The spirit of innovation
The story of Henry’s Gin, as told by the flavor innovators who brought it to life.
On a late Thursday afternoon, the three creators of Henry’s Gin gather at Curaçao’s Caña Bar & Kitchen, a high-end gastrobar with a stylish Caribbean vibe, dark wooden tables and mixologists who have their craft down to a science.
Henry van der Kwast, the passionate entrepreneur behind Henry’s Gin, is a silver-haired gentleman with a rascally smile and a gift for conversation. He is flanked by Ramon Oudhaarlem and John Bradshaw, two expert distillers from Senior Genuine Curaçao Liqueur Distillery, which has been producing the world-famous Curacao Liqueurs for over a century.
How did these men end up making gin, a liquor that finds its origins in 17th century Holland and England? And what makes the tiny island of Curaçao so surprisingly suitable for making this product?
A eureka moment in the south of Ireland
Henry: “I used to think that gin was nothing special. Imagine that. I had occasionally tried it way back in the day when I was a student, but I was always more of a whisky man. Everything changed when I was touring the south of Ireland with my small family in 2016. Our driver told me they had a beautiful regional gin there. My curiosity was piqued, and I visited the Dingle Gin Distillery, where I tasted a gin that was absolutely out of this world. I was inspired by the way the local botanicals shaped the flavor, and started thinking about the rich variety of beautiful herbs on my home island of Curaçao. What if I could use those to create a gin that reflects the unique character of Curaçao? Wouldn’t that be something?”
Googling and experimentation at home
“Naturally, the first thing I did was google 'How do you make gin at home?', which to my surprise was actually quite a simple process. You take a mason jar, add a bunch of juniper berries, add a clear spirit like vodka, and leave it to infuse in a dark room for at least 48 hours. For three months, I would do this, experimenting with 15 different local botanicals, until I got a result I liked. I ended up using some beautiful local herbs in my concoction, such as lemongrass, oregano and yerba buena.”
Enter the Laraha
A crucial moment in the gin’s development came when Henry wanted to incorporate a fourth local botanical: the famed Laraha orange, a remarkable citrus fruit only found on Curaçao. While the fruit itself is considered inedible because of its bitterness, its zest holds a pleasant aroma. Henry decided to seek out some expert help. Where better to turn than to the Senior Genuine Curaçao Liqueur Distillery, which has been unlocking the Laraha’s flavor potential since 1896? Henry: “It took me a while to convince their management, but I did it, and it made the Larahas available to me. Then I was introduced to Ramon and John, whom I now call 'the magic boys'.”
On to the hardware store
Ramon and John, both experts in distilling liqueur, took on the challenge of finding a balance between the spices Henry had used and the Laraha orange’s zest. John: “I have been making liqueur for over 22 years, but I didn’t know anything about gin. It was a matter of looking stuff up on the internet, and then Ramon and I started figuring things out. Ramon: “We started off cold press, just like Henry, using 96% alcohol. In about a month's time we had created a lovely flavor, but were left with a slightly dark emulsion. Wanting to go for a fully transparent liquid, we again went to the all-knowing internet for guidance. We found a video on how to distill alcohol using a pressure cooker and a bowl of ice. We went on to buy the supplies at the local hardware store and got to work.”
Finding the balance
Henry: “After a lot of experimentation, we all spent a lovely morning together, mixing and tasting, deciding on the percentage of Laraha essence we would use in the gin. John and Ramon are both masters at mixing the flavors.” Ramon: “I like a drier gin, and was leaning toward 1% Laraha.” Henry interjects: “I loved the fruitiness the orange offered and was reaching for more.” Following a lot of substance-induced discussion, they ended up going for 2% Laraha essence, creating the unique, unmistakably Curaçao-born flavor that is Henry's Gin as we know it today.”
To the next level
When the three men had arrived at just the right flavor, they knew they had something truly special on their hands. The gin was taken into production using the original 121-year-old copper still at the Curaçao Liqueur Distillery. A label featuring the leaves of the Laraha tree was created by Curaçao design firm PRGV 100% Creatie. Award-winning local mixologist Luuk Gerritsen from Luke’s Cocktail Bar crafted a number of delicious cocktails, while well-known Curaçao hospitality entrepreneur Laurens Jacobs selected the appropriate tonics to complement the gin’s favor profile. Henry: “Many tonics these days are flavored, but try to go for the most neutral tonic you can find when pairing it with Henry’s Gin, like Seagram’s or Schweppes. They let the gin’s gentle and perfume-like aromas come to the forefront.”
Shining on the global stage
Henry took his finished product on a ‘gin odyssey’ through Europe, to very positive response from the continent’s experts. “Fresh, gentle, aromatic, with a one-of-kind origin”, were some of the enthusiastic reactions he received. Currently, orders are pouring in from across the globe, from New York to Italy. Henry: “We might have to get an extra kettle to meet the demand!”
What does the future hold for Henry’s Gin?
Henry: “This gin reflects the identity of Curaçao, not just its genuine flavors, but also its innovative character; the modern Curaçao. This is why we will keep innovating. Who knows, we might even start the world’s first atomic distillery!”
Taking a sip of Henry's Gin takes you on a journey through the evolution of Curaçao. On this sun-drenched island, generations have tamed the tough soil to make magic. Persistence and creativity, often born from necessity, have bred an innovative and booming culture. Henry’s Gin proudly bottles this spirit of innovation, making it a worldwide ambassador of the beautiful island that its ingredients stem from.