Hendrick's Flying Cuke Cruises East Bay Airspace


Kristan Lawson

If you saw a gigantic cucumber -- with gigantic, staring, humanoid eyes -- floating over Emeryville last Wednesday or bisecting East Bay airspaces to hover suspended above San Francisco last Thursday, it was not some freakish behemoth organic hybrid-gone-wrong. Nor had you consumed so many gin-and-tonics as to hallucinate. (Well, maybe you had. But not necessarily.)

In fact, it was a blimp: the sole member of a dirigible fleet conjured into existence by the folks at Hendrick's Gin.

And maybe, when you saw it -- while pointing and shouting, "A massive flying cucumber is staring down at us!" -- Feast Bay was riding inside.

Brewed in a 19th-century family-owned seaside Scottish distillery, hailed by the Wall Street Journal as the world's best gin, Hendrick's has been the focus of zany steampunk marketing campaigns Stateside -- such as last year's lavish "Emporium of the Unusual." Its new venture is the four-month, coast-to-coast expedition of this 130-foot-long, 44-foot-tall airship -- officially dubbed The Flying Cucumber, in homage to the cucumber essence which (along with Bulgarian rose petals) infuses Hendrick's Gin. The expedition began in Long Beach; Livermore was its second pit-stop. Future pit-stops in Austin, Dallas, South Florida, New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Ann Arbor, Indianapolis and Chicago entail parties, fly-overs and, for a lucky few, actual rides. 

Invited to board the blimp at Livermore Airport -- who knew Livermore had an airport?? -- Feast Bay was overjoyed to find an impromptu alfresco Victorian tavern enchantingly assembled on the turf, complete with elegant armchairs and an apothecary cabinet whose drawers bore the names of Hendrick's Gin components, including the exotic cubeb pepper. Mixing drinks -- while musing that his own favorite is the martini -- national brand ambassador Jim Ryan described some of what Feast Bay has just now decided to call "blimpspiration."

He said that a vintage flying machine, "gliding very slow and very low," reminds everyone who sees it of a gentler, more imaginative, less automated era. 

"The giant eye, which kind of reminds me of a whale's eye, challenges you to find out: Who are you?"

Ryan also pointed out that 6 million actual cucumbers could fit inside the blimp's main chamber, which is instead filled with helium.

The ride itself, overlooking the ranch-style roofs and glistening swimming pools of Livermore, was stunningly panoramic and incredibly mellow.

For both pilots and passengers, the blimping experience "actually has more in common with sailing than with conventional airline travel," said pilot Charlie Smith -- who, like all blimp pilots, is licensed to fly airplanes too.

Because they're helium-inflated, blimps "really are the safest type of aircraft," Smith explained.

"Even if we lose power, we're able to keep floating and descend very slowly to the ground."

But no such mishaps befell our excursion, which concluded as do all successful blimp flights -- with a team of strong, lithe individuals (depicted above) physically seizing the airship's ropes, guiding it toward a post and affixing those ropes to the post. 

If imagining gin + blimps + Livermore makes you thirsty, here's a recipe from those friendly Hendrick's folks:

Poet's Dream Martini

2 parts Hendrick's gin

1/4 part French vermouth

lemon peel

cucumber slice

Combine gin and vermouth in mixing glass with ice. Stir until mixture is very cold, then strain into a chilled martini glass. Squeeze lemon peel over the glass to release the oils, then discard the peel. Garnish with cucumber slice, then enjoy. 

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