Two weekends ago, I took a break from social distancing to forage in the woods with friends for morels. We found a few, most of which promptly went into omelets for the raiding party. Our host and hostess are experts in a number of areas from horses to fine wines, but are especially knowledgeable about gins. And, as gin lovers do, our host brought out his most recently procured bottles, including a cobalt blue Hendrick’s-shaped bottle which he promptly held up for me to see: “Do you know what this is?”
It was, of course, a rare bottle of Orbium, the latest limited release creation from Hendrick’s Gin. I say “rare” because Orbium started making appearances last year in the UK and U.S., but only in select establishments. Restaurants only, so far as I could tell. But for whatever reason, my friends had found it out on the open market, an irresistible catch for the intrepid gin forager who decides to track it down. In these troubled times, it took my shop just a few days to locate a bottle.
Hendrick’s likes to pride itself on oddity, but I wasn’t prepared for just how unique this new gin would be. As I tasted it for the first time, there were a couple of flavors I couldn’t quite put my finger on until it finally came to me—strong tonic water! And indeed, Orbium contains quinine, a key ingredient in tonic; it even has the notification on the label.
That other flavor you might not be able to identify at first? Wormwood, the very herbal ingredient used to distill many vermouths. With Orbium, the floral botanicals hit you pleasantly first on nose followed by a not-unpleasant bitter finish in the mouth, quite similar to an artisanal tonic or an apero.
Created by master distiller Lesley Gracie, this particular gin works best with soda (the tonic is in the gin!). For citrus, it paired best with orange, although lime juice was a close second, evoking a craft gin-and-tonic feeling. This gin could also be great for a martini, but, honestly? I’d serve it simply over ice as a pre-dinner aperitif.
The idea of savoring a spirit as it slowly evolves in the glass might be one legacy Orbium takes from its Scottish heritage and parent company William Grant and Sons, makers of good Scotch, among other things. Was their hope to create a gin to give people something to think about? If so, they achieved their goal. This limited-release quininated gin may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is most definitely discussion worthy if you can track a bottle down. And don’t wait—the brand says it won’t make this one forever.