By guest blogger JAMES DONALDSON
To celebrate International Gin and Tonic Day, Scottish gin distiller The Botanist’s local forager James Donaldson takes us on a journey to the Scottish Isle of Islay, exploring the company’s local roots and global reach.
Since 2009, gin has grown in popularity, becoming the global phenomenon we know it as today. The Botanist was one of the first artisanal gins to explore the potential of local flavours. We set out to create a gin that spoke of Islay – the Scottish island where our gin is produced – it’s diversity, and natural heritage.
The team at Bruichladdich Distillery, home of The Botanist gin, alongside three unique single malt whiskies, is committed to the notion of terroir (how a region’s climate, soils and topography affect taste) and the impact this has on character and depth of flavour. We distil and mature all our whisky on Islay because we believe this imparts the most flavour. The Botanist follows the same principle, utilising local, hand-foraged ingredients and pure Islay spring water to create a gin that instantly transports you to a fresh spring day in the Hebrides.
Doing things differently
I’ve always had a passion for plants, having graduated from Edinburgh University with a degree in Biological Sciences. I joined the team in 2017 and was lucky enough to be employed as a full-time forager for The Botanist. I learned my trade from the two local botanical scientists who worked with our Master Distiller to identify the 22 island botanicals that give The Botanist its complex flavour profile.
These flowers and herbs are hand-foraged across Islay between March and October each year, before being carefully dried one by one and distilled in our beloved still, Ugly Betty. We distil The Botanist in a unique way, macerating nine core gin botanicals including juniper, cassia and coriander, before the vapours rise into a specially created infusion chamber, where we place the 22 Islay botanicals in a muslin bag. Distilling in this way ensures we can extract an incredible amount of flavour and create a gin rich in natural oils which also gives us a beautiful viscosity and memorable palate.
Our love for Islay and our respect for the natural world meant that from the outset, sustainability was key. The 22 botanicals were chosen for their flavour but none of them are rare or endangered. Many, such as apple mint, are garden escapees that have flourished wherever they have found a niche! To ensure the sustainable supply of the 22, we forage by hand and never pick more than we need, constantly monitoring the health of local populations. It’s a complex job, but one I delight in every day!
In 2015, we set up The Botanist Foundation to strengthen our commitment to the biodiversity of the island, and beyond. The Foundation supports local projects such as pollinator programmes, verge surveys and juniper regeneration. We expanded our remit nationally in 2019, working with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology to part fund a PhD on Juniper genomics.
In 2020, we went further, initiating a partnership with Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), the world’s largest plant conservation network, who provide a voice for botanic gardens all over the world. We’re proud to support their Global Botanic Garden Fund, which provides funding for smaller gardens to conserve endangered plants in countries such as Mexico, Uganda and South Africa.
2020 was also the year that Bruichladdich Distillery was awarded B Corp accreditation, meaning that we adhere to the highest standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency, and accountability, or in other words, balance profit and purpose.
A global phenomenon
When we first distilled The Botanist, I don’t think anyone knew how popular it would become. Our incredible liquid coupled with an iconic bottle replete with the Latin names of the 22 botanicals was an instant hit. Today, we’re the no. 4-selling super-premium gin stocked in 66 countries worldwide. Not bad for a gin from a tiny island!
The thing I’m most proud of, over and above knowing that seven months of hard work have gone into every bottle of The Botanist, is the impact that we can now have globally through our work with The Botanist Foundation and partnering with the BGCI. To me, that’s the definition of global impact.
All views expressed in this blog are the views of the guest blogger and do not represent the views of the GREAT campaign.