Last Updated on November 17, 2022 by Leyla Kazim
The Hebridean island producing the first and only Islay gin at the Bruichladdich Distillery
The Isle of Islay (pronouned EYE-lah) is where you’ll find a touch of wild Islay gin and whisky magic.
On this wee southernmost island in the inner Hebrides – the archipelago of hundreds of islands off the northwest coast of Scotland – the Bruichladdich Distillery distils both outstanding whisky and the sublime and artisanal The Botanist Gin.
The Botanist Gin is the island’s first and only dry gin, what they describe as ‘a rare expression of the heart and soul of our remote Scottish island’.
5 reasons to love The Botanist Gin from Scotland’s Isle of Islay
Gin is oh so very much my tipple of choice.
I got to visit Bruichladdich Distillery on the ruggedly gorgeous Isle of Islay. After learning about how this Islay gin is made and the principles and philosophies the people behind it hold, I can safely say it’s now probably my favourite gin.
That’s a pretty big claim.
Here are a few reasons why you should actively seek out this gin in bars and retailers across the land.
1) The 22 wild botanicals used in The Botanist Gin are hand foraged across the Isle of Islay. By just one man.
The first batch of The Botanist Gin was distilled in August 2010, with a mix of nine core and 22 Islay-foraged botanicals. It was a bit of a play with what they could do with an extra still they had lying around the distillery.
But they had a stroke of beginner’s luck, nailing the flavour profile first time round. So the recipe for these botanicals hasn’t changed since.
What’s rather incredible though, is that the wild flora used in the gin is foraged by just one man, Professional Forager of The Botanist gin, James Donaldson.
He spends the entire growing season (about nine months of the year) travelling across the island, harvesting on his hands and knees. James is responsible for foraging, preparing and ensuring the sustainability of the 22 Islay botanicals used in the gin.
All in, he needs to collect 10 large hessian bags full of these botanicals each year for all The Botanist Gin produced at Bruichladdich Distillery.
Sourcing and tracking the best spots and travelling to each place must be time consuming in itself. Then there’s delicately picking flowers off branches, removing bark, pinching off stems, drying, tincturing, storing, and all the other stages. All long, meticulous and very skilled processes.
The fact that foraging – something that was once the only way of life for everybody and everything – is an integral part of The Botanist Gin, is so up my street. I even got the chance to spend the afternoon foraging with James.
I learnt that ribwort plantain acts as a natural plaster, grazed on zingy common sorrel and sampled a wood ear fungus straight from a log. So freakin’ cool.
2) They are one of the Islay distilleries with a true sense of place and people
For example, despite being the smallest of the Islay distilleries – producing much less volume of spirit than its neighbours – Bruichladdich Distillery is the largest employer on the island.
3) Bruichladdich Distillery is small scale and their products hand crafted. You won’t find The Botanist Gin just anywhere. And that’s a good thing.
Creating this gin takes time. Way longer than most gins. Firstly because, it’s still done the old fashioned way. Slowly, carefully and by hand. With measurements noted down on chalk boards and botanicals dried in the attic of their offices
And it’s because of this commitment to keeping quality high and the volume of production to reflect this that they’re able to employ so many locals. They refuse to replace people with machinery.
For example, the temperature of the spirit in the still is increased until it’s literally hand hot. It is tested by hand until it feels right – no thermometers are used.
Over the course of the year, ten distillations of gin are run. This creates about 200k-250k bottles of The Botanist Gin each time. That’s around 2m-2.5m bottles a year.
Whilst that might sound a lot, it isn’t. Which is why you won’t find The Botanist in every bar or shop you come across. But when you do see it, I urge you to order / buy it!
4) The sustainability of what they harvest from the Isle of Islay is integral to what they do
Without wild plants, there would be no future for The Botanist. This Islay gin as a brand is dependent on a sustainable supply of the island’s wild and foraged botanicals.
And so, in September 2016 The Botanist Foundation was introduced.
Their vision is of a positive and sustainable future where the activities of Bruichladdich Distillery support the diversity of Islay’s wild plants.
Whilst this makes good business sense, they also appreciate the moral requirement to preserve the natural environment and to enhance the quality of life for the people of Islay.
Current projects the Foundation is involved in include improving the biodiversity on the distillery sites on Islay and supporting the Islay Natural History Trust with its compilation of a Biological Records Database. They also offer an annual bursary to a pupil from Islay High School.
And botanists Dr Richard and Mavis Gulliver (the original Botanist foragers) are actively involved in a Plantlife sponsored programme to reintroduce the rare prostrate juniper into suitable habitat on the island.
5) Oh, and it tastes AMAZING.
It really does.
It’s oh so smooth and glides over the palate. Rich and mellow, it’s cool on entry then reaches the back of the throat where you can feel the warmth of the unhurried distillation.
There are nine core berries, barks peels and seeds that delicately augment the flavour: cassia, coriander, juniper, orange, cinnamon, lemon, licorice, angelica root and orris root.
Then, with the addition of the 22 foraged botanicals from the Isle of Islay, the result is pretty bewitching. Think sweet and delicate menthol, apple mint, spring woodlands, aniseed undertones, honey from thistle, summer meadows and fresh and stimulating citrus.
It’s a magical melody of Islay’s natural bounty, from the Atlantic washed beaches to the summit of heather covered hills.
Have you ever been to the Isle of Islay or the Hebrides before? Would you like to try this Islay gin, if you haven’t tried The Botanist Gin before? What’s your favourite type of cocktail that contains gin? Have you visited any of the Islay distilleries before? Let me know in the comments below!
This is a sponsored post in partnership with The Botanist Gin – more on them here . It was an absolute privilege to get to visit Bruichladdich Distillery on the stunning Isle of Islay and meet the people behind this terrific spirit.
You should also know about the awesome foraged dinners their hosting during London Cocktail Week in October – more info and tickets here.
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