Beautiful Botanicals

We explore some of the wonderfully unique, rare and beautiful botanicals in Scottish Gin.

Published: 29th March 2019

They come in all shapes, sizes, flavours. They can be found in almost every corner of the world. Some have been used for thousands of years to cure ailments. Some were even key to ancient civilisations and used in elaborate ceremonies. Without them gin wouldn’t be gin. We are of course speaking about botanicals. Without juniper would gin be gin? No. Thanks to Mother Nature, the range of botanicals available and opportunity to innovate is almost endless when you consider potential flavour combinations. We wanted to learn a bit more about some of the key botanicals (yes juniper should be first on the list!) that Scottish Gin makers and brands consider to be one if not ‘the’ botanical that they feel makes their Scottish Gin shine. In this latest episode of Beautiful Botanicals, we talk Mandarin with Hrfan, Oats with El:gin, Wild Mint with Badvo, Silver Birch with Esker and Gorse with Lundin.

Hrafn Gin, Mandarin

Much smaller than regular oranges, (which are a hybrid of the Mandarin) mandarins are described as being much sweeter and less sour on the palette. It’s thought that Mandarins were first farmed in India over 3000 years ago before they slowly found their way to China where they are now extensively grown. The first Mandarins were brought to the UK in 1805 from China. It’s perhaps of no surprise the fruit name came from the form of Chinese spoken by the merchants and traders. To this day, Madarins still play an important role in Chinese culture and are often given to friends and family during the Chinese New Year and are considered to be a traditional symbol of abundance and good fortune.

“The heart of Hrafn Gin ‘Thought & Memory’ is our signature botanical of mandarin. It is a fruit that is familiar, but also has some surprising qualities.

“Hrafn Gin is a premium gin that has a deeper taste, with a long lingering finish and to achieve this, the distilling process is slowed down for maximum extraction. Mandarin is one of the few citrus fruits that can take this process and still reveal the sweet citrus flavours. Mandarin was always our preferred citrus due to its sweeter nature and the test distil revealed its darker qualities that fitted our taste profile.

“It is also able to hold its own against the more robust botanicals, but still impart its perfume and taste delicately, when handled with care. Hrafn Gin ‘Thought & Memory’ is an award-winning London Dry gin and so needs citrus to hold true to the required taste profile and to maintain balance. Mandarin does this to perfection by being able to sit in all of the three taste registers: top, middle and bottom.”

Peter Sim, Raven Spirits

You can learn more about Raven Spirits here.

El:gin, Oats

Scotland has had a long love affair with oats. From porridge to our famous Whisky, oats have played a vital role as a food source for many centuries in Scotland. The origins of the humble oat date back over 3000 years where they were originally seen as weeds that grew amongst fields of cultivated crops and have been discovered at various archeological sites across the world. Some cultures including the Romans and Greeks saw oats being worth little more than feed for their animals and the unruly and uncivilised tribes they encountered across Europe including the Picts who were found in Scotland.

Oats have a very short lifespan after harvesting due to an enzyme and natural fats, which begin to dissolve the grain if left for a period of time hence why most oats that are harvested are processed without delay. Thanks to their soluble fibre, the wonder of the humble oat is now better understood by science and the many nutritional benefits they can provide.

“Oats are a key botanical in el:gin spirits and part of the secret to their success as an award-winning gin. Oats have long been a forgotten gem in distillation but they provide the smooth cleanliness that the el:gin team were looking for.

“The oats are infused with the spirit and other botanicals for a number of days before being distilled. The oats remove the sharpness of the spirit and give a thicker mouthfeel to the gin. It’s also key to helping all the other botanicals amalgamate perfectly.”

Gary Grant, El:gin

You can learn more about El:gin here.

Badvo Gin, Wild Mint

A species of flowering plant sometimes referred to as field mint, wild mint can be found across the temperate regions of Europe, Western and Central Asia and North America. The use of wild mint can be traced back through historical records including its use by the Aztecs who used it as a cure for insomnia and extracted the oils to treat aches and pains.

“At Badvo we hand forage 100% of our botanicals from our hill farm outside Pitlochry in Perthshire. We forage over ten botanicals including Scottish Juniper, rowan berries, apples, nettles, meadowsweet, honeysuckle, and wild mint: creating a sweet herbaceous gin with a wild mint finish.

