How The Botanist Came to Be – Part 3


After we distil The Botanist, it’s time to house it in the iconic glass bottle that’s embossed with the Latin plant names of the Islay ingredients. The gin line in the bottling hall at the distillery provides employment for a team of seven dedicated members of staff. The Botanist bottling line is led by Tina, who’s been at the distillery in one role or another since 2002, before the current bottling hall was built. Her son Ruairidh, a frequent singer at ceilidhs and comic-con enthusiast works on the line too. His sketches of new characters can sometimes be found around the place. Ruaraidh is named after Tina’s grandfather who was a still-man here after the war; her mother worked here too in the 1980s. Stan, Colin, Tulsi the cook, Connor from Dundee, and John who at 20 is our joint youngest member of the distillery team, also regularly take their turn on the line.

In 2017, we opened up the distillery to gin tours. Ashley, Ashley, Dave, Mary,  Lindy and Lesley have learned how to make a lot of foraged cocktails since then. “It really clicked with our team,” says manager Ailsa Hayes, “Some of the guys go out foraging themselves now. We’re just learning all the time. I don’t put lemon and lime in my gin and tonic any more. I’m munching on bits of sorrel to get that citrus kick!” 

Ailsa Hayes, visitor Centre Manager, rediscovering the roses

Ailsa says from the visitor centre perspective things are always evolving; we’ve come a long way since we started shaking up the staid single malt scene. “The gin is so popular,” she says, “We’ve got garnishes growing out of some of the old whisky barrels outside now.”

Strong roots in Islay, and our determination to sustain a dynamic, conscientious presence in the community here, were big contributing factors in our achieving B-corp certification earlier this year, connecting us with a global community of businesses that seek to balance their profit-making with a wider purpose.

Cooking wild on an Islay summit. Chefs Craig Grozier and Nick Weston to the right

Rediscovering wild, edible plants didn’t start with us in Islay, of course. The slow food movement of Carlo Petrini, the re-definition of haute-cuisine led by Rene Redzepi in Scandinavia, the idea of looking backwards for wisdom that had been lost – these were all influences.

We found, as we foraged ourselves on Islay, that there was a new generation of people all around the world, and online, who were doing likewise. It was, and still is, an open-source sort of culture; freely available wild foods and freely exchanged knowledge. Now it’s becoming more mainstream but it’s no less exciting, because there is so much to learn.

Early on, in 2014, we made some important friends who were on their own independent journeys of discovery – Mark Williams, a foraging tutor based in the lowlands whose website is an encyclopedic resource. Craig Grozier, a classically trained chef who has worked around the world but has a deep connection with native Scottish ingredients. They have since introduced us to their friends and we’ve reached out to other writers and pioneers, such as Pascal Baudar of the Wildcrafted Cuisine book series in LA, or Roushanna Gray of Veld and Sea in the Cape of Good Hope. We’ve been hosting annual summits on Islay where these creative minds can meet since 2015, and have been able to start shining a light on the movement through our Wild – A State of Mind series of short films.

Foraged drinks at home

We keep finding new allies – professionals who are working in bars, or people just cooking in their own homes – who are switching on to the wild flavours that are on their own personal doorstep. It’s like a sensitivity that is catching. “Once you know, you know,” says Katie Smith, who came to work for The Botanist from the charity sector, “You never look back.”

While we in Islay maintain the rooted principles that enabled us to first produce The Botanist, the gin has become a medium for an endlessly unfolding creativity, reconnecting our drinkers with the natural world in a tangible way.

Further Reading

Mark Williams’ hugely rich website is Galloway Wild Foods >
Watch Katie Smith and Craig Grozier in conversation on our Instagram TV here >
Both Mark and Craig have written some brilliant articles for our website over the years, just search their names in our news section >

The //people// section there will introduce you to more of our network… Join us! Sign up to our mailing list here >>

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