Mark Ludmon goes on a sensory journey at the Hendrick’s Emporium of Sensorial Submersion at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Hendrick’s Gin is well known for putting on a bit of a show, from its pop-up bars and quirky inventions to its Horseless Carriage of Curiosities in a converted rail carriage. For this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the Hendrick’s team transformed a Georgian Grade A-listed townhouse in New Town into the Hendrick’s Emporium of Sensorial Submersion. Running throughout the three-week festival Wednesdays to Sundays, it took more than 1,000 people through a sensory experience that was illuminating, entertaining and often bewildering.
The two-hour show was created with world-leading sound artist Mark IJzerman from the HKU University of the Arts Utrecht, inspired by Hendrick’s Gin and the brand’s inventive and sometimes surreal personality. Starting in a quirkily decorated 1920s-styled hotel reception, guests receive a welcome cocktail and a madcap introduction from the character of Silas Fifi Templeton, who gets us into the spirit of the event with some nonsensical interaction and over-intimate chumminess. This absurdity is tempered only slightly by the arrival of another classicly styled character, Professor von Steinberger who explains we are embarking on an auricular and gustatory journey.
Donning white coats, we are taken up to the Quietest Bar on Earth, where every inch is in stark white, even down to the bottles of Hendrick’s. With noise-cancelling headphones, we sit in complete silence to focus on the flavours of a Hendrick’s Martini, with a cucumber slice garnish, inspired by 20th-century American writer EB White’s description of the classic gin cocktail as “the elixir of quietude”.
After a rousing burst of Holst’s The Planets, we are taken to another room that has been transformed into an old-style teaching laboratory, with a blackboard, test tubes, beakers and a microscope. We again put on headphones but this time listen to different sounds that are designed to affect our sense of taste as we sample three differently coloured liquids in mini test tubes. As we sip the drinks, mixed up by bartender Pascal Pierce, we have to identify flavours and intensities of each one on a flavour wheel. It is an excellent demonstration of how our perception of flavour is affected by our other senses.
Upstairs is the next room, the Quantumphysical Soundscape of Hendrick’s Gin, which is the most unusual part of the tour. With deep red drapes around the room, we are immersed in a cacophony of sounds created by the metal cocktail vessels on the tables in front of us. As your hands hover around the rim or tap the base, different sounds come from each, building up into a discordant crescendo as we sip what’s inside: a classic Corpse Reviver No 2.
After all this sensory overload, we end up on our backs, lying on mats in a room with a giant gong at one end. A stern woman tells us to be quiet and let our bodies be submerged in a “gong bath” – an ancient form of holistic therapy that promotes healing and meditation through the reverberating tones of a gong. Anyone who is pregnant or has a pace-maker is asked to leave the room (along with any tipsy gigglers). Despite snatches of “My My My Delilah” and Purple Rain from a karaoke bar next door, it is a relaxing, meditative experience that is rarely found on the Edinburgh Fringe.
To pick yourself up, the quirkily styled bar on the ground floor offers plenty of more traditional Hendrick’s sensations with a cocktail list presided over by UK brand ambassador Ally Martin. It includes cocktails devised by some of Edinburgh’s leading bars such as The Voodoo Rooms and The Bon Vivant alongside classics such as a Martini. The Black Rose, created by Bramble in Edinburgh, combines Hendrick’s with Cocchi Americano Rosa aperitif, Cointreau, sugar syrup, lemon juice, egg white and food-grade charcoal powder, garnished with a cucumber slice. While the actors and experiences upstairs have entertained us and opened our minds, we can enjoy the flavours, aromas and colours of our drinks where they work best: in a bar.