Adam’s Story

IN

Now in his thirties, Adam Hannett (right) spends a growing proportion of his time as the Head Distiller of a progressive whisky company making gin. How did that happen?

Background – the Islay factor


His parents were nurses in Manchester before they moved to Islay, an island community of 3000, 2.5 hours off the West Coast of Scotland. His dad retrained as a  joiner and built a house for the growing family on the shores of Loch Gruinart nature reserve. “They just wanted to be here. It was completely different, the pace of life and everything about living here, but it suited them, so they were quite prepared to improvise, to work hard and fit into the community here. We grew up with no money in the house really, but we just had this amazing childhood. And you often think, if they’d stayed in Manchester, what would life be like, you know?”

Adam describes himself as a bit of a daydreamer growing up. After schooling at Islay High he went away to Aberdeen to study marine biology, “I had visions of sitting on the Great Barrier Reef on a catamaran having a great time, researching all these fish swimming about, but the reality was I’d probably end up in a lab in goodness knows where. I couldn’t see a future in it. So I came home, thought, ‘right, okay, lets take stock.'”

It was in 2004, early in the year, that he took a job at Bruichladdich on Islay, in the team welcoming visitors to the distillery. “It was a kind of youth training scheme thing. And that six months turned into a year… And here we are 15, 16 years later. So it was a great opportunity for me. Like this distillery has been for countless local people.” He moved into warehousing, then onto mashing the malted barley and distilling the single malt whisky.

He was enthusiastic, hard working, and it turned out that he had an exceptional palette. Master Distiller, Jim McEwan, invited Adam to work alongside him, and he took over the reins as Head Distiller himself in 2015 when Jim retired.  

Adam, curiosity is key

How did the move into making gin come about?

Adam has been intimately involved in every distillation of The Botanist Islay Dry Gin since the inaugural run in 2010. At that time, a single malt whisky distillery from off the West Coast of Scotland making a gin was a radical move. “We’ve been making whisky here for 130 odd years, that’s just what we do on Islay. Growing up here, you just kind of take whisky for granted. But since the Bruichladdich revival, and the way the distillery has been run, I think there’s always been a lot of curiosity for us, a hunger, as distillers.”

In 2001 Bruichladdich and its cache of Victorian equipment had been bought by a team from the world of fine wine. They persuaded the world-renowned distiller and Islay-man, Jim, to join them in what they were to later describe as ‘a white knuckle ride’. They set about making whisky with the traditional equipment but with a new attitude towards the ingredients, the terroir, and a renewed and critical interest in the community here.

“We have always wanted to explore where we’re from – that sense of place is everything to us at Bruichladdich. So The Botanist was almost an evolution of how we think when we make our whisky…

“Gin is a really interesting spirit because with whisky, there is a lot of legislation to follow. With gin, the possibilities, that curiosity and creativity, can really come through.

“When we’re distilling, the scents in the still house are just incredible. Usually, you’re used to smelling the peat or the flavours from the typical whisky distillery, and all of a sudden you get these kind of really wild botanicals giving off the scent so the stillhouse is absolutely incredible. It’s like Christmas!”

It still feels novel. There is the added frisson of generally making gin in the holidays, or in the early hours of the morning, “Because we have to fit the distillation in amongst all our whisky distillation, we can only do it when the whisky stills aren’t running. That element keeps it relatively secret. The atmosphere is really really different when we’re making gin. When people smell that smell when they come into work, they’ll come over and have a look and see what’s happening. If nothing else, everyone wants to be a part of it, because everyone’s really proud of The Botanist.”

Quality


As Head Distiller, Adam has ultimate responsibility for the quality of all the spirits we produce. How does he judge that then?

“From my point of view, to create a spirit, I want it to be very smooth. I want it to have a great mouthfeel, a great texture. That gives you length of flavour. And that comes from the way we distill. We know these things make a good whisky, they make a difference in the spirit, so of course we’re going to put the same principles into force when making The Botanist. We have to work hard. We’re not just boiling everything; we’re distilling very, very slowly. It’s just allowing things to happen naturally at their own pace, and that gives us the right style.

“The Botanist is an amazing thing when you think about the taste, because you can’t really wrestle it down to one thing. If you give yourself a bit of time with The Botanist, you allow it to open up, kind of hold it in your hand, warm it up slightly, you really start on the nose, to pick up certain botanicals. You’ll pick up a lot of the minty aspects to it. On the palette, you’re starting to get some of the spiciness coming through, some of the cinnamon, some of the juniper, certainly. That woodiness from the juniper is lovely. The more you open it, the more you allow it to breathe, neat – like a whisky, in many ways – if you drink it in the same way and analyse it in the same way as a whisky, you really pick up the complexity. It’s about the quality of the distillation bringing those flavours through.

“With the Islay botanicals there’s amazing potency and the flavours have been coaxed from the plants in the right way. So the complexity and the mouthfeel are really really important.”

Creativity


So how does Adam feel about people adding mixers to his finely wrought creation, or using it as a basis for a madcap cocktail?

“I’ve got my head round it now; it took a bit of time!” he laughs. “Well, all these flavours work really well with different fruits or botanicals or whatever it may be, around the world, because underneath the flavour compounds, in many respects, are the same. The flavours work, they combine, on a chemical level. And that makes it something really interesting. We talk about Islay – that’s home to us – but to be able to have that local foraging in different areas across the globe and have it still connect back to Islay is really fulfilling. As long as they do it in a way that respects the original ingredients, and they take on the philosophy that we have, it’s just an extension of the same thing.”

creativity & flexibility

The Botanist is now in kitchens, bars, and homes in 66 countries around the world

“We’re not in those days any more, I don’t think, of telling people what to do. People want to be creative and I find that really interesting, as a distiller, you know, that we’re not limiting people.

“We’re giving them possibilities.”

So that’s Adam’s story, and something about how it all began for The Botanist. What happens next is, almost literally, a moveable feast.

Further Reading


Watch a short film of Adam at his work:

Meet James Donaldson, the man responsible for gathering the gin’s ingredients from Islay.

More about the history and philosophy of Bruichladdich > 

See some creative cocktails using The Botanist > 

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