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The Joys Of Juniper
Posted on: 1st September, 2017
In the first of a series of monthly posts dedicated to digging a little deeper into our Isle of Harris Gin botanicals, we start off with the essential ingredient to any gin…Juniper or Juniperus Communis as it is otherwise known.
You simply can’t have gin without this key botanical, in fact the very name ‘gin’ is derived from the French and Dutch words for juniper. Its aroma and taste defines the flavour of this historic spirit and, so, we try to use the best we can find.
In the 17th century, juniper was one Scotland’s most important exports, with berries collected in the Highlands being exported to Holland for the production of genever. One of the reasons a large portion of the British gin industry relocated to Scotland early in the 20th century was easy access to wild juniper bushes.
Slow growing, with a long ripening period, Juniper shrubs still grow all over Scotland, particularly in the Highlands, but tends to fare better in the drier corners and on higher hills. Unfortunately, here in Harris we don’t have any plants suitable enough for gathering, only sparse crops of Dwarf Juniper whose berries are too tiny and tight to be useful to us.
Due to the success of the Scottish gin industry and resulting high demands, concerns have been raised about excessive harvesting of wild juniper in Scotland today. So, combined with issues around the age of native plants, we have been prompted to look further afield for supplies.
With sustainability uppermost in our mind, we choose to source ours from Macedonia, home to arguably the best juniper berries in the world. Plump and juicy, they seem to yield more of the desirable flavours we seek, and we are very happy to bring their high quality to bear on our spirit.
High on wild mountainsides, our suppliers Tommy and Michael help us procure a careful harvest which avoids picking unripe berries and causing any damage to the following year’s crop. With an ethical and environmental approach, they ensure all our juniper is picked by hand, the tree gently tapped with a stick to knock off only the beautiful, ripe, blue-black berries.
If you are unfamiliar with the flavour Juniper brings to your gin, look out for a fragrant pine and medicinal camphor with a touch of bitter pepper. You will find a well-defined juniper note with pine needles when first ‘nosing’ our Isle of Harris Gin, and again on tasting, always balanced with citrus, and slowly fading away in the finish.
It’s a wonderful botanical, and without it we simply would not have gin. So next time you enjoy our drink, raise a glass to this humble and hardy plant, and celebrate the many joys that juniper brings.