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The birth of a new gin for a new generation - Henrik Hammer, Geranium Gin

Oct. 16, 2009 by John Collingwood

In the first of Want to impress big interviews, it is my great pleasure in introducing Henrik Hammer, the pioneer behind Geranium Gin.

I really wanted to learn how he went about devising, developing and then delivering a brand new gin, his story is an inspiration to us all. If you are truelly passionate about what you are trying to achieve, then anything is possible.

I am fascinated into hearing how you got started into making Geranium Gin? What was your inspiration? When did the penny drop and you thought, “I can do this”?

I have had gin as a hobby for many years, and have worked semiprofessionally by doing gin seminars and tastings. And for the past 4 years I have been working as a judge at the IWSC doing gin.

After having tasted several of hundreds of gins, I found that the spectrum of taste was quite narrow, and that it could be both fun and a great challenge to see if I could create a super gin with more taste, and still being within the London Gin predicate.

I had an idea that geranium could be the one of the botanicals for this. So I asked my father for help, since he was a chemist and had worked for decades with essential oils for the industry. When he made the chemical analysis of the special specie of geranium that I would like to use, we found that the essentials we liked were present in most fruits, berries, vegetables and spices.

Geranium has been used for centuries against depression and anxiety which is in line with juniper, that also is used for therapeutic purposes. The problem was that the oils from Geranium normally are being extracted with steam/vapor, and not alcohol.

So in order to find out how to extract the oils in a spirit distillation process, my father and I set up a minilab in his house with a 5 l copper pot still, so we could end up making a London Gin.

After a few weeks of (joyful) experimenting, we cracked the code and found out how to prepare, massurate and distill the Geranium. We flew over to the distillery that we are working with, and sat for a few days with the master distiller to make the final recipe for our new gin.

We sought a gin that covered the whole spectrum of taste meaning it should be both crisp, dry with citric notes and also aromatic and spicy without being “perfume’ish” – and with a distinct classic London Gin expression.

The result was a combination of 10 botanicals which where juniper, geranium, lemon, coriander, cassia, angelica, orris and licorice roots, being the main bearing botanicals + 2 more.

What was it like developing the brand with your father? Did you always see eye to eye and worked in harmony together?

It was a fantastic scenario working with my father to fulfill the dream of making this gin, and I couldn’t have done it without him. His abilities as a chemist, along with his good nose, and my knowledge of gin making, was a unique combination. My father and I had always been very close, shared the same interests, got the same odd sense of humor, so the fact that he died shortly after we had made the recipe for Geranium Gin was a huge personal loss. I will miss him always.

Which gins inspired you? Which botanicals were key to use? Did you crank up a lot of air miles, visiting different suppliers?

Before I made Geranium my personal favorites were Tanqueray 10 because of it’s crispiness and clear citric notes, Citadelle for it’s complexity, Whitney Neill for the spice tones of the Baobaab, and Cork’s Grimson for it’s authenticity. I only buy London Gin’s because they are the real deal, and I choose the gin depending of which mood I’m in or which cocktail I fancy.

I have travelled a lot during the past ten years, which has given me the opportunity to taste Gins from most parts of the world, which I have used in building up my expertise in gin. For making Geranium Gin I already had the network in place, so it didn’t take much travelling.

The logistics about creating a new gin is quite extensive, but fortunately the infrastructure in Europe is great and communicating via e-mail is quick and clear. The most time consuming part is when we harvest the geranium plants, since the contents of oils varies from 1 – 40% depending on age, season and soil. So to ensure the quality of this vital botanical, I prefer to go and pick them up myself, prepare them and deliver them to the distillery for the final distillation.

Juniper is such a distinctive flavour to work with, did it pose any problems? Why did you use this particular strain?

Because traditional gin making is very complicated, we chose to work with Langley Distillers who are the 3rd biggest gin distillery in England, having made gin for 200 years. They had the tradition, competence and equipment to make sure that the distilling of our product reached the quality that we wanted.

Geraniums botanicals are steeped for 48 hours? Beefeater does it for 24 hours? How does this help the finished product? Is this one of your unique selling points?

Extracting the oils from the geranium plant with alcohol was never done before, so one of the secrets are how the geranium is being handled so it can be distilled in to a London Gin. This is another reason why I do it myself.

Why did you use copper pots and not carterhead stills for your distilation? What were they used for previously?

The spirit we use is 100% pure grain, and it’s so clean that there’s no need for using a Carterhead. The still we use is specially made for gin distilling, and has been doing this for nearly 100 years. This way we get all the authenticity we can have. Actually Langley has a Carterhead still, but it has been brought down to a normal still.

Popular boutique gins such as Hendricks and Martin Millers, use ‘unsual’ ingredients such as cucumber and rose petals, is there any botanicals you use that will stand out and be a hot topic?

Hendrick’s is not a London Gin, and Martin Millers ‘unusual’ ingredient is water, so I don’t think we can compare these with our gin. We use geranium because of the abilities of the oils which will attach to most mixers such a fruit, berries, vegetables and spices that are used for making cocktails.

The geranium oils will emphasize and enhance the taste of the whole cocktail, which was one of the main purposes for making Geranium Gin.

Your bottle is slick, sexy and uber cool! What was your inspiration?

Choosing the right bottle and having the artwork made was one of the toughest parts of the process. Fortunately we had a good supplier that helped us out, and I’m quite pleased with the result myself.

I felt that the bottle should express the quality, elegance and authenticity of the content, but in a simple way – like Danish design

How would you describe the taste of it in five words?

Classic, round, crisp, aromatic, tricky.

What did it feel like when you opened up your first finished bottle? Did you get goosebumps?

I didn’t – the first bottle is standing on my desk, and will remain unopened. But that was a great moment seeing the first bottle being made, and it was an awesome feeling standing at the bottling facility holding the first born bottle of Geranium Gin!

Describing Geranium Gin as the ‘new generation’ is a very bold statement to make, which is awesome and I fully respect. Why are you so confident that it is?

The ‘new generation’ applies to that we are using new botanicals, and we are extending the possibilities of making new and better/more taste within the London Gin predicate to the limits. Also the ‘new generation’ applies to the cooperation of father and son.

What are your signature cocktails? Did it take a lot of experimenting to devise them?

I am a gin maker, but I am not very good a making cocktails. Some of the best Danish mixologists has played around with our gin, and made several wonderful creations. We do not have a signature cocktail yet, but I am planning to make an event where we will get one or two.

Where do you see the brand being in the next 12 months? Are you looking to develop any others?

We had a three year plan for implementing Geranium Gin on the European market, but hence to the enormous interest it has received we have a great position for going a lot faster. At this moment I expect that Geranium Gin will be sold in the major European countries within the next 12 months, provided we can find the right distributors.

Since this is not a supermarket gin, but a tool for bartenders and an experience for gin enthusiasts, where we need partners that can represent Geranium Gin locally, and explain what it can do. Hopefully everything will fall in place, and if the sale of Geranium Gin goes well, I have a new recipe for an organic gin, that I would like to make alive.

Your Father sadly did not live to see you produce your first bottle. What do you think he would be saying to you now?

“Well done my son, I wish that I could be there with you” – And so do I

Henrik Hammer – Geranium Gin

If you have any questions, then drop me a line hh@geraniumgin.com