The Botanist Islay Dry Gin (46%, OB, Scotland)

It has been a long time since reviewing a Gin. How is that possible? In fact, all the Gins I have on my lectern now haven’t been reviewed yet, so I’d better get a move on, before they are gone! Like Hendrick’s, the The Botanist hails from Scotland, better still, both are made by distillers of the finest tipple of Scotland, Whisky! Where Hendrick’s is made by the people behind Glenfiddich and The Balvenie, The Botanist is made by the people of Bruichladdich. The Botanist is made with 9 rather common botanicals found across most Gin’s: juniper berries, cassia bark, coriander seeds, angelica root, dried lemon peels, dried orange peels, licorice, cinnamon and orris root. However, that was not enough. What makes this Gin about terroir, a big thing for Bruichladdich, is the addition of 22 botanicals found on the Island of Islay: apple mint, chamomile, creeping thistle, downy birch, elder, gorse, hawthorn, heather, juniper (again), lady’s bedstraw, lemon balm, meadowsweet, mugwort, red clover, spear mint, sweet cicely, bog myrtle, tansy, water mint, white clover, wild thyme and wood sage. So the focus of this Gin is actually on the details, the Islay botanicals, hence the red number 22 on the label.

The Botanist has one of the most comprehensive websites I have ever seen considering Gin, or any other drink for that matter. Beautifully made and very informative. However, reading that much and absorbing that much information makes thirsty, and you only can taste the Gin by trying it, not by reading about it. Same goes for this review obviously! So without further ado, here are my thoughts about The Botanist.

Color: Clear water.

Nose: Classic piny, juniper dry Gin aroma’s are up front. Lots of citrus with orange overpowering the lemon. Fresh smelling, with some menthol, almost clinically clean at first. Nevertheless, the nose has also a deeper sweetish note to it (licorice and cinnamon). I even get whiffs of an unexpected briny note. Unexpected in a Gin maybe, but considering this is an Islay Gin, maybe I should have known better. Underneath a warm, well-balanced, big floral scent emerges, aided by a more woody note (pencil shavings). When nosing the Gin by itself, a lot comes to the fore, I never picked up in a chilled Gin & Tonic. Excellent nose, no doubt about it, perfect!

It actually is rather strange that a distillate containing so much fine details, from many different botanicals, is used for a G&T with lots of ice, masking all those fine details. If you want to pick up on those finer details, I invite you to try your Gins neat as well (at room temperature). I do it for these reviews and it is certainly an eye-opening experience. I actually have a friend who had never heard of G&T, but likes Gin. He always drinks it neat at room temperature as a fresher alternative to Whisky. When I told him about G&T, he actually was quite surprised people do that to with their Gins.

Taste: Much drier than expected, yet not lacking sweetness. Again well-balanced stuff. Appetizing. Lots of juniper (but less piny than on the nose) and citrus notes. Here lemon almost overpowers orange. Camomile, paper and apple juice. Hints of vanilla and cream. Creamy orange. Next, some more green or vegetal notes. For the plethora of botanicals in this Gin, this is not a Gin for those who want to recognize all 31 botanicals individually. The components used are designed to work together, and they do that very well. This may very well be the best sipping Gin I know. Oily, chewy. Extremely well made. 46% ABV seems to be just right as well.

Comparing the Zuidam to the Botanist neat, the latter has definitely the more classic (juniper) Gin nose. The difference is so great, it almost seems like the Zuidam isn’t a Gin at all! Sure, if you work a bit harder the juniper and the citrus notes are definitely there, so don’t panic. The nose of the Zuidam is more mellow, less defined and fresh, but also less complex, compared to the Botanist. Tasting both, the roles seem reversed. The taste of the Botanist is remarkably mellow compared to its nose, whereas the Zuidam, seems a bit bigger, less complex again, yet fruitier (and somewhat sweeter), with a fantastic orange aftertaste. Hard to pick a favourite sipping Gin between these two!

