My story starts with a man who felt like doing it differently. A rebellious spirit who didn’t just think outside the box, but got rid of it. An unusual character who singlehandedly changed the future of vanilla. His name: Mr Edmond Albius.
In 1841, when he was just 12 years of age, Edmond discovered that vanilla orchids could be artificially pollinated by hand. Born a slave in Sainte-Suzanne, a commune on the north coast of the French island of Réunion, the boy needed little more than a blade of grass and a quick flick of his thumb to revolutionise the cultivation of vanilla.
To understand the impact of Edmond’s discovery, I need to take you back to 1820s, when French colonists first began growing vanilla on Réunion. Soon enough they were confronted with the fruitlessness of their efforts, as the insects refused to pollinate the vines. A teenager accomplished what a French university professor of botany had failed to achieve in the 1830s: quick and profitable pollination.
Edmond’s simple but sophisticated invention didn’t go unnoticed. His manual technique became standard practice and is, amazingly enough, still being used today – far beyond Réunion. In a just world, Mr Albius would have acquired wealth and received an endless amount of respect for as long as he lived. The truth is: he didn’t. After the French abolished slavery in 1848, the man that unknowingly made history left the plantation to become a kitchen servant. At the age of 51, a poor, free man by the name of Edmond Albius died where he was born as a poor, enslaved child: in Sainte-Suzanne.
Upon hearing his story, I felt compelled to include it in my own. Because history is far more than a succession of events. It tells us where we came from, where we are right this minute, and where we are heading. To embark on my gin journey without honouring the man responsible for Sir Edmond Gin’s unique and distinctive taste, would be sacrilegious. Like him, I have vanilla flowing through my veins. Using his first name is my tribute.
May the legacy of Edmond Albius live on.
Meet Sir Edmond Gin