In the first of a new series, we’re looking at the many botanicals used across our range of award winning gins. When we talk about botanicals, we are referring to the many plant components, including roots, seeds, flowers, bark and berries, from which we extract aroma and flavour to give each gin it’s defining profile.
It only makes sense to start with juniper, the one botanical that, by legal definition, has to be included in gin. This is an important point as whilst it should also be a prominent contributor to a gin’s character, the rise of heavily flavoured or ‘pink gins’, have recently resulted in juniper sadly taking a back seat.
The first misleading fact about the juniper berry is that it is not a berry. It is in fact a small pine cone that starts off bright green and about 3mm in diameter. As it matures the outer sections of the cone fuse together, slowing increasing in size and changing to a silvery, purple colour. Mature berries average 6 to 8 mm in diameter and can be used freshly picked from the plant, although it is more typical to dry them.
The juniper tree, or bush, depending on variety, is either female or male, meaning cross pollination of two separate plants is required for the formation of the berries. It is on the female plant that berries grow. There are many varieties of juniper with Juniper Communis being the variant from which most berries are harvested. This species is covered with thousands of sharp needles, which from experience we can say, makes harvesting a difficult and sometimes painful process.
Most distillers will source juniper from Scandinavian regions, North America, Canada, Eastern Europe and Mediterranean regions. Ours is primarily Macedonian, and like a lot junipers, grows wild without the need for chemical fertiliser or pesticides.
Here in the UK, juniper was hit by a blight that saw most plants killed off, especially in the south of the country. Head north and into the Highlands and the number of wild growing juniper increases dramatically. However there is some good news. Many of you will know we are fortunate enough to be working with the local Box Moor Trust who have been successfully cultivating juniper no more than 10 miles from the distillery. In 2018 we harvested the first berries and last year released 1594 ‘The Spirit of Boxmoor’, the first gin we know of to ever be made with Hertfordshire juniper.
Juniper offers up a number of characteristics. The aroma is primarily piney, with subtle citrus and earthy notes. This is replicated on the palate alongside slightly sweet berry notes and in the case of the Hertfordshire juniper some herbal, plum overtones.