Nfld. & Labrador

Calling all berry-pickers! Newfoundland Distillery Co. is jonesing for juniper

The business says it will pay people seven dollars a pound to keep up with the demand for the key ingredient in its gin.

A bottle of the company's gin requires half a pound of locally-sourced juniper berries

The distillery's seaweed gin is actually 97 per cent juniper and won a double gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition this year. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

Blueberries are so last season. The most sought-after wild berry right now is juniper — the main ingredient in the gin made by the Newfoundland Distillery Company.

"Ninety-seven per cent of the flavour comes from the juniper ... So obviously the juniper is very important to us," says Bill Carter, partner and chief distiller.

"The island is not in any kind of a shortage, but we are. It's juniper that we're looking for, juniper berries."

The Newfoundland Distillery Company, in Clarke's Beach, has racked up numerous awards for its products, namely for its seaweed gin. But seaweed is a tiny fraction of the product, and Carter said the company needs help to keep up with the supply of the main ingredient.

"We started off in the first year that we could pick it ourselves and have people pick it for us, local pickers, and we were able to supply the demand of a few hundred pounds," he told CBC's On The Go. "In the last year, we've realized that we don't in fact need a few hundred pounds, we need a few thousand pounds."

Juniper berries, seen here at the Newfoundland Distillery Co., are in high demand as the key ingredient for gin. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

So, he has a proposition for professional and amateur berry-pickers alike.

"The price that we pay is generally around seven dollars a pound," Carter said.

"I'm not an experienced picker. I can do about four buckets in a morning. You know, that would be the equivalent of $100 or $125 or something. So if you've got kids that need new shoes, send them out [picking]."

Product is all around

Carter said it's the berries on the low-lying bush that his business is interested in, and he was cautioned about them when he was younger, albeit falsely.

"When I was growing up my mother would say, 'Don't eat the berries, they're poisonous,' but I think what she was really saying was don't eat those berries because you'll develop a taste for gin," he said, chuckling.

Carter said about half a pound of juniper goes into a bottle of gin, and that its products are a hit with tourists and residents alike.

"I think the demand has gone through the roof," he said.

The seaweed gin has proven to be the most popular, outselling the regular gin made by the Newfoundland Distillery by a factor of two to one (Peter Cowan/CBC)

He notes "it's a lot easier to pick juniper than to pick bakeapples."

Carter quelled any fears about using a food product gathered by others. 

"We are distilling the berries, so there is absolutely no cross-contamination ... and we would inspect them and go through them even after we purchase them, and clean them," he said.

Peter Wilkins, co-founder of the Newfoundland Distillery, tries a gin and tonic made with the company's popular seaweed gin. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

And if you can't come to the Newfoundland Distillery Company in Clarke's Beach, well, the Newfoundland Distillery Company will come to you.

"We go to St. John's, we go to Mount Pearl, we go to Clarenville, we go to Corner Brook," Carter said, noting they'll collect batches of several buckets.

"I would bring a scale with me and I'd be happy to pay the going rate."

Read more stories from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 

With files from On The Go