Gin– it’s quite the thing at the moment, isn’t it? A law preventing production of under 1800l of gin per distillery – a nasty hangover left over from the crackdown on London’s first gin craze in the 1700s – was lifted in 2008, and ever since there have been a flurry of small-scale, craft distilleries creating diverse and intriguing gins using a number of weird and wonderful botanicals.
But as with any boom follows the risk of fatigue, and those of us who love a touch of mother’s ruin know that gin fatigue can be chilling. With this in mind, I found myself travelling to West London one blustery October morning to be persuaded, most effectively, that there is room for further excitement about gin.
I was on my way to meet Valentine Warner – yes – that affable, lovely man from the telly who likes seasonal produce, and makes many a mother (my own included) swoon. Since first appearing on our screens in What to Eat Now, Warner has been very busy indeed, transforming himself into a champion of his very own gin – Hepple gin, named after the Northumberland moorland he spent childhood holidays on with old friend and Hepple Gin managing director, Walter Riddell, and where the team set up shop to create their own take on one of the country’s most beloved boozes.
He came armed with a satchel of appealing looking bottles sloshing with crystal clear spirits, each labelled with a different botanical. Producing a seemingly endless number of dainty tasting glasses, Warner poured our first sample. I would be in for a tasting of the base gin, a number of different botanical spirits produced in a rotary evaporator, some juniper booze created using a process called critical CO2 extraction (who knew?), and finally Hepple Gin itself, which is a beautiful amalgamation of this giddying number of processes. It’s a good job I had a big breakfast.
The formation of the Hepple Gin dream team itself was a tale of serendipitous circumstance that Warner reeled off with excitement – ‘I think there’s some quote by Goethe that says once you’re committed to something then all manner of stuff appears in front of you that would otherwise never have happened before – that’s very much been the case.’
‘Hepple has an enormous amount to offer – there was a very large stand of juniper, about 200 pickable trees, incredible water, all sorts of wild herbs that I’m very familiar with. We were just surrounded by this extraordinary offering, and there was a building which was empty and full of old lawnmowers. At the time I’d been designing a drink with (co-creator) Nick Strangeway and something suddenly went ‘click'. We all got together in Hepple and decided we were going to make gin’