Juniper. It’s what makes gin, gin – it even gives it its name, from the Dutch jenever and French genévrier both meaning juniper.
One of our main purposes at Never Never is to get to know this magical plant better in order to pay it the respect it deserves. So, what is it? And what makes it so special?
Juniper is a form of cypress, a member of the larger conifer family (those needly guys with cones). There are various types but the one usually used in gin is known as common juniper, or juniperus communis if you want to sound (very marginally) fancier. And they’re really ancient.
They’ve been around since the Triassic period – a cool 250 million years ago – before the land mass Pangea split into the continents we know today, which explains why this hardy little guy is the most widely spread woody plant on the planet.
It’s found everywhere from Alaska to Japan, and this is where terroir comes in. As wine drinkers know, the setting a plant is grown in has a massive impact on the quality, aroma and taste of its bounty.
Believe us, we wouldn’t bother importing our juniper berries all the way from Macedonia if we didn’t genuinely think they were the best!
Juniper is dioecious i.e., there are male and female versions of it. This does mean that the male plants release pollen – sorry allergy sufferers, but we hope sipping on an ice-cold Martini makes up for it! The berries themselves (which are actually ‘cones’ like pine-cones, just very fleshy ones meaning they look and behave more like fruit) are slow burners. They take 2 – 3 years to ripen, so have to be harvested carefully to leave unripe berries on the bush for the next year.
What really gets us is the complexity of the flavour. The skin is tannic and dry, the flesh bright and citrussy, and the seed is piney and earthy – what more could you want for a spirit?
We have terpenes to thank for this – tasty chemical compounds such as a-pinene (piney, rosemary flavours), myrcene (giving a dank, hoppy and thyme-esque character) and limonene (citrus, obviously!) which give gin its distinctive, nuanced flavour.
These terpenes are common to a lot of other botanicals used in gin, hence the harmonious flavour, and are also why gin and tonic get along so well – more on that here link to G&T article.
The thing is this flavour isn’t going to be the same year in year out, and that’s why we release the Juniper Freak. We want to provide a snapshot of each singular vintage of juniper berries, and so air freight them out straight after the harvest, to distil at optimum freshness and brightness.
Our other releases are all about consistency; The Freak celebrates uniqueness because nature is anything but consistent!