A Different Side of Islay
Bruichladdich's Lighter Spirit
It is no secret that we have a fondness for whisk(e)y, but we also enjoy other spirits from time to time. Today, we’re taking a bit of a detour to look at another spirit, but we promise that it has ties to the whisk(e)y realm.
Several years ago, we began to see a new gin popping up in bars, on menus, and in stores across Chicago. This minimalist, embossed bottle stood out among the bright labels and familiar brands. Not being too familiar with gin, we tried The Botanist and had enjoyed it, but did not give it much more thought. When we visited Bruichladdich in 2016, we were excited to learn that The Botanist was part of the company’s portfolio. During our tour, we were able to learn more about this clear spirit and found out that it was created with a particular mix of 31 botanicals—the 9 standard botanicals found in gin in addition to 22 that are foraged for Bruichladdich by a local couple (this number is proudly stated on the label).
If you’ve had a chance to read our previous post on Bruichladdich, you’ll remember that this distillery is like a time capsule that is at the same time not afraid to experiment; mixing Victorian era equipment with the constant push to try new ideas and evolve their core range of products. At Bruichladdich, the biggest focus is on terroir and provenance. If you ever look at the distillery’s marketing materials, the idea that terroir matters is one of the main messages you’ll see throughout. This belief encapsulates the thinking that the location where the growing, distillation and aging takes place can dramatically impact the spirit’s flavor. Much like their whisky, it’s clear to see how Bruichladdich has taken the same approach to The Botanist.
Distilled since the Middle Ages, gin is essentially a neutral spirit (from grain or other starches) that is then redistilled along with botanicals (think juniper berries, citrus, coriander, sage, and chamomile). This gives gin an incredible range, as distillers can combine whatever botanical mix to bring out different flavors. As we mentioned, Bruichladdich scours Islay for 22 local plants. If you’ve ever been to Islay, you know that the sea is always near and the weather is always changing, so the botanicals used in The Botanist are hardy and influenced by the sea. In addition, Bruichladdich uses an obscure still that is a cross between a pot still and a column still. The result is a slow production process with a lot of manual labor and local flavor.
While we’re admittedly not as familiar with the nuances of gin, we wanted to enhance our familiarity with The Botanist with a true tasting since we’re more accustomed to consuming it within a cocktail.
On the Eyes: The Botanist bottle is one of our favorites. A simple clear cylinder and white label are a subtle backdrop while the scientific names of the 22 Islay botanicals are embossed in block text across the bulk of the bottle. In the glass, well, it’s gin, so it’s clear. However the liquid leaves rich legs in the glass, which we did not expect.
On the Nose: The nose is a bouquet of fresh peeled lemon rinds and herbs de provence. Typically when we’ve had gin we get an antiseptic tinge on the nose. The Botanist is much more soft, not unlike a Speyside single malt.
To the Taste: The first sip resembled the flavor of limoncello. Subsequent tastes brought forth notes of dried cherries mixed with fresh pine needles.
And the Finish: The finish brought a mix of more lemon zest and a bit of escarole greens.
The Botanist goes a long way to show the similarities between spirits categories. The production methods that Bruichladdich uses borrow a lot from the company’s single malt whisky knowledge, and the result is a gin that sips like a scotch. Each taste gave us something to think about, and the botanicals created an overall flavor profile that had none of the pure alcohol punch we’ve experienced with many brands of gin and other neutral grain spirits like vodka. We might recommend trying the Botanist neat.