Hepple: The new techniques in British gin making

Walter Riddell of Moorland Spirit Company talks about using local juniper and extracting their intense flavour with perfume-making methods


Hepple Gin started after a long, and frankly rather boozy, discussion between myself and my old friend Valentine Warner, the well-known chef and broadcaster, in a west London restaurant. Val and I are idealists, and as the conversation developed our ideals grew. We share a passionate love for wild countryside; where I find the space and crisp air helps to clarify my mind and Val finds vivid, real flavours that are the hallmark of his cooking. There is something magical in the wholly natural, but to catch that spirit we had to look to science, so we turned to two experts – Nick Strangeway, one of the world's top bartenders and Cairbry Hill, who has developed innovative techniques in natural flavour extraction. In March 2013, we all met at Hepple, which is my family’s heartland in remote northern Northumberland. As we walked on the hill through a battering of snow, four strands of experience started to draw together.

Our initial plan was to create a different type of drink in an entirely new category, but gin’s prized ingredient surrounded us – juniper. As we walked, Nick explained that the British berry had not played much of a role in the traditions of gin. When I was young we would picnic among the ancient bushes and burn cast-off branches to cook our sausages. Juniper smoke has the most fabulous aroma and was wafted through the house to banish banshees and welcome guests. But from Val, Nick and Cairbry’s perspective the junipers at Hepple could form the core of our gin. Radical new techniques to capture botanical freshness and richness that traditional distilling left behind would be used to make the gin taste as alive in the bottle as our plants – our ingredients – were on the hill.

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