Okay – this is a big one.
Those of you who follow me on twitter may have seen a few somewhat maniacal tweets surrounding the equipment we recently purchased (a rotary vacuum still, complete with recirculating chiller), and today, with great pride, I can formally reveal what I’ve been slaving over for the last few months, and the reasoning behind it.
You see – I love gin, me. By jebus it’s a fantastic drink. What’s been bugging me for a while about the gin category as a whole, though, is that there’s not been any attempt to delve a bit deeper into its main ingredient – Juniper.
Now – you can get gins with absolutely every single botanical ingredient you care to mention, from the Cucumber and Rose in Hendricks, the incredibly focused botanical nature of Geranium Gin (I’ll let you guess the botanical in that one), to the more scattergun approach of the 31 different botanicals used in The Botanist. Some producers will even site super-specific locations for their botanicals and ingredients - Brockman’s are one (Coriander from Bulgaria since you ask) and Martin Millers (who use Icelandic water to bring the gin down to bottling strength) another.
This is what gin tastes of. By Law.
This said though – no-one seems overly fussed about lauding the provenance of the humble Juniper berries used in their gin’s production (and if they do it inevitably plays second-fiddle to the list of other botanicals). This seemed a bit bonkers to me, as (by law – no less) the predominant flavour in any gin must be that of Juniper.
I set about trying to source a few different batches of juniper in order to assess the difference between them, and whether this would have a discernible effect on the final product, and immediately ran up against a pretty massive brick wall. I spoke to a few suppliers, and with the exception of one, who was exceptionally helpful, most of them either didn’t have a clue where their Juniper came from, or could only get down as far as a particular country. I took the two samples I’d managed to procure so far (one from Arezzo in Italy, and one from ‘somewhere in Croatia’), macerated and distilled them in exactly the same quantities, and blow me if they weren’t completely and utterly different. I was hooked.
From here – the path was clear. Knowing that country-specific location absolutely wouldn’t do, and that we needed to drill down to a specific region, I issued a challenge to our blog readers and they responded in their dozens. We had offers of Juniper from all over the place. We faithfully chased down each and every lead, and came back with about 10 decent prospects for sources. As I sit here today, I have 6 batches sitting in crates behind me, which are as different from one another as bunches of pinot noir from different countries around the world.
Each batch of juniper is processed and distilled in exactly the same way – it’s first milled down to the consistency of coffee grounds (I found that a more ‘complete’ flavour profile was extracted by first milling the juniper) using a burr grinder, so as not to heat it at all, then macerated in English Wheat Spirit for 24 hours.
After this, it’s distilled in the rotary vacuum still, where its temperature is regulated by a water-bath set at a maximum of 30 degrees. Due to the effect of evaporative cooling, the mixture is never actually heated above room-temperature. The distillate is taken off using a glass coil condenser filled with Ethylene Glycol at minus 20 or so. This in turn means that the larger molecules contained within the solution can carry over to the distillate without being knackered by heat (that’s a scientific term).
My first distillery. Glen Ben?
Perhaps the most important part of the above process is that every single batch of Juniper is processed in exactly the same way – concentration, temperature, maceration time, distillation process and subsequent bottling are all absolutely identical. The only difference between the various batches is the raw material. By proxy – this allows us to explore the effect of the place of origin, or ‘terroir’ on the development of the juniper.
The hills outside Arezzo, Italy
Juniper growing on said hills
Fantastic old gent gathering juniper
Juniper-bashing stick it's called. Yep, let's go with that. A JBS
Some brief tasting notes for the four initial batches are as follows:
Origin – Single Estate Juniper Spirit. Arezzo, Italy - £34.95
Clean Citrus and Pine, with a really smooth creaminess on the finish. Amazingly Long.
Origin – Single Estate Juniper Spirit. Meppel, The Netherlands - £34.95
Tobacco and Calves Leather, with an earthy, Coffee-Rich Finish. Much more savoury and masculine than the Arezzo.
Origin – Single Estate Juniper Spirit. Veliki Preslav, Bulgaria - £34.95
Perfumed, Floral notes with a fruity, slightly waxy finish. Put me in mind of a fantastic old Clynelish…
Origin – Single Estate Juniper Spirit. Valbonë, Albania - £34.95
Resinous and Blackcurrant-y notes, with hints of Tobacco and a chocolaty finish. Very rich.
In terms of the flavour profile of the gins – there is absolutely huge variation between them – but nevertheless, they are all (inevitably) very ‘juniper-focused’. For this reason, we’ve supplied a small (10ml) vial of additional (cold-distilled) botanicals. Adding this vial to the bottle will transform it into a more ‘typical’ gin, flavoured by Coriander and Citrus, as well as the inevitable Juniper. The full list of ingredients in this ‘adjunct’ vial is:
- Fresh Lemon Peel
- Bitter Orange Peel
- Cubeb Berries
So – there we go. That’s the last 3 months’ work for you. I’d dearly love to hear what you all make of them, and needless to say that the offer made in my initial post still stands. If you’ve got a source of Juniper that we’ve not yet found – there’s a £100 bounty in it for you.
There will of course be more releases in due course. The next couple are from Kosovo and Macedonia.
I need a sleep now.