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© BRUICHLADDICH DISTILLERY, ISLAY.
© BRUICHLADDICH DISTILLERY, ISLAY.
These are words we have begun to associate with some of the world’s most innovative chefs – Renee Redzepi, Magnus Nilsson, David Chang, the Cook it Raw experimentalists and many others – chefs who are looking into the cycles of nature for their ingredients rather than towards a shop or supplier.
Perhaps simply to try something new. To make something theirs. To challenge themselves. Perhaps from a yearning for connection. Perhaps the desire to paint with fresh colours. Perhaps for thrill. For discovery. For passion. For inspiration. To connect. For fun. Or just because. We each have our own reasons.
They are no prescription. They speak of our place, of our seasons, of our spirit. The Botanist is then a manifestion of our island home.
Of the botanists who go out into its landscape and of the distillers who coax the delicate spirit into being. But this is just the starting point of the botanical journey.
We create the spirit. But you create the drinks.
We have been working with wonderful people – inspired and progressive bartenders such as Thomas Aske and Ally Kelsay, forager and foraging tutor Mark Williams, chefs Craig Grozier and Jack Buchanan to name just a few. Together we explore and taste the landscapes of our island home; city parks and canals, railroads and roadsides around the UK. We have been exploring the boundaries where wild, foraging, food and drinks merge.
And we invite you to join us – this starts in our own backyards.
Muddy boots, dirty fingernails, untrodden paths, familiar dog walking routes, parks, commons, roadsides, gardens, hedgerows, sea shores, riverbanks. A sprig of window-box mint, garden apple blossom, fresh picked seaweed, dropped into a Botanist and Tonic.
We embrace it all. Every idea is a new box being opened, a new story being written.
There are no ‘signature serves’ for The Botanist because foraging is about creativity and it begins at home.
Millions of years of human development had passed before a group of people started to settle into one place and plant the crops that would eventually fill today’s supermarkets. Until the industrial revolution turned us into city dwellers, we would have routinely searched the woods, hedgerows, riverbanks and seashores to add sustenance, seasonal variety and flavour to our farmed food.
Defying the modern world, some of us have continued to forage, not perhaps because we need to, but because it is exciting.
The hunting instinct is alive and, once re-energised, kicks hard inside us. The idea of wild food, ‘Food for Free’ as Richard Mabey memorably called it, still resonates.
A few of us still venture forth, perhaps to gather blackberries in autumn, or perhaps late summer field mushrooms drenched in morning dew. Fewer have the confidence to identify a chanterelle, or gather watercress from the water’s edge or taste young birch leaves in spring – but change is in the air.
Small, but dedicated groups of bartenders are reaching back into the wild world to rediscover the rich palate of flavours forgotten while our raw senses have been cocooned in the bland homogeneity of industrialised packet food. Many great chefs too now develop their ideas, and construct their menus, around wild, yet readily foraged flavours and sensory experiences that have been ignored for but a few short generations.
There is opportunity and inspiration everywhere – in every city park and along every country lane. We can join them, either by recognising their foraged mixology skills and supporting their work as we play, or perhaps by looking at our local hedgerows and gardens in a different light. Foraging can change the way we perceive the world, change the way we walk down the street. A drink need never be the same again.
Then the core botanicals are manually loaded into the pot of the still in a particular order, and spread using rakes to form a sort of mat that sits on the surface of the liquid. They are then steeped for twelve hours before the steam pressure is increased again to simmering point and the vapours start to rise up the neck of the heavily modified vessel.
The rising vapours first hit a cluster of 85 small bore copper pipes in the neck which provide a massively increased surface area of copper, a powerful cleansing agent. It then hits a water box at the head of the still which cools the vapours and causes a reflux of any heavy oils that have escaped the copper.
Only the purest and lightest vapours turn through 90 degrees and enter the lyne arm into which the casket containing the Islay botanicals is built.
The island botanicals are held in loosely woven muslin sacks through which the vapour can easily pass, but even at this stage there is a reflux pipe that returns any heavier condensed spirit to the neck of the still.
The final stage of the journey is down the long shell tube condenser and into The Botanist’s own unique spirit safe, from which the stillman takes the samples to determine the precious middle cut.
Tom Morton, “Spirit of Adventure”
The Lomond Still was designed as a cunning “one-stop-shop” still by chemical engineer Alistair Cunningham and draftsman Arthur Warren in the 1950s, neither of whom can have been great aesthetes – as a way to create a variety of whisky styles. Key to the design was the ugly, thick, column-like neck. This could have three extra removable sections inserted for flexibility, imitating the effect of different still “neck” lengths.
One section housed three rectifying plates, or baffles, that increased or decreased the reflux action. These plates, like Roman blinds, could be opened in varying degrees from a horizontal to the vertical position. Correspondingly, the removable neck sections could lengthen or shorten the height of the neck, thus varying the angle of the lyne arm – upward for a slightly lighter whisky, downward for a heavier one.