At the heart of our recipe is Juniperus Procera, the only species of juniper indigenous to the southern hemisphere. Procera means “tall” in Latin and when you walk through the Procera forest of the Kenya highlands, you understand why straightaway, as you’re dwarfed by these majestic giants. Native to the highlands of Kenya, and growing only above 1500 metres above sea level, this is what makes African juniper so special. Whereas common juniper grows in temperate zones and receives only summer sun for three months a year, our Procera berries receive about seven hours of daily sunlight all year round. Situated at 2200 metres, the Kijabe forest where we harvest our juniper receives even stronger, more direct sun. Hence a richness of flavour and essential oils that only the equatorial sun can provide.
We partner with the Kijabe Forest Trust, an organisation founded to protect the native forests of Kijabe from poaching of both animals and trees. They in turn work with the local communities to collect the Procera berries once they are fully ripe at the end of the short rains around the middle of the year. We know it is time to start harvesting the juniper when the local family of baboons start veraciously devouring them due to their appetising sweetness.
The Procera berries had never been used commercially before we started harvesting them and hence we’ve had to learn everything from scratch. From where the best berries grow, to when to harvest them and how to process them, every step has been a journey of discovery. It is crucial not to let the berries ferment once collected and they must be air dried for about a week before they can be flash frozen to maintain optimal freshness and brightness for distilling throughout the entire year.
By showing the local communities that each tree has a direct monetary value each year, not only are more trees being planted but there is also a reduction in the felling of the old trees. We hope that the world comes to realise that the unparalleled sun and terroir of Kijabe creates a better juniper berry with which to make gin. We dream that in the future, “African Dry Gin” will become a designated category which: must be distilled in Africa; must use African Juniper; must use only botanicals grown on the continent. If this dream were to be realised and there were 10 more Kenyan distilleries, the future of these magnificent juniper forests would not only be assured, but the reforestation of their old habitat across the entire Kenya highlands would become much more probable.