When searching for Macedonian juniper in the spice markets of Delhi, to his surprise, Anand Virmani discovered that the botanical also grew in India. Commonly used in incense sticks and traditional Ayurvedic medicine, it turns out that the dried Himalayan juniper also works very well in gin. With more woody and forest-floor notes than its Macedonian counterpart, this native juniper species offered the co-founder of Näo Spirits a further USP for Hapusā Gin, a spirit from a region previously untouched by the gin boom that went on to win an IWSC 2021 Gold Medal. ‘It really brings in a wild and bold character to the liquid through notes of pine, smoke and petrichor,’ says Virmani.
Despite common juniper growing across much of the northern hemisphere – from Alaska, through Europe, and beyond to Japan – the vast majority of gin producers around the world buy their juniper in bulk from the Balkans and Italy. However, a growing number of brands are shunning the convenience and consistency offered by commodity brokers and are instead making gin from their native juniper. Sourcing local juniper is rarely straightforward – harvesting is labour-intensive and time-consuming – but the reward is a point of difference in terms of provenance and flavour. For example, Crossbill Gin uses only hand-picked Highland common juniper and wild rosehips to produce a truly Scottish spirit, while makers from America to Lebanon are turning to some of juniper’s sixty or so other species – such as Texan redberry juniper, which has a sweet fruitiness not unlike dried cranberry, or Beqaa Valley’s aromatic and oily juniperus excelsa – to convey both a connection to the land and a sense of place.
Native juniper is helping to convey the terroir of the region
Perhaps surprisingly, only one of these juniper species, juniperus procera, is indigenous to the southern hemisphere. But at Kenya’s first distillery, the eponymously named Procera Gin is working with the local community to harvest the fresh sun-drenched berries of the local tree – which offer an earthy, nutty flavour profile to the spirit. In combination with the ten other African botanicals in Procera’s flagship Blue Dot Gin, native juniper is helping to convey ‘the terroir of the region’, according to founder Guy Brennan – who also cites another benefit of using the local berries: ‘We collect it ourselves in Kijabe near the distillery and distill it green, fresh and undried.’
Beyond Procera, all producers south of the equator (and particularly those who wish to adhere to EU regulations) are reliant on importing common juniper from the northern hemisphere at considerable monetary, and environmental, cost. Driven by the desire to be more sustainable, Begin Distilling instigated ‘The Great New Zealand Juniper Hunt’ in 2019 and in collaboration with Massey University. So far, they have found and positively identified over 40 specimens of common juniper believed to have been imported into the country in the late 1980s. With cuttings now growing well (albeit slowly), New Zealand-grown juniper could transform the future, and flavour, of Australasian gin.
In the meantime, here are five gins from around the world that are already championing native juniper to great results.
Five native juniper gins to try
Hapusā Himalayan Dry Gin
Sharing its name with the Sanskrit for juniper, Hapusā Gin features only Indian botanicals including turmeric, mango, cardamom, almonds and gondhoraj limes alongside Himalayan juniper. Earthy and bold, pronounced pine gives way to delicate dry spices and warming ginger notes on the long finish. Serve neat straight from the freezer or in a Negroni.
£38.95, Master of Malt
Procera Green Dot 2022
Designed to take juniper terroir to its limits, Kenya’s Procera Green Dot is created using native procera berries, foliage and toasted wood from the Kijabe Forest. Presented in a unique hand-blown bottle with procera-wood stopper, the rich, creamy spirit conveys the earthy nuttiness of the juniper and is best enjoyed in a classic gin and tonic, garnished with Procera’s bespoke botanical salt.
£114.95, Master of Malt
Crossbill 200 Single Specimen Dry Gin 2021
Made using only the berries from one 200-year-old Highland juniper bush and locally foraged rosehip, Scotland’s Crossbill 200 also embraces the natural variation between each vintage. Bottled at still-strength, rich resinous pine is tempered by soft floral notes and a fruity jamminess. Sip slowly with a cube of ice to enjoy its luscious mouthfeel.
£84.50, Master of Malt
WildBark West Texas Dry Gin
Deriving its name from its signature botanical, WildBark Gin combines the savoury and slightly vegetal checkerbark juniper – also known as alligator juniper – found in the Davis Mountains with common juniper, orange peel, orris root and coriander. A Texan take on a classic London Dry, the rye and malted barley base lends the nose and palate a gentle sweetness before bold, spicy juniper takes centre stage, supported by citrus on the finish. Glorious in a Gibson.
The Three Brothers Bathtub Gin
These bartending brothers were inspired to make their own spirit when they found forgotten juniper trees used only for firewood while hiking out in the Beqaa Valley. Made in the style of a 1920s bathtub gin, Three Brothers is a 22-botanical infusion, with the orange-brown berries of Phoenician juniper, olive leaves, carob and jujube fruit among the Lebanese ingredients imparting both flavour and a rich golden colour. A complex and characterful gin offering woody, nutty, spicy and zesty notes, try Three Brothers over ice with a slice of apple.
£21.95, The Whisky Exchange