THE BOTANIST GIN
Last year I was lucky enough to explore Edinburgh for the first time and I absolutely loved my time there. Everything was fantastic; from the food (go to Timberyard if you’re visiting) to the very warm welcome from the locals. There was something extra special in the air and I vowed to return to Scotland as soon as I had the chance. I was keen to venture as far north as possible after hearing incredible things about the Hebrides with stories of its dramatic coastlines, microclimate, wild greenery and ocean views offering a world away from city life. So when The Botanist invited me along to Islay, the southernmost island of the inner Hebrides I knew it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. After an hour-long flight to Glasgow followed by a short flight on the smallest of planes which gave the most dramatic of views, we arrived on Islay. Vast stretches of windswept green bordered by the ocean guides us to the Bruichladdich distillery where we’ll also reside for the next two nights. By the time we arrive the clouds have cleared and the blue sky turns the ocean from deep grey to green and blue. All the seasons in one day rings true here so we’re told and see!
For those that haven’t yet discovered The Botanist, it is a gin that is all about fragrant, bold botanicals; 22 wild, hand-foraged (on Islay) botanicals to be precise! Produced in the Bruichladdich distillery which famous for it’s single malt whiskies and iconic vibrant turquoise or ‘Laddich aqua’ packaging this is a gin with a difference and one all gin lovers should have on their radar.
This small distillery has like many of the others born out of Islay suffered its hardships but has weathered the storm and in turn added the production of gin to its portfolio. With it’s quick ten-day turn around time gin offers a much faster return than whisky but rest assured, plenty of attention if not more is paid to the production of The Botanist. All 22 hand-foraged botanicals were decided upon due to their sustainability and availability solely on Islay. All of these are foraged, sorted and dried or made into tinctures to be added to the gin alongside nine berries, barks, seeds and peels. The laborious and lengthy season of foraging is down to one man; James Donaldson. An entirely passionate and invested forager who studied botany and is now tasked with ensuring he takes just enough from Islay’s shores to complete the ten distillations they do a year. Each distillation producing 250,000 litres of gin.
Our trip includes a tour of the distillery which although is the second smallest on Isaly, employs by far the most people; almost one hundred. Machinery is far from automated. Much of what the distillery believes in and champions is based on and around it’s employees. There’s also The Botanist foundation, which supports sustainability, research, preservation, protection and regeneration. Ensuring the longevity of the product while caring and conserving the resources it pulls from its surroundings.
We come to experience the strong sense of community that naturally comes with island life. We meet the mums, uncles, aunts and neighbours of those who guide us proudly around the island. We are also lucky enough to have time to explore the coastline and be fed by the brilliant Craig Grozier who frequently works with the distillery when they host. Food is expertly paired and is inventive, freshly foraged and as local as can be. From peat smoked sourdough with cultured crème fraîche butter to a starter of incredible freshly foraged girolles with aged halibut and an elderflower vinegar thrown in for good measure. It’s delicious and delicate with hints of sharp sweet and umami throughout. Wild hare comes next with freshly picked kale and a pear puree. Dessert is an exciting mix of dried mushrooms which deliver a deep cocoa aroma. We’re entirely spoilt and go to bed dreaming of that peat smoked sourdough.
We enjoy our very own foraging trip which is led by James (the in-house forager) where we learn the miracles of what is grown around us. One particularly crazy delight is the ground ivy, which bizarrely tastes of rich roasted lamb with a hint of mint sauce in there too! He also picks ribwort plantain, which is known for its antibacterial qualities and for curing stings! We’re at the end of the picking season so much of what was abundant has now died off for winter. This however doesn’t detract from the enviable scenery that the island provides. Portnahaven; where the strongest currents reside (as do the robust seals) brings with it incredible scenery and endless ocean at the most westerly point of the island. Throughout the island there are numerous beaches carved into the coastline which I’d return to in a heartbeat to explore more of.
One thing The Botanist certainly knows how to do is create incredible gin cocktails. With Abigail Clephane sharing homemade sorrel and spruce shoot juice mixed with a generous serving of The Botanist you couldn’t feel more at one with the surroundings.
You can’t help leave this special island feeling the warmth of the people that reside here. The ethos within Bruichladdich is felt through everyone we encounter. We’ve been entirely spoilt and you can see why this product is such a unique and special one.
Here’s to many more gin cocktails @Thebotanistgin