Whisky may be the traditional tipple of choice for Burns Night, but this year gin is emerging as a drinks trend for the Scottish celebration. When thinking of Scotland and in particular the Scottish island of Islay, you will probably think of whisky, but what’s less well known is that Islay also has its own gin. The Botanist, which is made with botanicals that grow naturally on the island and was created almost by accident, is an apt choice for celebrating Burn’s Night.
Burns Night, which falls on 25th January – or Ginuary as it is fondly known – is the perfect opportunity to raise a glass of the Scottish gin. After all, Robert Burns – the poet the celebration is named after, was known to enjoy a gin just as much as a fine scotch.
The popularity of gin is on the rise, with one in every three bottles of spirit sold at Waitrose being gin, and sales of the drink seeing an increase of 16% on last year.
The Botanist Gin was created by Jim McEwan, who after hearing that a Glasgow distillery was being closed down thought it might yield useful spares for his distillery, Bruichladdich’s, traditional whisky making equipment.
‘One of the things we got was a Lomond still, which is an unusual type – instead of the graceful shape most stills have, it looks like a dustbin and has since been named Ugly Betty,’ explains Adam Hannett, who is now Head Distiller at Bruichladdich after Jim McEwan retired. ‘But it lends itself to really slow distilling, and that gave Jim the idea to use it for gin.’
Over a base of classic gin aromatics, the spirit is made with 22 botanicals that are foraged on the island by two local botanists. From creeping thistle flowers, to heather and gorse, everything about this gin shouts about its Scottish heritage. ‘It’s the essence of Islay,’ says Adam Hannett, ‘You walk over the hills here, and you’ll see the plants we use.’
Even the water that brings the gin down to bottling strength comes from a local spring. ‘Jim wanted to get Islay into a spirit, and that’s what we’ve got,’ says Adam. ‘This is a special place – it’s very small and friendly, and you can’t do anything quickly because you’re always stopping to chat to someone. So people here take their time over things. That’s how we’ve always made whisky, and it turns out, it’s a really good way to make gin too.’
John Vine, Waitrose Spirits Buyer says: ‘In the last three years, gin sales have risen at an unprecedented rate; we’ve never seen a resurgence quite like it. Although Scotland is known for its whisky, with so many craft brands now, gin is being taken just as seriously. And although it’s hard to beat a classic G&T – a gin like The Botanist is great for sipping as a tipple by the fire. Alternatively, if you’re planning a party, gin is a fantastic base for plenty of cocktails, perfect for a Burns Night celebration.’
The Botanist Islay Dry Gin is available in Waitrose branches and on WaitroseCellar.com for £36.99.
Other Scottish gins available from Waitrose include:
Caorunn Gin £27
Handcrafted at Balmenach Distillery in Speyside. Inspired by Celtic tradition, it is infused in a unique copper still using six traditional and five Celtic botanicals for a dry, crisp and aromatic taste profile. Its delicate fruit and floral notes evoke the charm of the Scottish Highlands.
A grain gin, infused with 10 flavour components that include traditional botanicals such as juniper, coriander and citrus peel. The use of the less mainstream cucumber and rose petals results in a singular style.
Edinburgh Gin £29
Made in a traditional copper pot still, it has a lovely traditional flavour profile of juniper and smooth spice, with a Scottish twist given by the use of heather and milk thistle.