Islay, a rugged, windswept island in the Hebrides, houses the creators of the island’s first and only gin, The Botanist – flavoured with 22 flowers, leaves, and herbs all growing wild and foraged sustainably.
While The Botanist has only been in production since 2010 in the Bruichladdich (pronounced brook-laddie), gin-making on the island enjoys a longer history, according to distillery employee Carl Reavey. An illicit forerunner of single-malt whisky from the 18th-century, Usquebaugh (pronounced oo-shkavar) was made using local botanicals, and had a very similar taste and appearance to gin. Explaining, Carl says, ‘There would have been lots of juniper, bog myrtle and several types of mint used,’ grounding The Botanist firmly in local history as a forerunner to Scotland’s most famous drink.
Bartender and forager Danny Whelan joins the team in the Audi A4 allroad quattro as they cruise effortlessly to the west coast of the island, foraging among the coastal grasses of Saligo Bay. The quattro permanent all-wheel drive made light work of the island’s wild terrain, arriving at the cliff-side with sophisticated smoothness.
Climbing to the clifftops above, native juniper is plentiful underneath the rugged rock face where Whelan climbs to harvest some. Returning from the clifftops, the high-class interior of the A4 allroad quattro provided much needed comfort, its modified suspension making a smooth ride of the rocky roads.
Getting back to the distillery, the team meets Allan Logan, one of three people to know the exact recipe and method used to create The Botanist. Sharing the origins of the drink, he says, ‘The first time we ran the still we weren’t sure whether it would work. We did it in the middle of the night so if it had been a disaster, no one would have known.’
The Botanist is a drink that is hand-crafted from only the best ingredients and equipment. Invented in 1955, the copper still used to make this extraordinary drink was originally designed to produce whisky. A very rare piece of equipment today, a little customisation has made it the perfect instrument for creating The Botanist.
At the end of an adventurous day came the opportunity to taste the finished product. From the first taste there is the wildness of the island, the flavour of the flora, and the weather all combining to create the signature taste only Islay can produce.
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