Northumberland-based Hepple Spirits, established in 2014, uses its natural surroundings to produce cocktail-ready drinks. Chris Garden, head of operations and former head distiller at Sipsmith, talks to Rachel Badham about Hepple’s triple distillation method and the future of the gin category
How did you get into distilling?
I did a chemical engineering degree but it wasn’t an industry that really excited me. I then used the distillation aspect of the course to do a brewing and distilling Masters and, through an internship, started distilling gin at Sipsmith. I love taking the raw materials and making something from them. At the end of the day you have a bottle of gin that you made and people enjoy.
What makes Northumberland a good location for producing gin?
In terms of the natural environment, Northumberland is one of the purest regions in England.
Hepple itself sits just inside the National Park and a section of the estate is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest, which is a formal conservation designation. Usually, it describes an area that’s of particular interest to science due to the rare species of fauna or flora it contains – or even important geological or physiological features that may lie in its boundaries.
This really means that it is a place where wildlife thrives and for the distillery it means there are plenty of botanicals on our doorstep, such as bog myrtle, Douglas fir and juniper.
Hepple’s gin is triple distilled – how does this impact the finished product?
Our team consists of a chef, bartender, distiller, biochemist and ecologist, so we wanted to take gin back to being about juniper. To do that, we had to pioneer a system that would make our gin relevant in a saturated category. From this, the triple technique was born.
It combines a copper pot still that produces a smooth spirit, a vacuum still to maintain the freshness of the botanicals, and a supercritical extraction column – inspired by the perfume industry – that captures the real depth of juniper flavours.
Are there still new ways for gin to develop and grow as a category?
Gin is probably the most versatile spirit and the one that offers bartenders the most scope to work with – it will never disappear.
However, the category is definitely oversaturated, and in any oversaturated market the products that don’t have a story, don’t taste great and don’t have a purpose won’t survive.
The market is stagnating and the flavoured gin market is in decline, but people are returning to juniper-led gin – what I would call ‘proper’ gin.
What is your favourite gin cocktail recipe that you think consumers should be trying?
My personal favourite cocktail is the Martinez, the godfather to the Martini. It has a little bit of sweetness to it and is more approachable than a Martini. If you are just starting out on your cocktail journey I’d go for a Bramble or an Aviation.
Is Hepple working on anything exciting at the moment?
We are always working and experimenting with new liquids. We have just put some cider spirit in some oak and although we won’t see the liquid for a few years I am very excited to taste it. We also have a limited amount of aquavit that we created in partnership with the restaurant Hjem and if there is demand for it we may expand production of that.
I definitely want to make another gin but will only launch it when it is perfect.