We need to put the juniper back in the gin
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Gin should taste principally of juniper – that’s what EU regs state, anyway. And I’m inclined to agree. That pine-y, peppery bite is what gives backbone to a martini and freshness to a G&T. It’s the hallmark of traditional London Dry gins – Beefeater, Hayman’s and the peerless Tanqueray. But among the ever-growing number of new-wave gins – often designed expressly to appeal to fans of liqueurs and flavoured vodkas – it’s become increasingly hard to spot. There are, however, a few newcomers determined to make juniper the star.
Procera Green Dot 2021 is a new, ultra-small-batch gin from Kenya that riffs on juniper in all its forms: fruity green juniper berries and spicy, dried, mature ones, spiky juniper foliage and toasted juniper wood. Distilled from Juniperus procera – a lofty, high-altitude variety that grows in Kenya and Ethiopia – it’s strikingly different to a classic London Dry: very full-bodied and powerful with notes of anise-y tarragon and toasty coconut. The hand-blown blue bottle with its palm wood stopper is a Kenyan artefact too – the kind of thing you want to carry on using long after the gin has gone (£114.95, masterofmalt.com).
The English micro-distillery Hepple sits on Northumbrian moors bristling with juniper bushes – which they put to use in all kinds of imaginative ways. Its excellent signature gin contains green and dried berries distilled three ways (traditional copper-pot still, vacuum still and hi-tech CO2 extraction, a technique also used in perfumery) to capture as many facets of the berry as possible. Blended with local botanicals including blackcurrant leaf, douglas fir and lovage, the result is bright, fresh and beautifully balanced.
Hepple’s Ultrasonic Martini (£28.95, masterofmalt.com) is “sonically aged” with juniper wood, to give it extra notes of incense-y spice. I also love the limited edition Hepple x Hawksmoor gin, which builds on the base recipe with layers of tangerine peel, coriander seed and juniper berries lightly smoked over juniper wood. Labelled with a sweet snap of Hepple’s own longhorn cattle – the beasts at the heart of the estate’s rewilding scheme – it’s especially good on the rocks (£35, thehawksmoor.com).
Height of Arrows is an unconventional, but inspired, gin from Edinburgh that rounds out juniper’s pepper-and-lavender notes with subtle hints of beeswax and salt. Created by Holyrood Distillery – which also makes whisky – it’s designed for juniper purists who like sipping their spirits neat. The beeswax adds texture and depth, as well as a gentle pollen-y fragrance; the salt, just a few grains of it, makes the finish wonderfully mouth-watering (£34.95, royalmilewhiskies.com).
I’m so fascinated by juniper I once joined a harvest in Tuscany – the place where much of the juniper used by the gin industry grows. I spent an arduous autumn day in the scrubby hills working alongside the battitori, the pensioners who harvest the berries by beating the spiky bushes with sticks.
So I will always have a soft spot for Ginepraio, an Italian gin made with a blend of juniper from three different terroirs in Tuscany: the slightly saline berries of coastal Maremma; the more resinous berries of Castellina di Chianti; and the citrussy/floral berries of the Tuscan Apennines. It’s a dry, very precise gin with layers of intricate flavours. Don’t be deceived by the simple bottle – this gin is certainly not one-note (£38.95, thewhiskyexchange.com).
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