Hepple is a two-fold gin made in a three-fold way, so there’s quite a bit of unpicking to do. We’ll start with the two fold, and we’ll let Warner kick it off. “Walter and I are very old friends, and we have always felt that there was something in the raw, life-giving wilds of Hepple that we wanted to bottle and share,” he explained. Gin, as a botanically diverse spirit, was always the best option when it came to preserving the bounty of the surrounding land, but using the spirit in such a way meant that its very definition was shifting.
“The gin market was growing strongly,” Warner explained, “but the innovation that we saw there was taking gin away from its traditional focus on juniper. We wanted to bring juniper back to the heart of gin, and we wanted to use novel techniques to show it in its brightest, richest and most complete form.”
So there’s the two-fold: a botanically diverse gin that is unique to the land it grows on, but that also respects the flavour and history of gin and – most importantly – juniper’s place in it. So far, so good.
Now for the three-fold. Which in itself is two-fold (sorry about that…). Such is the importance of juniper to the Hepple Gin operation that there are three varieties trapped within its watery walls. There’s Italian and Balkan juniper, and then – most excitingly of all – a green, young juniper that grows on the Hepple land itself.
There are also three ways of extracting flavour being used to create the end outcome… There’s a copper pot still upon which the ‘core’ gin is created – that which sticks to tradition and creates the foundation upon which Hepple Gin’s more defining characteristics can be built – then there’s a rotary evaporator that reduces the atmospheric pressure and so, is used to cold distil the ingredients (thus preserving them in their raw state), and then, last but not least, is a CO2 Extraction System – also known as the Supercritical machine.
The production, with its three methods and multiple variables on the same ingredients, is ludicrously complicated. As nerds, we love it. As writers, well, it’s made things tricky so here’s our best at un-deciphering it…
The Co2 machine, brought into play by Hill, is capable of capturing the full scope of juniper’s flavour, by allowing “for the inclusion of some of the oils that do not make it through distillation, but which gave that long, deep resonance of taste that we really wanted,” said Warner.
By some serendipity, as the Hepple Gin team was assembling, Sipsmith’s ex-Head Distiller, Garden, was making a move up North. He’d been with the pioneering brand from the beginning, so his knowledge of small-batch distilling was, at the time, second to very, very few, and he happily passed it on to the rest of the Moorland Spirits team. Dragging in the Supercritical machine may have been Hill’s idea, but it was Garden that gave everyone the confidence to use the tools at their disposal.
Even though it all began one frosty morning in the early months of 2013, a recipe is not just a list of ingredients, but of methodology as well, and with so many variable parts, so many different processes – it is little surprise that Hepple’s took two over two years to create.
Strangeway was responsible for blending, and that process in itself took months. “We had literally thousands of variants,” Warner told us, “but the eureka moment finally came one beautiful evening in July 2015, when we found exactly what we were looking for. By September of 2015, we produced our first proper batch of Hepple Gin.”
Not only did the triple distillation technique add literal layers of complexity to the process, it also means that each batch takes much, much longer to produce each an every time moving forward – than if it was all just going straight in the still.
If your mind boggles at the interlaced complexity of it all, here’s another thing to toss into the mix – The fact that a lot of the ingredients are grown on the Hepple land also meant that they had to wait for the exact right time to harvest each botanical.