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The Botanist Islay Dry Gin

Review: The Botanist Islay Dry Gin   (92/100)
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Refreshed March, 2020

The Botanist is the creation of Bruichladdich Master Distiller, Jim McEwan who in 2010 oversaw the installation of the last authentic Lomond Still (recovered during the demolition of Inverleven Distillery in Dumbarton) at Bruichladdich and following modifications by McEwan, he began to produce his Islay Dry Gin in 2011.

The Botanist is produced upon that Lomond Still in a distillation process which lasts 17 hours. During the final distillation, the core botanicals are placed into the pot of the still in a particular order after the distillate has been raised to a hand hot temperature. These core botanicals (I believe there are 9 in all) are steeped in the hot distillate for 12 hours before distillation begins. Interestingly, in addition to the core botanicals, the gin also uses 22 unique Islay botanicals which have been gathered by hand from the hills and valleys which surround the distillery. These Island botanicals are placed in loosely woven muslin sacks and then into a casket within the lyne arm of the Lomond still where the vapours of the distillation will run through them near the end of the distillation process bringing a unique Islay character to the Botanist Gin.

I had the opportunity to meet and talk to Jim McEwan when he came to Edmonton in 2013 to host an exclusive Bruichladdich Tasting at our city’s historic Chateau Louis Hotel. Although the focus of the tasting seminar was the new range of Bruichladdich Single Malt Whiskies, Jim did include his The Botanist in the flight of spirits. In fact he spent quite a bit of time describing to us how the distillery had come to the decision to produce this gin, and his own personal journey of discovery which he underwent while he went through the process of researching and producing his first Islay Dry Gin.

(Jim McEwan even admitted to trading some of his prized Single Malt Scotch with one of the industry’s iconic retired gin producers in return for some of his gin secrets.)

At the conclusion of the tasting, I was invited to talk to Jim, and he offered to pour me another glass of my favourite spirit from the tasting. Although, I had tasted a range of Single Malts which included spirits 12 to 20 years old, Mr. McEwan did not seem at all surprised when I asked for a second glass of The Botanist straight up with no ice. It was, in my opinion, the star of the afternoon.

It is now seven years after my initial review for The Botanist was published, and Jim McEwan is no longer with the distillery (he retired in July of 2015). Since I recently received another sample bottle, I have decided to taste the spirit again and revisit my original review to see if the the high quality I recognized in 2013 has been maintained.

In the Bottle 4.5/5

The Botanist arrives in the medium tall cylinder bottle shown to the left. The label is designed to be minimalist in nature which I am sure is meant to reinforce the impression that this gin is hand crafted rather than produced from an industrial process. The producers have purposefully highlighted the number 22 in red drawing attention to the 22 Islay botanicals used in the gin’s construction. As well, all of these Islay botanicals are embossed upon the glass cylinder of the bottle under the label, eleven in the front, and eleven upon the back. The embossed lettering actually serves a utilitarian purpose as they give texture to the outside of the bottle making it easy to grip and hold when you are pouring out a small shot of the spirit. Crowing the presentation is a solid synthetic cork which gives the bottle that satisfying ‘pop’ when you open it.

In the Glass 9.5/10

The Botanist is a clear gin which, when tilted and twirled, leaves a thin sheen of liquid on the inside of the glass the crest of which drops small slender legs back into the gin. The aroma from the glass represents a tradition gin profile with firm piny juniper scents leading out in front of soft citrus and light floral impressions.

Although the juniper is firm, as the glass rests, the breezes above the glass fill with the subtle nuances of the other botanicals. Ginger-like spices tickle the nose along with hints of spicy cinnamon and cardamom. A light impression of mojito mint weaves its way into the breezes along with lightly bitter undertones of the broken tops of Russian Blue Thistle and the lightly sweet herbaceous tones of sweet clover blossoms. There are hints of lemon and citrus peel and a lovely tapestry of spring flowers all entwined around the firm juniper. The gin seems all at once robust and assertive, yet full of delicate nuance.

In the Mouth 55/60

The firm piny bitterness of juniper runs through the spirit which dries the mouth and puckers the palate as you sip. The mouth is heated with ginger-like spices and the herbaceous heat of coriander and cardamom. Laying within the bitter juniper and the herbaceous heat is a mild yet zesty citrus which brings light flavours of lemon and orange peel across the palate as well. A mild influence of licorice and mint meander into the fray along with an underlying earthiness speaking to the presence of angelica root somewhere in the mix of main botanicals. Delicate floral flavours surface giving the gin more than a hint of springtime, and yet there is some autumn in the glass as well as I can taste a hint of fresh garden celery and a touch of dry fall grass.