“We decided to use mint as it grows in abundance all around the farmhouse. Wild mint, unlike it’s cultivated cousin, is so strong that if you pass it in a field you can smell it. However, it is perhaps the most temperamental botanical we use. The strength of mint varies throughout the summer so it’s difficult to judge how much to use. As a result, we rely heavily on flavour profiling botanicals before and after they are distilled. I try to blend between batches to create a consistency that is recognisably Badvo, yet also look to embrace the fine variations created by the botanicals we love.”

Helen Stewart, Badvo Distillery

You can learn more about Badvo Distillery here.

Esker Gin, Silver Birch

Normally collected towards the end of winter and start of spring, as sap can change in flavour towards the end of spring resulting a more bitter flavour. Silver Birch Sap is collected by drilling a small hole in the trunk of the tree and using a sap tap and container to collect the sap as it slowly flows from the tree. The process doesn’t hurt the tree and once the tap is removed the tree naturally repairs the small hole. The sap when fresh is clear in colour and slightly sweet in flavour.

“The bright, silver bark of silver birch trees makes them a notable feature across Scotland and especially across Royal Deeside where the Esker distillery is located. Silver birch is a generous tree – it’s widely spread roots bring otherwise inaccessible nutrients into the tree, which are recycled on to the soil surface when the tree sheds its leaves. It has links to Celtic mythology, symbolising renewal and purification – in Scottish Highland mythology, it is used as symbol of love.

“How it came to be in Esker gins is far more down to earth – we tried it and it brought the other botanicals together perfectly! Silver birch is at the heart of how the Esker distillery came to be based on the Kincardine Estate. The Laird of the Estate invited us to tap the trees there, and when it came to looking for bigger distillery premises, the Estate was a natural fit.

“Early spring is a critical time for us as we work to tap trees when the sap is at its peak. This is something we have done for a few years now and we are always keen to ensure that we harvest the sap responsibly and sustainably. With so many silver birches to choose from, this is relatively simple!

“The silver birch sap on its own is clear and uncoloured. It is slightly sweet, with a distinctively silky texture. In Esker gins, it complements the other botanicals to give our gins their characteristic mouth-feel.”

Lynne Duthie, Esker Spirits

You can learn more about Esker Spirits here.

Gorse Gin, Gorse

Traditionally flowering between January and June, this wild shrub is a common sight in both salty coastal regions of Scotland and further inland often found on open hillsides alongside wild heathers. People have found many uses for gorse over the centuries, including using the bright yellow flowers to create yellow dye. Once used as a source of fuel for kilns and baker’s ovens, it was actually once so popular as fuel that restrictions were put in place so a person could only collect as much gorse as they could carry on their back and no more. The smell of the blooming flowers is described as somewhere between coconut and vanilla.

“Gorse is everywhere! No more so than on some of the links courses I grew up playing golf on in Fife. As a golfer, I spent most of my time trying to avoid the bloody stuff, but as the weather warms through the season, the blaze of yellow and unique aroma of gorse was a familiar and welcome backdrop to care-free afternoons and long evenings spent on the course.

“Using gorse as a botanical didn’t immediately spring to mind when I began making gin, but as my palate and skill as a distiller developed it began to make sense as I looked to create a unique London Dry gin, which met my own personal preferences as a gin-drinker i.e. juniper-led with floral elements without becoming perfumey. Gorse was perfect.

“In a traditional pot-still, the gorse loses a little of the coconut aroma but the process creates some incredible fresh-cut hay and caramelised toffee flavours. Like all good spirits, it’s about balance; one flavour shouldn’t overwhelm the rest – gorse petals provide a lovely sweet, round counterpoint to the juniper, orange citrus and spice in our gin. I’m really proud of the result.

“A seemingly year-long flowering spiky plant, which has cursed many a golfer’s round, gorse almost goes unnoticed through its sheer ubiquitous presence in Scotland and across the globe. Anyone who’s ever walked a country lane or through the dunes on a warm late Spring evening will be familiar with the spray of bright yellow and the incredible aroma (a little reminiscent of Hawaiian Tropic suntan oil).

“A plant which provides such an important habitat and source of food for our natural fauna and which is so versatile in culinary use deserves to be celebrated. Just remember to take some gloves if you want to try it yourself!”

Iain Brown, Lundin Distilling

You can learn more about Lundin Distilling here.

Read Beautiful Botanicals Part 1 here.

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