We’re potty about juniper. Inside our North Northumbrian distillery we use a set of cutting edge techniques to capture the taste of gin’s foremost ingredient more completely than is possible using conventional distillation. Our gin-making technique takes seven times longer than normal and uses three quite separate systems, but is the only way to capture the taste of juniper – as it were, in high definition.
From this autumn, a rather more traditional but equally ambitious plan has been given the go-ahead by Natural England to rebuild on the hills around the distillery the once-mighty juniper colony.
Similar to elsewhere in Britain the Hepple juniper has experienced a well-documented population decline. Where once thousands of junipers stood, now there are just a few hundred, including many redoubtable specimens possibly older than gin itself. It is from these that we harvest young green berries (more correctly named cones) that are the source of the fresh oils that once distilled provide the uniquely fresh, invigorating taste to Hepple gin.
Happily, Hepple is also an invigorating place for juniper outside the bottle. The air is sharp and clean. The water that emerges from deep within the Simonside hills is of legendary quality, with an alkalinity essential for juniper seedlings. Moreover, the success of the germination programme over the past two years indicates that the Hepple juniper seed is strong. All they need is a bit of a helping hand in their exceptionally slow procreation.
In collaboration with the Northumberland National Park, Newcastle University and Hepple Whitefield Farm. and the Hepple estate, we’ve begun a rejuvenation programme that aims to plant out at least two hundred of juniper seedlings each year, all grown from the estate’s own seed. The new permission from Natural England allows planting into the highly protected SSSI on the heather moors around the distillery, adding to the older stands already there.
It takes more than sixteen years for the female juniper to reach maturity and produce the green cone so prized by the Hepple team. Happily a generation of young bushes planted over the 1990s is now moving to maturity and will help contribute to the harvest over the next decade.
Steps in the propagation programme:
Careful selection of mature berries from the ancient Hepple juniper.
Seed preparation: requires the extraction of the seed from its seed casing and removal of the “inhibitor” layer surrounding the seeds.
One year old seedlings.