The general concept behind science fiction is to contradict what we perceive as reality, however, more often than not there is a degree of reality or possibility behind the fiction. In this instance we have to skip back a few hundred years to a time before before whisky as we know it.
Long before the days of barrel-aging and advanced technologies in distillation, illicit stills were the order of the day, producing a rustic spirit called usgebaugh (Gaelic for 'water of life' and pronounced ish-ka ba-ha). To mask the raw flavour of this spirit and to make it more palatable distillers would often add flavourings to their liquid, in many cases wild aromatic plants such as bog myrtle and juniper.
This spirit would have been closer in style to gin or genever as opposed to the whisky that we know today, even more so when you consider that juniper was regularly one of the main flavourings used in usgebaugh.
When you take into account the history of this gin-like spirit; that Bruichladdich are one of the most forward-thinking and adventurous Scotch whisky distilleries; and that botanicals such as juniper grow all over Islay, the idea of an Islay gin doesn't seem so alien after all, does it?
Another factor, one that distilleries may not wish to admit to but is completely understandable in these challenging financial times, is the length of time and financial commitment that goes into each bottle of whisky. The minimum that you have to wait before you can start legally selling a product that you can call Scotch whisky is three years so it makes financial sense for brands to manufacture a product which they can produce, bottle and sell relatively instantly.
Made up of 31 botanicals, 22 native to Islay;
Apple Mint Birch leaves, Bog Myrtle leaves, Chamomile (sweet), Creeping Thistle flowers, Elder flowers, Gorse flowers, Heather flowers, Hawthorn flowers, Juniper (prostrate) berries, Lady’s Bedstraw flowers, Lemon Balm, Meadow Sweet, Peppermint leaves, Mugwort leaves, Red Clover flowers, Sweet Cicely leaves, Tansy, Thyme leaves, Water Mint leaves, White Clover and Wood Sage leaves
...and 9 that are typically regarded as more traditional;
Angelica root, Cassia bark, Cinnamon bark, Coriander seed, Juniper berries, Lemon peel, Liquorice root, Orange peel and Orris root
...this is a product that fits perfectly within the Bruichladdich portfolio as one that stands out from the competition. The interest in this gin from every corner of the globe tells you everything you need to know...
Produced in a unique Lomond still, Ugly Betty, that has been specially adapted for The Botanist's production, the distillation of this gin takes three times longer than the distillation for their whiskies, running at an extraordinarily low pressure in which the liquid gently simmers. This process offers up a more textured gin with enhanced floral and aromatic notes, making for a robust gin unlike any other that have come onto the market in recent years.
Diving in to the bottle gave me these tasting notes;
Colour: Perfectly clear
Nose: A big punch of sweet juniper surrounded by a subtle creamy aroma, fresh cracked pepper and the merest hint of apple
Palate: Creamy in texture, buttery if you must, starting with a touch of sweetness before juniper takes centre-stage alongside dry orange, grassy notes, pine and soft hints of raspberry and, oddly enough, salt
Finish: Medium length with orange predominant and warm spices providing a wee kick
Thoughts: Big, bold and full of character. Like Islay whiskies it won't be for everyone but I would urge you to explore this if and when you get the chance.
As I have mentioned previously the true test for any gin is how it stands up in a Gin & Tonic and The Botanist doesn't disappoint. Made at a 2-1 ratio using 100ml of Fentimans tonic water and 50ml of the gin I chose to garnish the drink with a strip of grapefruit zest and it worked wonderfully bringing out notes of pear. There's sweetness, there's bitterness, there's floral/aromatic notes and at the finish we have those layers of citrus and spice.
Sipping the G&T I pondered what cocktails The Botanist would work best in and for some reason I kept coming back to the Twentieth Century Cocktail;
40ml The Botanist
20ml Cocchi Americano
20ml Bols White Cacao
20ml Freshly squeezed lemon juice
Method: Add all ingredients to mixing glass fill with cubed ice and shake hard for ten seconds
Glass: Chilled cocktail
Garnish: Lemon twist (optional)
Thoughts: I'm still not sure what it was that made me want to try the gin in this cocktail but it made for a cracking drink. The floral notes of the gin were enhanced with the fresh lemon juice and the extra bitterness of the Cocchi Americano was offset against the sweet chocolate notes of the cacao, which brought out the perfect partner to the subtle orange and spice notes found in the gin.
I'm happy to confess that this drink didn't last long (as it followed a long day painting at my new house) so I was eager to fix another drink. Thinking back to the grassy and pine notes I detected I opted to fix a Martini variant using some bitters I scored when I was over in Berlin for Bar Convent;
50ml The Botanist
10ml Cocchi Americano
3 Dashes Eucalyptus Bitters (from Salon 39 in Copenhagen)
2.5ml Sugar syrup
Method: Add all ingredients to mixing glass fill with cubed ice and stir for 15-20 seconds.
Glass: Frozen vintage coupe
Garnish: Lemon twist
Thoughts: As far as true Martini variants go this was nothing short of sensational. The Eucalyptus Bitters brought out the freshness of the gin with the pine and grassy notes coming to the fore alongside the aroma of fresh citrus. The addition of a little sugar syrup, and ensuring the drink was as cold as possible, meant that the cocktail really held in the mouth whilst also enhancing the sweet juniper you will find when nosing the gin.
As London Drys go this is a very good bottling. Granted it's not the cheapest around but more often than not if you part with a few extra pounds you're guaranteed extra quality. Compared to the vast majority of recent gin releases this bottling is a doff of the cap to true London Dry in the respect that it is packed full of juniper. At the same time Bruichladdich have not overlooked the apparent want for floral gins and it comfortably ticks that box as well.
I would never tell anyone what they must or mustn't buy* and can only offer advice, in this instance I've just ordered another couple of bottles of The Botanist. Take from that what you will...
UPDATE - 20th July 2011
Some people that had stumbled upon my review of The Botanist got in touch with me to say their bottle had some sediment or specs and were curious to find out what it was. I dropped Bruichladdich an email and was given the following info;
"They are silica particles from the Islay spring water we use for the gin. For the first bottling, the high strength of the spirit and the specific minerality of the water meant, that the silica (from the ancient Islay rock through which the water percolates) is, after several weeks, forced out of suspension by the alcohol molecules in to a deposit.
Usually the silica content of the water would be invisible, however it is actually proof positive that the spirit has not been chill-filtered, which enhances the texture of the spirit.
This simply visual imperfection has been prevented in subsequent bottlings by additional filtering of the spring water before adding to the spirit.
The gin can of course be enjoyed as usual."
The Botanist gin by Bruichladdich
70cl available for £24-28
*Unless it is that gin which in no way should be allowed to classify itself as such as it is truly awful (ask me nicely and I'll give you the name). As for bitters that aren't bitter, well that's another debate for another time...
Bar Consultant / Compounder
Evo-lution / Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Bitters
Web: www.evo-lution.org / www.bokersbitters.co.uk
Facebook: Adam Elmegirab / Evo-lution Bar Consultancy / Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Bitters