Review: The Botanist Islay Dry Gin

I’m a huge fan of scotch whisky — specifically, the funky stuff that typically comes out of Islay. But whiskey isn’t the only thing that they distill on the island and, given my affinity for the minerality and peaty qualities of their scotch, I figured it was time to give an Islay gin a try to see what else they have cooking over there.


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History

The Harvey family was a whiskey powerhouse in Scotland in the 1800’s. They had owned two Glasgow-based distilleries since 1770, and in 1881 the three Harvey brothers (William, John, and Robert) used some of their inheritance to open a third distillery on Islay that they named the Bruichladdich Distillery. At the time, it was the most updated and modern distillery on the island, with the other distilleries being significantly older.

The design of the distillery’s stills focused on tall, narrow still necks which were a unique feature designed to produce highly rectified and lighter spirits compared to other facilities on the island.

From its founding until 1936, the distillery remained owned by the Harvey family; but after William Harvey’s death in 1936, the facility bounced around between owners until it was shuttered in 1994.

Six years later, in December 2000, the distillery was purchased by a group of private investors led by Mark Reynier. The group hired on Jim McEwan as the master distiller, and set to work lovingly fixing and re-assembling all of the original equipment and fixtures to put them back into working order. To this day, the facility remains 100% manually operated using the original Victorian equipment designed by the Harvey brothers.

Two years later, the distillery was purchased by the French company Remy Cointreau.

Product

The majority of the product coming out of the Bruichladdich Distillery is Scotch whisky, but this gin also comes out of those exact same stills.

As a gin, this starts as a highly refined neutral alcohol spirit. From there, a set of 22 different botanical components are added for flavoring.

According to legend, the botanicals were identified by local botanists Dr. Richard Gulliver and Mavis Gulliver, all of them being local wild plants that grow on Islay in Scotland and are sustainably harvested for use in this gin. The process takes seven months from harvest to when the botanicals are able to be used in a batch of gin.

Those components are:

  • Apple Mint
  • Chamomile
  • Creeping Thistle
  • Downy Birch
  • Elderflower
  • Gorse
  • Hawthorn
  • Heather
  • Juniper
  • Lady’s Bedstraw
  • Lemon Balm
  • Meadowsweet
  • Mugwort
  • Red Clover
  • Spear mint
  • Sweet Cicely
  • Bog Myrtle
  • Tansy
  • Water mint
  • White clover
  • Wilt thyme
  • Wood sage

All of these elements are added to the raw alcohol, which imparts some of their aromas and flavors to the spirit. The resulting mixture is then re-distilled for clarity and packaged for sale.

Packaging

This is a great way to do minimalism. The label isn’t huge, and the spirit is clearly visible inside the bottle, but they use every bit of space to perfectly convey the concept and value proposition of the gin.

Starting with the bottle: this is a cylindrical body that sharply tapers at the shoulder to a short neck, and capped off with a synthetic stopper. What makes this really stand out is that the surface of the bottle is embossed with the names of all of the botanical components used in the production of the gin, which gives the bottle an interesting and appealing texture, as well as making it visually interesting to regard on a shelf.

As for the label itself, it is about as small and neat as possible — a single white strip around the top of the body, with legible black lettering for the brand name, and the legally required markings. The only thing that really stands out is the same thing that literally stands out on the bottle itself — the number 22 in bright red lettering, signifying the 22 botanicals used in the production of the gin.

Neat

The list of herbs and components is impressive, but on first sniff I don’t get much coming off the glass that seems different from a traditional gin. There are the usual juniper and lemon citrus aroma notes that you’ll normally find competing for the limelight (no citrus pun intended), but the only other addition I’m getting is some peppermint or spearmint qualities around the edge. Usually, that’s where the cardamom or coriander would kick in to add some depth and complexity to the aroma, but that’s missing here.

Taking a sip, the taste is decidedly different from what you’d expect from a traditional London Dry gin. This is a much more floral and herbaceous flavor profile — the juniper and lemon are still there, but there is a lot more of the softer flower petal and lemon grass components mixing in here. It makes for a softer feeling on the palate, something smoother and more delicate that seems closer to a Highland scotch than it does a London Dry gin.

On Ice

Ice can be a bit of a dangerous proposition. For poor quality spirits, it tends to improve the situation by removing rough edges and toning down unpleasant flavors. But in this spirit, we really see the potential negative consequences of adding ice when there’s nothing bad going on to begin with.

What I really liked and found interesting when the gin is taken neat were the delicate floral components that make up a lot of the underlying flavor profile. It adds this interesting quality that sets it apart from other gins on the market. But with the added ice, all of those delicate floral and herbal notes almost disappear. They aren’t well saturated enough to stand up to the ice, resulting in this becoming another pretty standard gin.

That’s not to say that this is now bad, though. There’s a good balance to the juniper and the lemon flavor, and generally speaking I’d still happily drink it. But the uniqueness of the spirit seems to have significantly decreased.

Cocktail (Negroni)

A Negroni is a bitter drink to start with, and the use of this gin doesn’t do anything to counter that bitterness. But I do see some of the components starting to break through and make themselves known, as opposed to getting completely overpowered by the Campari and vermouth.

Especially in the aroma, the juniper and lemon components are making an appearance and contributing to a really nice smell to the glass. The flavor isn’t quite as impacted, but the juniper is for sure making an effort here. It’s a great try that I really want to give the gin credit for.

Fizz (Gin & Tonic)

Generally speaking, I like what’s going on here. I think ever since the ice was added, this has pretty much turned into a standard gin, so the added carbonation gives this a much needed texture and lift that makes it really enjoyable. A twist of lemon peel and this should be good to go.

However, I do think there might be just a little touch of bitterness that is creeping in at this point. It might be that the lemon component was balanced perfectly for drinking this neat, but once the other components drop out of the running it turns out to be just a touch too much for what remains.


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Overall Rating

This really succeeds at being a Scottish take on a London gin. There are not only the usual flavors you would expect, but there’s also an interesting, unique floral component you get when taken neat — that’s something I really haven’t seen elsewhere. Add in the provenance and the manufacturing process here, and I can definitely say that this is a spirit worth keeping on your liquor shelf.

I think the only thing needed to change to get this to a five star level is just increasing the volume on the local botanical components. I can get juniper and lemon from any old gin, but the local aspects are what really would make this an interesting bottle for a mixologist.

The Botanist Islay Dry Gin
Production Location: Islay, Scotland
Classification: Gin
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 46% ABV
Price: $37.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating:
All reviews are evaluated within the context of their specific spirit classification as specified above. Click here to check out similar spirits we have reviewed.

Overall Rating: 4/5
Lovely gin flavors and local components combined in a stunning bottle.


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