The story of our Botanical Spirit: read on to find out where the idea came from, why it took six months of development to get the recipe right and just exactly why it is not a ‘gin’.
Our first plans for the distillery, dated August 2013, show a gin still in a building that now doesn’t exist. In those early days, gin was still nascent and the idea of making a white spirit ‘early’ in our history seemed attractive. Fast forward four years and by the time we had a distillery up and running gin was booming and quite frankly, we didn’t have anything new to add.
So off we went to make whisky, focusing purely on making the very best ‘new make’ spirit we could. (‘New make’ is the clear spirit produced in the distillery, before we let it age in barrels, and develop whisky’s signature golden colour).
One day, a lovely Japanese lady, Misako Udo, who lives in Edinburgh made the long journey to visit our distillery on the west coast and suggested to me that our new make was so delicious we should bottle it. We are extremely proud of our new make, and it is something we put a lot of focus into as a distillery (more on that another time), but I wasn’t sure it was something anyone would actually buy.
Around the same time I’d been becoming more aware of the natural abundance around the distillery – grasses, flowers, bushes, trees. So I spent a day with local herbalist and all-things-wild guru Clare Holohan and we started to catalogue what grew locally. My favourite of all of these was bog myrtle (below) – an aromatic little bush that grows like a weed around the distillery.
SIX MONTH'S OF DEVELOPMENT
Gradually I put these two ideas together – what if we could combine some of the wonderful herbs and spices (“botanicals”) that grew locally with our new make spirit?
A few fortuitous meetings later we set up a project with Heriot Watt University to develop a recipe with some of their students using our new make and a variety of botanicals. And what a learning curve that was. The first few iterations tasted in all honesty not that great – a slightly herby new make but nothing we’d want to put out in the world.
It was through this process we realised that new make requires special treatment. It is not a normal ‘gin’ process – which takes very very high strength spirit (distilled to the extent that it has very little taste left) and adds botanicals. We were trying to layer botanicals on top of a fruity, malty spirit. So we changed our approach and doubled, sometimes tripled the botanical quantities and added in juniper and coriander, typical of gin. And wow, that was what we were looking for – suddenly we had a complex, balanced, fruity, herby, malty spirit which we felt really showcased both the new make and the botanicals.
WHAT EXACTLY IS A BOTANICAL SPIRIT?
And so became our ‘botanical spirit’ – not in our business plan, and neither did it feature in some rather dry EU law that defines different types of spirit. Said law states that gin must start life as 96% abv ethyl alcohol (the neutral tasting spirit mentioned above) so instead we named our spirit a ‘Botanical Spirit’, a portrait of our landscape: the combination of wild, local botanicals and our pure, fruity, ‘new make’ spirit. There is no official definition of a Botanical Spirit, but the name tends to encompass any spirits that use botanicals as their flavourings but don’t fit any other categories. You can find some others here.
In terms of drinking it, we like to treat it like a gin. Our favourite way to drink it is over plenty of ice, with tonic, a dash of bitters and a slice of grapefruit. Click here to buy a bottle or here to explore some more creative ways to drink it.