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The Botanist Islay Dry Gin

Review: The Botanist Islay Dry Gin   (93/100)
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Published in August 25, 2014

The Botanist is the creation of Bruichladdich Master Distiller, Jim McEwan whom I had the opportunity to meet and talk to this past fall when he came to Edmonton 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 new Botanist Islay Dry Gin in the flight of spirits. In fact he spent more than a little 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 the first Islay Dry Gin. (Jim McEwan even admitted to trading some of his prized Single Malt Scotch with one of the industries venerable gin producers in return for some of his gin secrets.)

At the end 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 years old (and older), 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.

The Botanist is produced upon an old 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.

Although it is almost a year since that great tasting event, I have finally found the time, (and the sample bottle of The Botanist) such that I can review this outstanding gin here upon my website.

Bot and Tonic SAM_1260In 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 55.5/60

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 gin straight equally 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, when I received my sample bottle of The Botanist Gin from the local distributor, Select Wines, as to whether a year 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 year 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. It is perhaps the best unaged spirit I have ever tasted!

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

bot-and-tonic-sam_1260The Botanist and Tonic

1 3/4 oz Dry Gin
1/2 oz Fresh Lime Juice
3/8 oz Sugar Syrup (or to taste)
Ice
2 oz Q-Tonic
Cucumber Chunk

Add the first three ingredients into a rocks glass
Stir and add ice
Fill with Q-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)

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