman says. “Intrinsically, it’s Hendrick’s and you know it, but it’s literally like you’re tasting it in a parallel universe because it’s like the upside down.”
Still, the word, wormwood, carries notions of hallucinogens and green fairies, to go with the fantasy portrait the flavor paints. But Horseman assures everyone from the adventurous cocktail aficionado to the curious newcomer to cocktail culture, the stigma doesn’t reflect reality, and can open palates to new horizons.
“I think at the end of the day, the problem with enjoying things like gin or you know, even vermouth, or absinthe and all the stuff that has wormwood in it, is that the true art of loving something comes from understanding,” he says. “I think especially with gin, now that people are finally getting a more comprehensive understanding of flavor on a day to day basis, across the world. Everybody’s drinking Moscow Mules and all the cocktail lists are full of more – slightly complicated – combinations to get the flavors public right now. And so, the more educated the public gets about these flavors, the more approachable something seems.”
He’s hopeful about how the release of Orbium will play out in the marketplace, trusting bartenders to continue the experimental work that Gracie began in her new libation laboratory. Orbium will be hard to find in the liquor store for the general consumer, as it was seeded specifically to bars and bartenders to start its limited release.
“Because we focused it towards the on-premise, my favorite thing to do is to trust in bartenders,” he admits. “The art of trusting bartenders is something that’s really wonderful – to go into a place and say, ‘How would you like to set this?’ I think with Orbium, the idea is to go and explore. At Hendrick’s, we’re all about the unusual and we’re about seeking a little bit of a break from the mundane and Orbium could not epitomize that any better.”
Hendrick’s Orbium, released in December of 2018, is available at select bars in the U.S. and has been spotted in both San Antonio and Austin. It is, for those who want to break from the usual, well worth asking after from any bartender (or, if you’re very enterprising, an extremely rare number of liquor stores in the Austin area). As the new offering from what has become a classic brand, Orbium displays more than an evolution, it opens the door to infinite possibilities, like the best dreams so often do. Seek out a dream like that. Seek out Hendrick’s Orbium.
What to drink this week: Orbium Martini
Hendrick’s Orbium (2.5 parts) | Dolin® Blanc (.5 parts)
Stirred with ice, garnished with a cucumber slice, squeeze lemon peel over drink for oil.