Beautiful Botanicals

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

Published: 5th May 2020

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 are 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 Barley with Darnley’s Gin, Hemp with Wee Hemp Spirits, Oyster Shells with Isle of Bute Gin, Lime with Lind & Lime Gin and Szechuan Peppercorn with BrewDog Distilling Co.

Barley – Darnley’s Smoke and Zest Gin

A member of the grass family, Barley has played a role in food for humans for more than 10,000 years. It’s said that it was amongst the first gains to be cultivated in a region that was once known as Fertile Crescent. The Fertile Crescent, sometimes referred to as the “Cradle of Civilisation”, stretched across the Persian Gulf from Northern Egypt to what is now modern day Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel. The Fertile Crescent is also said to be the birthplace of agriculture.

Thanks to cultivation, cultivated barley varies from its ancestor, wild barley. The barley we know today and features as a key ingredient in beer, whisky production, bread and cereals is different in shape and genetic properties in comparison to its wild relative, including a lower resistance to climate change. Rich in essential nutrients, proteins and vitamins, and currently the 4th most grown crop in the world with 142.37 million metric tons grown in 2017/2018.

“The Barley used to make ‘Smoke and Zest Gin’ is grown on our own land in the East Neuk of Fife and is more often seen being used to make our Kingsbarns Single Malt Whisky, which is distilled in the same location, at East Newhall Farm, outside the village of Kingsbarns.

“In the quest to make a smoky gin, Darnley’s Gin Distiller, Scott Gowans, enlisted the help of his family who own a commercial smoker, to steep and slowly smoke the malted barley over pine wood chips giving the gin a malty depth. The introduction of Lapsang Souchong tea, also traditionally smoked over pine wood, brings an exotic second smoky botanical into the recipe with cool menthol notes.”

Emma Hooper, Darnley’s Gin

You can learn more about Darnley’s Gin here.

Hemp – Canna’B Gin

Thanks to decades of research the secrets of the hemp plant are slowing being uncovered. Hemp, although a strain of the Cannabis sativa plant, was originally used to make rope and textiles including sails for boats thanks to the strong properties of the plant’s fibres. Modern day uses include paper, textiles, clothing, biodegradable plastics, paint, insulation, biofuel, food, and animal feed.

Hemp has lower concentrations of THC, the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis, and concentrations of cannabidiol (CBD), which decreases or eliminates its psychoactive effects. The CBD oil doesn’t create any form of intoxication and has been used in a number of clinical trials along with use in some forms of prescribed medicine including the treatment of chronic pain and some of the severest forms of childhood epilepsy.

“Hemp is one of our oldest crops, in fact, it’s associated with the birth of agriculture over 12,000 years ago. Hemp has come a long way in that time and it has changed us as much as wee have changed it. 

“There are three main families of cannabis; Cannabis Sativa, Cannabis Indica and Cannabis Ruderalis, and within these families there are now thousands of individual strains. Wee use a strain from the Cannabis Sativa family, jam-packed with beneficial cannabinoid, including CBD, CBDa, CBG and many more. Along with this, Wee have a variety of Sativa that boasts an impressive Terpene profile (the essential oil of the plant). Terpenes come with big healthful properties, but it’s the flavour profile that really makes our Canna’B Gin stand out and shine.

“Rich in the Terpene Myrcene, Canna’B Gin has an earthy, ripe taste with hints of citrus, courtesy of Limonene, another Terpene found within our beautiful botanical.

“Wee aim is to bring this multi-faceted plant out of the dark ages, show the true benefits of the plant and bring it back into our society where it belongs.”

Calum Napier, Wee Hemp Spirits

You can learn more about Wee Hemp Spirits here.

Oyster Shells – Oyster Gin

Oysters were once found in abundance and at one point the oyster beds in New York harbour were the largest source of oysters in the world. Rich in Vitamin B12, zinc iron and other minerals, Oysters were once prized as an aphrodisiac with their high zinc levels aiding the production of testosterone.

Zoologists believe that the first Oysters appeared around over 200 million years ago during the Triassic period when dinosaurs still walked the earth. Archaeological evidence provide an estimate that humans have been eating oysters for the last 20,000 years and proved extremely popular during the Roman Empire.

Due to demand, native Oyster populations in the UK began to dwindle before a new law was introduced in 1965 by the UK Government. The law was created to protect the remaining native oyster population and help introduce sustainable and sensible Oyster farming methods, which are still in place to this day.

“Oyster shells aren’t always the first thing people think of when they are listing their favourite botanicals in gin. Which of course is why we love our use of them so much. In an alcohol industry where craft gin continues to grow in popularity and with more variety than ever before, it sometimes seems that every other gin boasts an ‘alternative’ feature. We can say with certainty though that our World’s first Oyster gin is no gimmick.

“The inspiration for our gin started on Bute, a beautiful quaint Isle with a rich maritime history. Combined with the natural pairing with seafood that gin lends itself to, oyster gin wasn’t as far fetched an idea for us as some ‘city slickers’ might think.

“It took a number of attempts to find the perfect balance between the oyster shells and additional botanicals but that comes with the territory of craft production. We landed on a distillation process that involves charging our copper still with fresh locally sourced oyster shells. This process allows for a natural mix of traditional botanicals with the essence of the shells, resulting in a crisp, citrus, savoury gin.”

