In May 2013, David Piper - the modestly-titled ‘Global Ambassador’ for Scottish boutique gin producer Hendrick’s - accompanied master distiller Lesley Gracie and celebrated adventurer Charles Brewer Carias (a 21st-century reincarnation of the great, independent Victorian explorers, right down to the moustache) on an expedition deep into the Venezuelan jungle. There, they searched for adventure, enlightenment and new "botanicals" with which to spice up the gin-making process.
Held as part of Hendrick's 'Carnival of Knowledge'–a series of discussions upon a wide range of subjects, held within a rather posh Georgian townhouse - Piper was the first to admit that this was going to be a rather 'strangely-shaped beast of a talk'. Given that many in the audience had already taken up the offer of handling a variety of South American creatures in the downstairs bar - including several snakes, a chameleon, a couple of large snails and a rather hairy spider - such mention of the beastly went down a treat.
Given that Hendrick's brand is so consciously linked to twee victoriana, this trip was clearly designed to appear a jaunty, gentlemanly expedition. In practice, it appeared to walk a tenuous line between research trip in earnest, and a questionable excuse to blow the natives' minds with never-before-seen ice cubes. Nevertheless, Piper’s adventure raised some interesting questions, not least about the limits of language when it comes to accurately communicating what something tastes like, from person to person and culture to culture. Likewise, we pondered the reason why, though we cannot necessarily justify why some things taste better than others, we simply decide that they do.
The talk also acted as a glimpse, if a somewhat foggy one, into some kind of Lost World; the Hendrick's team (which included a medic, a photographer, and various other supporting characters) stayed with villagers who have lived deep in the jungle for thousands of years, attaining a harmony we in the 'civilised' world have sort of lost. For Piper, his time with them was certainly memorable - particularly that spent with a small tribe who have abandoned their ancient hunter-gatherer ways only with the last generation. It was clear that for this travelling band the expedition offered both an important insight into the anthropological, and a sometimes-unsettling glimpse back through human history.
Whilst chock-full of engaging anecdotes, this talk also unintentionally hinted at a kind of neo-imperialist surveying of the world for private commercial gain from a ‘sophisticated’ which, to be honest, left a slightly bitter taste in the mouth.