The island spirit: Islay’s ‘The Botanist’ gin

Destination: Audi travels to Islay in the rugged, windswept Hebrides, to meet the creators of the island’s first and only gin.

Islay’s first and only gin

Scotland is renowned for producing some of the world’s best whisky. Despite this, we’re here for the gin – but not any old gin. The Botanist is the island of Islay’s only gin, and is flavoured with 22 botanicals – flowers, leaves and herbs – all found growing wild on Islay and foraged sustainably.

   The Botanist has been made by the Bruichladdich (pronounced brook-laddie) Distillery since 2010, but according to distillery employee Carl Reavey, gin-making has a longer history on the island. Usquebaugh (pronounced oo-shkavar), an illicit 18th-century forerunner of single malt whisky made using local botanicals, was very similar to gin in its taste and appearance. ‘There would have been lots of juniper, bog myrtle and several types of mint used,’ he explains.

   We jump into our Audi A4 allroad quattro with bartender and forager Danny Whelan and drive to Saligo Bay on the west coast of the island. Here we forage among the coastal grasses before climbing the clifftops above. Beneath the jagged rock face, native juniper is abundant, and we watch as Whelan clambers down to fetch some.

   Back at the distillery, we meet Allan Logan, one of only three people who know the precise recipe and technique used to create The Botanist. ‘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,’ he laughs. The still in question is an extraordinary contraption. Invented in 1955 and made from copper, the Lomond still was originally designed to produce different kinds of whisky. Today it’s an incredibly rare piece of equipment – and, thanks to a little customisation, it’s perfect for creating The Botanist.

   At the end of the day, red-faced from being exposed to the elements all day, we are granted the chance to try the finished product. Glasses in hand, we raise them and drink in all of that skill, wildness and beauty. It goes down well. Very well. From the first taste it’s immediately obvious that the water, the weather, the flavour of the fauna, the still and the superstition all combine to capture the true spirit of the island. As Whelan perfectly summarises: ‘If The Botanist were made anywhere other than Islay, it would taste entirely different.’

Written by Johanna Derry. Photographs by Paul Calver.


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