On the trail of the Douglas

On the trail of the Douglas

The strawberry-sweet scent of the Douglas Fir needles is one of the most important components to our gin and as the frosts are just around the corner we need to bring enough into the distillery to take us through winter – which could easily last until next May.

Sales of Hepple Gin have started well, really well, and the big question from my compadres is simply – will we have enough?  We have a batch of gin planned for early November and might want to run another early in the spring, so we must have enough of our separate local ingredients, including the mighty Douglas to cover two more batches before we can expect any new supply from Hepple.  

We need to bottle today’s soft, autumnal sunshine into our large, glass Demijohns – from where it will gently glint and glimmer over the long, dark days of winter – undiminished in freshness and vigour – ready for the Spring batch.

Our destination – Woodside, with the fronds of the Douglas on the near horizon.

Our destination – Woodside, with the fronds of the Douglas on the near horizon.

Woodside is an ancient woodland at the western end of the Hepple estate, home to a mix of ancient oaks, beeches and sweet chestnuts as well as the cultivated Douglases. Today the air is very very clean, having brushed over wild moors and remote woodland on its passage from the Solway firth, with just an edge of chill from the mists earlier this morning.

At the harvesting site, Chris, being the manly chap he is, wields the blade. Our candidate for the day, a teenage Douglas, stands proud in its own clearing. The lower branches are heavy with needles and will be enough for this sortie.

The back of The Rattler, our old landrover is filled and we think of heading off with a truck-load of what smells like the most pungent melons – or is it strawberry?  Unfortunately, some crazed goon has lodged the car over a tremendous rock, nice parking…

Finally extricated, the next stage is to hang the young Doug. in the boiler-room.  We have tried it absolutely fresh from the tree and have found that a week of hanging massively improves the depth of flavour. And of course, it does look rather wonderful hanging in state.. well, some sort of state:

However, relentless experimentation gets the better of Chris.  The Hepple Douglas is SO very delicious distilled, and it is always better to know whether perhaps something has changed – might it be better when completely fresh from the tree?   Chris wastes no time – into the glass still it goes, twiggy bits and all!

What’s the verdict?  Give us a week for it to rest…. You can’t rush the resting…

Harvest, NorthumberlandFlynn W