The Botanist.

Wild. Foraged. Distilled.

Foraged Island Botanicals
The first and only Islay dry gin


Birch Sap Rhapsody

20th March 2017
by Jane Carswell in Thinking Wild.

Intel from two experienced foragers, Liz Knight @foragefinefoods and Rupert Waites @buck_and_birch, to prompt some tree tapping; we can try this at home?! 

LK: "Birch sap is rising. Break a twig from a birch tree and within moments pearls of clear magical birch water will start to drip out. 

From the moment sap starts rising you’ve got 3 - 4 weeks to collect the liquid crop. If you’ve not tasted birch sap before, do it this year – not from a bottle in a supermarket, but straight from the tree; it is silken, cooling, energetic water with the merest hint of sweetness. That sweetness comes from xylitol, fructose & glucose; the ‘mere hint’ comes from the fact that there isn’t much sugar in there, anything from ½ percent to 2 percent sugar at the most.

To turn birch sap into the intense, deeply flavoured birch syrup you’ll need to reduce your sap to a sugar concentration of around 66% - now I’m no mathematical genius but even I know that’s a lot of reduction to get the amber nectar. (It’s a thumb in the air average of a 100 times reduction. That’s a lot of evaporation.) If you value your deep, dark, brewery like taste buds at all, you’ll give this a go, not much in life or in a drinks fridge matches up to a pipette of birch syrup in a cocktail. As lovely and medicinal & worthy as raw birch sap is, turning it into a little bottle of wild magic is, to me, more important."

RW: "My best discovery as a forager is probably still birch syrup. Though each new discovery be it hogweed, spoots, pepper dulse or a new edible mushroom is exhilarating. 

Birch syrup is still mystical and magical even though I read a fair bit about how if happens. Eagerly waiting in late winter for just the right conditions. The slumber of winter is dusted off and excitement builds. Taps and drills and bits are washed. Containers found and possible sites reccee’d   Exploratory holes are drilled and it's always disappointment first before striking gold. For me it is the start of the year. Last year's sunshine stored in the roots and being circulated to kickstart the photosynthetic process again. The clear liquid has to be taken quickly, every day, to be processed. Boiled and passed and then simmered and passed again before being gently evaporated to a thick black gold and then jealously guarded.

It's such a well hidden gem and such a pain in the ass to get. Our Scottish Betula pendula is considered superior to the North American B. papyrifera in terms of flavour and complexity but ours is not available comercially at all. It's a definite case of if you want it..... you have to get it yourself." 

Encouraged by all this?

Jane tapped a branch this year and got results...

Jane's first birch sap

For more detail, Fergus Drennan's piece Tapping Birch Collecting Birch for mineral water, wine, beer, vinegar and syrup is a great resource >>

Next steps? See this article "From sap to syrup" >> 

Birch sap



Richard and Mavis Retire

We enjoyed a very splendid cake last week, beautifully baked by Katie to mark the retirement of our botanical scientists Dr.

Read more

Carrot Family Bitters

There are members of the carrot family growing wild and in abundance that are potentially fatal - you must be able to tell apart the diff

Read more

Wormwood - A love affair & DIY Absinthe

A romance can last a few hours or a few decades. Short ones can burn so brightly that they forever brand themselves inside your soul.

Read more

Foraged Drinks
Nettled Tom Collins

Nettle is a great flavour for sweetness and nose-tickling freshness.

Read more

Hog Reviver

This is a basic corpse reviver number 2 but with hogweed seed tincture rather than absinthe, and finished with a hogweed seed garnish.

Read more

Islay Bramble

We wanted to make a bramble cockt

Read more

Our Foraging
How to Make Infused Gin

Our homemade rose petal-infused gin has been a hit as of late on the Laddieshop's Botanist tours, having been used in a couple of our

Read more

A Scratch Grenadine

Creating a substitute for grenadine from five common native plants of the season. Try it! Full recipe here.

Read more

Beginner's Cocktail Syrups

While a traditional gin and tonic tends to be my drink of choice, I do have much love for cocktails - so I was very excited to find out t

Read more


London Cocktail Week dinners at Sager + Wilde

After a recent trip to see us at the distillery on Islay and come out foraging, Chris Leach, head chef at Paradise Row, and Marcis Dzelza

Read more

Universal Works Present: Designability

Revolution is a catalyst for innovation: political, physical, intellectual and artistic.

Read more

Mistress Madness

Join our brand ambassador for South Africa, Caitlin Hill, for a range of cocktails at the Orphanage Cocktail Emporium on August 8th at 7p

Read more