Rhona Wheatley, Isle of Bute Gin

You can learn more about Isle of Bute Gin here.

Lime – Lind & Lime Gin

Rich in minerals and vitamins, limes have been used in a variety of culinary dishes over the centuries, not to mention drinks and cocktails. The once go-to garnish for a gin and tonic was a slice of lemon or lime. The Mojito, Moscow Mule, Cuba Libre, Margarita, the Gimlet and more, all use the lime as a key ingredient.

Research has shown that the humble lime; green, juicy and zesty, originated in Malaysia and is a hybrid plant of two separate species – Citrus micrantha and Citrus medica. Limes were originally cultivated and commercially grown across parts of ancient Persia and Babylonia (now southern Iraq). Limes were also transported to various Mediterranean regions and North Africa around around 1000 CE.

Limes were first introduced to Europe in the 12th/13th century after crusaders brought the fruit and trees, along with lemons, back from the crusades. The tables of the wealthy were adorned with the bright green citrus fruit and led to the spread and cultivation of limes across some parts of Europe including Italy.

“We decided early on that we wanted a lime flavour in our gin. Not fruit pastel, confected lime, but zesty refreshing lime. To get a zesty flavour, we use the lime’s zest. It’s the most zesty bit.

“The marriage between lime and gin was consummated most famously with the birth of the Gimlet, a classic cocktail that first emerged in the early 20th century. However, having established ourselves in Edinburgh’s historic Port of Leith, our inspiration to distil our gin with lime came from much further back in time. Born in Edinburgh in 1716, James Lind is a relatively unsung hero of the Scottish Enlightenment; a period traversing the 18th and 19th centuries when Scotland became a centre of intellectual and scientific accomplishments. After some informal medical training at Edinburgh University, he joined the Royal Navy in 1738 as a Surgeons’ Mate, and by 1747 he had risen to be Surgeon of HMS Salisbury.  It was on this vessel that he conducted what is recognised today as the first clinical trial ever recorded. A trial that played a significant part in the story of the prevention of scurvy. We know now that scurvy is caused by a prolonged deficiency of vitamin C, but in the mid 18th century, little was known about this disease, which could overwhelm scores of sailors on any one ship. Lind selected 12 sailors on the Salisbury with scurvy, and allocated two men each to 6 different treatments for a period of fourteen days.

“He recorded his findings in his 1753 book ‘A Treatise of the scurvy’, that the ‘most sudden and visible good effects’ were shown by the sailors eating citrus fruits. While Lind himself missed the significance of this observation, he is recognised for pioneering the concept of a ‘fair trial’, with a preference for observation over theory that set him apart from other practitioners of his era. By the end of the 18th century, the Royal Navy was provisioning its ships with citrus fruit, leading to a remarkable health improvement in the sailors. This gave Britain a significant advantage during an era of regular naval warfare, although competing nations soon caught up. Lime juice was normally preserved with rum so that it could last for the duration of a voyage. In 1867, Lachlan Rose of Leith devised a new method to preserve citrus fruit, by replacing alcohol with sugar. From his factory on Commercial Street in Leith, he launched Rose’s Lime Juice (later Cordial) and achieved huge success, selling his product to vessels departing from the harbour, but also finding an enthusiastic market on dry land.

“So, we wanted our gin to represent this unique, historic connection between Leith and Lime and we therefore created Lind & Lime.”

Hannah Mitchell, Port of Leith Distillery

You can learn more about Lind & Lime Gin here.

Szechuan Peppercorn – Zealot’s Heart

Pepper in name only, the Szechuan Peppercorn is neither a pepper nor a chilli, although it has taste properties of both providing spice, heat and a slight tingle in the mouth on taste. Harvested from two species of trees known commonly as Chinese Ash and Prickly Ash, which are common across parts of Asia. Only the pinkish, reddish husk of the peppercorn is kept and used whilst the actual seed is discarded due to its gritty texture.

Before the introduction of chillies to Asia, Szechuan Peppercorns were commonly used in cuisine in the northern Chinese province of Sichuan, which is known for its particular style of food – bold, aromatic spicy flavours.

“We came across this botanical when we were building the recipe for Zealot’s Heart gin.  Zealot’s Heart is a head strong, juniper led gin that is equally complex due to the 19 botanicals that make up its recipe. Szechuan peppercorn is a super important botanical because it has both great flavour and intensity. The flavour delivery is like no other peppercorn, massively fruity with hints of coriander leaf and orange peel zest; it’s aroma cuts through almost all botanical aromas. It’s versatile and can be used to make so many different styles of gin, we even use it in our Five Hundred Cuts botanical rum. It works really well alongside fresh citrus peels, lemon and orange peel, being the two we’ve had most success with. In addition, the best way to maximise on its flavour delivery is to macerate it for at least 12 hours in vodka before distilling it. The vodka pulls out the essential oils to a higher concentration and intensifies the aroma delivery!”

Steven Kersley, BrewDog Distilling Co.

You can learn more about BrewDog Distilling Co. here.


Read the last instalment of Beautiful Botanicals here.

Experiences About Scottish Gins