To celebrate South Africa’s National Women’s Day on the 9th of August, Hendrick’s Gin commemorates the most ingenious and most unusually fascinating woman, Lesley Gracie, Master Distiller at the Hendrick’s Distillery. Upon meeting Lesley, a figure so swathed in myth that she conforms definition, it takes little time to understand how such an unusual gin could come into existence. With a gift for innovation and a penchant for exhibitionism, it is not Lesley’s coccyx-length pony tail and dry sense of humour that brings you to this assumption, but her astounding knowledge and excellence in mastering the 11 botanicals and the carter head and two copper pot stills that make this premium liquid elixir known as Hendrick’s Gin.
Lesley, alongside fellow Master Distiller at William Grant & Sons, John Ross, crafted the recipe for Hendrick’s Gin in 1999. It immediately stole the hearts of the most vanguard of gin drinkers with its infusion of rose and cucumber essence, delivering a taste like no other.
Working in a male dominated environment at the remote distillery in Girvan, a small village in the southwest corner of Scotland hasn’t been a problem for the Yorkshire-born lass. Her nose is rated as one of the finest around (she sits on the ISC judging panel), which is why she also leads the New Liquid Development team within the Company. However, her heart lies in the ‘Hendrick’s Gin Palace’.
A chemist by trade, Lesley moved to Scotland from Yorkshire to join the company in 1988. The creation of award-winning Hendrick’s Gin has been a real highlight in her career to date and Lesley is only one of four people who know the specific recipe of the 11 different botanicals that goes into making the gin.
Hendrick’s is handcrafted in miniscule batches at a time – the smaller the batch, the more control can be exerted by Lesley, allowing her to fine tune the distillation process, ensuring a high end gin worthy of the Hendrick’s name.
Lesley’s is rather coy about her favourite tipple, admitting The Balvenie DoubleWood single malt Scotch whisky comes in ahead of a Hendrick’s English Garden – a beautiful cocktail infusing Hendrick’s Gin, with pressed apple juice, lime juice and St-Germain Elderflower liqueur, garnished with cucumber slices – ‘a refreshing taste of summer’, says Lesley.
When Lesley is not busy creating delectable spirit, she can be found tending to her menagerie of 11 animals, nurturing her collection of 47 orchids, which all adorn her front room or walking her dog daily in the serenity of the grounds of Culzean Castle, near her home. The less said about her golf the better. Lesley is married with two stepchildren and four grandchildren, one of who says that she is “seriously weird”.
Lesley Gracie’s fascination with the curious world of botanicals flavours and horses, whereby at the age of 4, she began serving her family teas derived from various plants and twigs. Thankfully, her family survives this and countless other experiments and diversions. Celebrating Women’s Day with a curious twist, Shaun Stemmett, Brand Manager for Hendrick’s Gin at The Really Great Brand Company, says “as we reflect on the unusual yet vital role women play in society it has been evident throughout the ages that a day without women is a day without creativity and we commend Lesley Gracie’s tremendous work throughout the milestones of Hendrick’s Gin’s peculiar past.”
Life is simply too glorious not to experience its fascination, seek out those who embrace the unusual, and you’ll find that a life well lived is much enjoyed by the curious individuals. We invite you to join the merry few as we commemorate all delightfully curious women with Hendrick’s Gin this Women’s Day.