I met Ally Martin, Global Brand Ambassador of Hendrick’s gin at the event Chambers Of The Curious in Circolo Filologico Milanese. The highlight of the event was the series of “Chambers”, where partygoers were guided by a professor and his assistants, though experiences designed stimulate all the senses.
The Chamber situations were unique, sometimes a bit awkward, but always fun. In one case, I was blindfolded and guided through an odd series of encounters, and in another, a friendly but insane professor was showed me how mind waves can be used to harness incredible energy in our surroundings. Most importantly for me, the experiences were paired with refreshing Hendrick’s cocktails prepared by the early 1900s style Apothecary Bar in the main lobby. My favorite drink was the iconic Hendrick’s and tonic with Hendrick’s gin, Fever tree Indian tonic water, and of course, a slice of cucumber! More on the cucumber later.
After the event, we took a taxi over to 1930, the milanese speakeasy bar where you need a membership card to enter. I sat down with Ally to ask him a few questions about Hendrick’s, the industry, and life as a BA.
Like many bartenders, Ally started his career in bartending while at the University of Edinburgh. In the beginning, it was simply a way to earn a bit of extra beer money as a poor student. His first job as a glass washer was far from glamorous. He then transitioned to a job at the well-respected Tigerlily. Ally spent a few years there, falling in love with the hospitality aspect and drink making in general. He had caught the bartending bug! And that’s how a job meant to support his studies turned into a career. Ally eventually ended up at the iconic Bramble bar, a stalwart on the prestigious World’s 50 Best Bars list. After a stint at Bramble’s sister bar The Last Word, he opened the Talented Mr. Fox pop up with Matt Whiley. They ran the pop up bar for 9 months before opening the award-winning restaurant-bar Peg and Patriot. Matt Whiley was an important mentor to Ally, helping him gain a creative perspective in his drink making while learning the most beneficial high tech methods for cocktail preparation.
Ally’s big career break was winning the UK edition of Bacardi Legacy, which was a springboard for his career as a brand ambassador for Hendrick’s. Starting as the UK BA, Ally is now global brand ambassador of the important gin company. I was curious what life’s really like as a BA. I have many friends who are ambassadors for spirits companies and often complain about stress and strenuous travel schedules.
I was surprised to hear that Ally truly loved his job. His favorite part is mingling with people in different cultures and really immersing himself in the societies of the diverse countries he visits. He doesn’t want the typical cookie-cutter tourist experience when visiting a new country. He always asks to be put in touch with a local, so that he can experience the city’s vibe just as someone living in the city would – just like what was happening with me, sitting in my favorite Milanese speakeasy.
Gin is now a huge category in the spirits world – just look at ATLAS bar in Singapore which has a dramatic gin tower holding a staggering 1300 bottles of gin, the largest collection of its kind. How does Hendrick’s gin stand out from the pack?
First a back story on Hendrick’s, which is part of family owned company William Grant & Sons, founded in 1886. Hendrick’s gin however is a relatively new product for William Grant. Although the company is historically known for its whiskies, about 50 years ago it acquired two rare stills with the hope of producing a gin. One is a Bennett still, while the other is an ultra-rare Carter-head still. However, nobody was quite sure what to do with these precious stills. They sat in the warehouse for over 20 years, until Lesley Gracey arrived 1989. Lesley, Hendrick’s master distiller, spent ten years perfecting the gin recipe, exploiting both of the stills to create her gin. Hendrick’s gin finally launched in 1999 and is now one of the top selling brands in the world.
Ally explained that Hendrick’s unique flavor profile and bouquet is thanks to its unusual yet wonderful infusions of rose and cucumber, combined with the harmony of 11 distilled botanicals which are sourced from all over the globe. Leslie Gracey’s idea of the rose and cucumber came about because she wanted to make Hendrick’s uniquely British. The first things to come to her mind when thinking about Britain were rose gardens and cucumber sandwiches! The roses add a stunning floral note while the cucumbers add a pleasant freshness to Hendrick’s gin.
Hendrick’s has become a bartender’s favorite in recent. 1930’s owner Marco Russo prepared some fantastic twists on classic gin cocktails to enjoy during our couple hour encounter in the intimate speakeasy. I was happy to see that Ally and I have similar tastes when it comes to gin cocktails, with the hangover cure the Corpse Reviver no. 2 and the dry Martini being among our favorites.
Ally loves the Martini because of its simplicity. Yet at the same time, he argues it’s one of the hardest cocktails to execute because everyone likes theirs in a specific way.
So the obvious question, how does Ally like his Martini cocktail? For him it must be 60 ml of Hendrick’s Gin with 5 ml of Dolin Dry Vermouth, stirred down over ice and garnished with a pickled onion.
Link to Italian version of interview on Zero.eu.