THE BRITISH GIN & TONIC FACES EXTINCTION
COULD THE CLASSIC G&T become a thing of the past? It’s entirely possible. Juniper berries, the crucial ingredient in British gin, are under attack by a virulent fungus strain: Phytophthora austrocedrae. “Juniper is in serious trouble,” a spokeswoman for conservation group Plantlife Scotland commented. “One of only three native conifers in Britain, not only does it face a new deadly fungal disease, it has also disappeared from over one-third of Britain where it was previously found.” According to Plantlife’s Tim Wilkins, many southern English counties had lost 6O to 7O percent of their populations of juniper before the efforts of that organization began to bring it back from near extinction. But that progress is now threatened by the fungus. Not only are about 45 percent of juniper bushes at risk of being destroyed by the fungus, but much of the existing stock is suffering from old age, and others bushes are being dispatched by rabbit and vole populations. However, should the juniper bush disappear completely, production of British gin won’t cease. Most commercial gin these days is formulated with berries procured from Eastern European suppliers. But the loss of British juniper should not be taken lightly. Not only would it weaken the worldwide genetic stock of the berry bushes, thus leaving existing sources perhaps more susceptible to future infestations, but also it would be a cultural blow to a country which has had a long – albeit sometimes tumultuous – relationship with the national spirit. Somehow a vodka and tonic just isn’t the same . . .