Over the last few months we have introduced you to the Hepple team - this month we’ve been chatting to Valentine Warner and discovering how he enjoys the bright lights of London just as much as the space and peace of the Northumbrian Moors at Hepple.
How did you and Walter come up with the idea of making gin?
I believe that in life there are always serendipitous moments or cues when things come together.
From the age of ten, I’ve spent happy days with my dearest friend Walter Riddell in Hepple, a small village with surrounding moorland high in the eastern corner of Northumberland. Finding ourselves simultaneously at crossroads in our lives in 2013, we shared thoughts over dinner and discussed how to use the natural resources and wild ingredients growing in abundance on the Hepple estate. We realised that a business might be under our very noses and that our childhood fantasies of one day running a toy or paint factory together had found a more adult theme.
At the time, I had recently been introduced to bar wizard Nick Strangeway and his business partner Cairbry Hill, a drinks process developer. I suggested to Walter that we invite them to Hepple to explore how we could capture in a bottle the wild ingredients growing at Hepple. The Moorland Spirit Company story began with that visit.
What’s special to you about the Hepple Estate?
Hepple is a remote place, as wild as is left in the UK. The moment I arrive at Hepple my frenetic pace slows. The landscape has a spellbinding ability to take you away from the humdrum of modern life. Hepple is a sanctuary, which I’ve been so generously allowed to share with Walter and his family. The elemental rawness of the Northumbrian Moors restores my balance. You can hear the call of the curlews from inside the distillery. I sleep so well at Hepple.
But Hepple is not only a sanctuary from my city life, it provides the ingredients we need for Hepple Gin. There exists on the Hepple hills a community of 300-odd ancient junipers sprinkled across the moor, shivering under the whip-prickle of rain driven by the northerly gales. This wet, boggy world also provided an active spring of the purest water, supporting an abundance of herbs and trees in a brimming cabinet of natural curiosity.
Where would you rather be London or Northumberland?
Tricky! The majority of my friends live in London and I am a social creature. I love art exhibitions, design, food and restaurants so London is certainly a place to be. However, I like to have one foot in the woods and one on the pavement. I’m split like that. While I love London, I nonetheless feel gloomy when returning to it from Hepple and after 10 days in London I pine for the countryside.
What’s the first thing you do when you get to Hepple?
Raid the Riddell family fridge and biscuit stash - much to Mrs Riddell’s annoyance!
What’s your favourite way to drink Hepple?
In the company of friends, and preferably Nick Strangeway, my co-recipe developer. His acrobatic drinks and bar expertise brings a delightful succession of cocktail treats arriving one after the other.
If you weren’t drinking gin what would you drink?
Dried shrew and banana smoothie with a chilled NHS glass eye in it! No, not really - cider. You can put the boy in the North East but you can’t take the West Country out of him.
Where’s your favourite place to eat and drink?
Next to a veal chop or mackerel grilling over glowing charcoals in the middle of a bluebell wood.
I love a quick lunch in Barafina and a Gibson Martini in the Connaught or the Wolseley bar.
What’s your favourite Hepple Gin food pairing?
I think a Hepple and tonic (Fever Tree Naturally Light) and my father’s prawn and saffron curry made with, coconut, cream, vermouth and finished with toasted almonds. Together they are a fine pairing. The recipe for the curry is in my book The Good Table.
What’s your favourite music to listen to with a Hepple Gin?
Donnie Hathaway - The Ghetto.
Dorothy Parker said “I like to have a martini, two at the very most, three I’m under the table, four I’m under my host”. What is the right number for you and where would you be after four?
Two is the magic number. Four and I’d be running hell for leather and stark naked, towards the edge of a Northumbrian escarpment, gaffer taped into a timber and paper flying suit shouting “Geronimo!”.