“While there’s a certain scientific precision required, I am always working to a recipe which remains unchanged from the first distillations, there’s also an element of ritual, of alchemy, to it all. It’s what first attracted me to the industry, the subtle interplay of science and magic, industry and craft.”
James Donaldson, our In-House Forager.
It takes James 7 months every year to personally pick the ingredients for The Botanist, leaf by leaf, flower by flower, when each plant is in its prime. He then fills a cotton bag with enough of the carefully prepared botanicals for one batch of gin at a time, and hands over the fruits of his labour.
No one has a map of Islay’s 620 square km quite like James’. He has explored the island on foot, monitoring known populations and seeking new sites where our ingredients grow freely. He is particular about the flowers he chooses to take, and the most sustainable way to pick what we need. And about how he painstakingly prepares the botanicals afterwards in his drying room back at the distillery – something he calls his “line-y tendencies”. “That’s the beauty of hand foraging for this stuff,” he says, “you’re using your judgement all the time, it’s like a personal guarantee that it’s the best it can be.”
“I have a background in Botany.” says James, “I grew up in a little village where foraging was just what you did – you ate dandelions on your walk to school in the morning, your grandmother would be brewing up wine from bits and bobs out of the fields and hedgerows. It was something I always had a great fascination with.” After taking a BSc in Botanical Sciences at university, James’s strong rapport with people and a love of the outdoors took him from there into tourism, and it was visiting Scotch distilleries that originally led him to Islay. After a year living and working on the island, there was an advert in the local newspaper that brought his earlier love for plants together with his later experience of distilleries. He became The Botanist gin’s first full-time in-house forager, a role he has been in now for four years.