Although the gin brings many aspects to the palate, piny juniper tainted with the light spicy heat of coriander, cardamom and citrus remains at the backbone of the spirit. We taste the influence of the other botanicals only as accents upon this core flavour. At its heart, the Botanist remains a traditional dry gin. It is a fact however, that this ‘traditional gin’ is very easy to enjoy as a sipping spirit.

Of course, for most of us, gin is not really meant to be sipped. The next part of my review process was to construct a few cocktails beginning with a classic Gin and Tonic (see below). I like to make my G&Ts rather strong with an almost 1:1 ratio of gin to tonic, and this format really suits the Botanist Gin. As the firm juniper plays with the tonic, the light nuances of the other botanicals playfully dance in the glass making the mixed drink a real treat to sip on a warm afternoon.

I followed this up with a Lime Gimlet, and then I made a Dry Gin Martini. Each cocktail was a delight, although I must admit, I found sipping The Botanist straight delightful as well.

In the Throat 14/15

I think that part of the genius behind my adoration of the Botanist gin is lovely dry finish which begins with a washing of the throat with lightly bitter juniper and earthy angelica and ends with a building up of lightly spicy coriander and cardamom. Each time I take a sip the combination of the dry bitterness followed by the light spiciness seems to require that I repeat the experience just one more time. After a few sips, I begin to notice that my palate is awash with light floral flavours and mild mint and licorice impressions. The spirit is a delight which begins with the nosing, and follows all the way through to the finish!

The Afterburn  9.5/10

I was curious as to whether seven years removed from that original tasting event hosted by Jim McEwan, I would find the Islay Dry Gin as wonderfully beguiling as I had almost a decade earlier. Now that I have had a chance to taste the spirit in isolation in my tasting room (and in a few cocktails), I am happy to report that my first impression has been verified. The Botanist is an outstanding gin which pleases both as a sipping spirit and as a cocktail spirit.

You may read some of my other Gin Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.

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Suggested Recipes

Traditional Gin Martini

For this Traditional Gin Martini recipe, I have chosen to use a 1:2 ratio of gin to vermouth as my base for construction. I strongly suspect that it is experiences with bad vermouth that have led many people to decrease its volume in the classic martini cocktail, not understanding that the vinegary component they are tasting is not a normal flavour component of good vermouth. Please use fresh vermouth whenever you are serving Martini cocktails.

Gin Martini (with Orange peel Garnish)

2 oz No. 3 London Dry Gin
1 oz Stock Vermouth
Ice
thin coil of Orange Peel

Add the gin and vermouth into a large mixing glass with ice
stir for about two minutes until the sides of the glass are very cold
Strain into a chilled martini glass
Add a coil of Orange Peel

Of course, you should enjoy Responsibly!

Note: I have made this point with respect to the Vodka Martini, and it bears repeating with respect to the Gin Martini. Once you open any bottle of vermouth, it is important that you realize that all aromatized wines have a very short shelf life. This is because the wine will begin to oxidize immediately, and after only one short week (even if the bottle is refrigerated) its flavour will have undergone an undesirable change.

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The Botanist and Tonic

1 3/4 oz The Botanist Islay Dry Gin
1/2 oz fresh Lime Juice
3/8 oz Sugar Syrup (1:1 ratio))
Ice
2 oz Fever Tree Tonic
Cucumber Chunk

Add the first three ingredients into a rocks glass
Stir and add ice
Fill with Tonic
Garnish with Cucumber

Enjoy Responsibly!

Note: If  you are interested in more of my original cocktail recipes, please click this link (Cocktails and Recipes) for more of my mixed drink recipes!

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My Final Score is out of 100 and you may (loosely) interpret that score as follows:

0-25     A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49   Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59  You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69   Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74    Now we have a fair mixing spirit.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79    You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84    We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89    Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94    Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+       I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)

2 Responses to “The Botanist Islay Dry Gin”

  1. Great gin. Amazing wordsmithing.

  2. Mike Bryant said

    Just bought a bottle of the Botanist Gin and it is glorious. I must say that your description is amazing. You write beautifully.

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