Team Profile: Jen Reade

IN

Jennifer Reade is Senior Global Manager for The Botanist – a self-confessed convert after her first taste of our Islay gin. She talks to Hannah Thaxter about her role, her introduction to foraging, love of food and remaining true to the product and its roots.

“I first discovered The Botanist at the Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh,” explains Jen Reade, our Senior Global Brand Manager who has been with us almost exactly 4 years. “Joanne Boyd, my now colleague “JB”, had a little stall. It was the first time I had ever seen a Scottish gin… It was the provenance angle of it that really interested me. 

“I loved the story; I loved the fact that I was Scottish and I could relate to it,” she said. “I felt really interested that Scotland was making gin and Islay was making gin and the Islay botanicals story was really interesting. I hadn’t seen any other brand do anything like that.”

At the time she wasn’t a huge gin drinker but she loved its story so much, she bought a bottle, took it home and became an “avid Botanist drinker.”

Extolling its virtues to friends and family, she was converting people not only to the taste of this new Scottish spirit, but its backstory too. When she told her then employer AG Barr where she was heading, their comment was: “Oh, is that the gin you always talk about?”

Making the transfer from corporate giant AG Barr (owner of Scotland’s most famous sweet fizzy drink – or soda if you’re in the US – Irn Bru) to the small ‘family’ at Bruichladdich Distillery was quite a leap, but one she has embraced with the zeal of a convert. She had not thought about jumping ship from AG Barr, until a recruitment consultant reached out to suggest she apply.

“It all clicks when you get to Islay” The Botanist is made at Bruichladdich Distillery

Jen is naturally an outdoors person. Living in the west of Glasgow gives her the perfect mix of city convenience and proximity to open green spaces and fresh air. But she relishes her visits to Islay.

“It all clicks when you get to Islay. When I first visited I could not believe the island, I couldn’t believe the distillery, it was the most welcoming place in the world! It was like a big family, like nothing I had ever known before.

“It’s the heartbeat of  the business. It’s really important to get over [to Islay], that’s where most of my colleagues live.

“When you go over you feel really inspired. You remember that it’s about this community and it is about supporting people on the island, and making sure they have got jobs and opportunities, it’s a real place.”

It’s important to feel connected, she says, and that commitment to its Islay roots sets The Botanist, and Bruichladdich, apart.

“I love waking up in An Tigh Osda [Bruichladdich’s accommodation] and opening up my blinds and seeing the shore, or seeing the sunrise and the ocean. Or staying at the Academy and walking down the hill to the distillery and hearing the water in the stream and smelling the air, it smells so clean. Then you get into the distillery and there’s all the smells of the mash tun.

“Whatever they are distilling that day you can tell, and it just feels so real, and it’s all about that sensory experience – smelling it, feeling it, touching it.. and that really helps.”

It’s Jen’s job to bring some of that to life and communicate it throughout the world. Whilst the pandemic has put the brakes on a lot of travel recently, Jen had been to the US, which is an important country for The Botanist.  She’s also travelled extolling the virtues of The Botanist in Europe and Scandinavia.

“This isn’t about just drinks, it’s much more than that. It’s drinks, food, a lifestyle, nature, a whole approach…” she says. 

Being part of a business which works actively to protect biodiversity, not just here on Islay but around the world, is part of what fires Jen’s enthusiasm.

Jen’s first experiences of foraging have been “mind-blowing”

A self-confessed foodie, Jen likes simple, quality ingredients, cooked well – it’s why she loves Italian food or a simple tasty roast chicken dinner with Yorkshire puds and Dauphinoise potatoes. But, aside from picking blackberries for jam-making, she had never done much foraging before. Spending time with The Botanist’s full-time forager James, was eye-opening.

“It was just mind-blowing,” said Jen. Being introduced to things like pineapple weed – something which grew in the pavement cracks outside her Glasgow apartment – and discovering it actually tastes of pineapple – was a revelation. The window-boxes of that same apartment are now full of herby delights to dress up a Botanist and tonic at home – Grapefruit and mint or orange and basil being among her favourites.

It is the desire not just to use local wild plants, but to actively ensure they are sustainable in the future, which led The Botanist to become involved in other conservation projects. This includes work on Islay through the Botanist Foundation and protecting and supporting biodiversity throughout the world through the partnership with BGCI (Botanic Gardens Conservation International).

Any hints about future plans for The Botanist, Jen?

Protecting and respecting the spirit and process will be key to the future – there’ll be no pink gins or flavoured gin anytime soon! But there are innovations in the pipeline, admits Jen.

“We want to set our own path… ” is all she’ll say for now,”But we are experimenting, because we are always curious at Bruichladdich.”

The Botanist is starting to find its niche with customers who want their purchases to contribute to a positive big picture. It is made at one of the only B Corp accredited distilleries in the world. The distillery also makes a range of single malt whiskies from across the peating spectrum; fertile ground for experimentation and transferable knowledge there, as in the 2021 Feìs Ìle single cask “Islay Aged Gin” release.

Jen is happy to explain the new Plant Conservation Edition packaging initiative, which came out before Christmas. It’s designed to genuinely make a difference to the world’s 2 in 5 plant species that are threatened with extinction.

“As a responsible producer relying on botanicals to make our gin, it feels like a natural thing to support; we want to invest in the conservation of plants. So this innovation was really a mechanism for donating money – for every bottle, £5 is donated back into plant biodiversity.”

‘It’s an interesting initiative; I would buy it! I think the reasons are compelling. And we tried to make the packaging really beautiful…”

You’ll have to just watch this space for more interesting things to come from Jen and The Botanist team! Roll on 2022.

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