Strange enough though, of all the Gin’s I know and/or have, (not all have been reviewed yet), the Botanist is not my favourite in a G&T. Lesson learned, not all excellent Gins work perfectly in a G&T. Personally I’m more about making G&T’s with Gin, rather than sipping them neat. Maybe I should follow the example of my friend mentioned earlier. On the other hand, The Botanist also deserves a more extensive search for the best matching Tonic.

Every time I make a Gin & Tonic at home, I always make two different ones for a proper H2H. It’s a sad thing to drink Gin & Tonics alone, so I always do that with my wife. We’ll do some proper comparisons, at least I do, and then I let her pick her favorite for her to finish. She often picks a different one than I, so it is not as bad as it sounds. Especially one time I remember we both preferred the same one, and up ’till now the combination of the aged Zuidam Gin paired with Indi Tonic is our favorite. It also shows you that taste is personal, so don’t take my word for it, make your own mind up, which is definitely more fun!

One recent nice spring day, hot, so could have been the middle of summer, I made two different G&T’s with “The Botanist”. One with Syndrome Velvet Tonic (left, with bitter oranges and thyme) and the second one (on the right) with Schweppes Premium Mixer Ginger & Cardamom. The difference was larger than expected. With Syndrome, the G&T was good, yet very soft and quite sweet as well. Rounded out, soft and sweet, toned down, covered up and a bit too sweet for my tastes. The thyme was definitely noticeable in the Tonic. The combination with the ginger and cardamom Tonic, both noticeable in the Tonic itself, was more true to the juniper driven, Dry Gin style of The Botanist and maybe Gin in general. It was more refreshing, sharper and definitely more focussed, well-defined, making it the one I preferred. Needless to say my wife preferred the other one!

Points: 82

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Port Morant 6yo (46%, Renegade Rum Company, GYA, Tempranillo Finish, Guyana)

Why review only one Renegade when you can do two for twice the price? The previous review was about a Jamaican Rum finished in Tempranillo casks. Tempranillo is a blue grape variety used for an excellent Spanish Red Wine. We know that Jamaican Rums have a big or heavy style, a. k. a. high ester Rum, however, we found that it just barely coped with the Tempranillo finish, which was able to hijack the Rum a bit. We know of another big and heavy Rum-style. Demerara. how would that perform? Today we’ll have a look how an almost similarly young Demerara will do. It’s not just any Demerara, it’s a Port Morant! So another Renegade, another big young Rum and another Tempranillo cask, those will be the ingredients of this review. Again, I expect an interesting Rum, out-of-the-box just like the Renegade Monymusk. Will this one taste better?

port-morant-6yo-42-renegade-rum-company-gya-temperanillo-finish-guyanaColor: Light gold.

Nose: Right out of the gate, this is Port Morant alright. Typical Demerara. From memory, but for a brief moment only, somewhat similar smelling to the Plantation Guyana I reviewed earlier. Where that one seemed to have a sweeter start (added sugar), this one has a big dusty, nutty and vegetal component added to it. Changing instantaneously. It seems to me already, both the Jamaican Rum and the Demerara I have in my glass now, react quite differently to the Tempranillo cask. Here it gives off a clear Grappa aroma. Know your distillates people. Venture off the beaten path sometimes. It will make for a better experience. Interesting. Both turn dry in no time at all. Some oak and vanilla, so I’m guessing that, at least one of the casks used was made from American oak. Being the original cask the Rum was matured in or the cask that held the Tempranillo Wine. Probably both. Quite fruity. Fresh pineapple for sure and some less pronounced, yet creamy, citrussy notes as well. Spicy oak combined with thick and juicy almonds and pudding. After letting this breathe for a while it almost smells like a Single Malt Whisky matured in a Bourbon cask. Just like the Jamaican Renegade, this is a nice, although a bit out of the ordinary, smelling Rum. I hope the palate will be better this time around, compared to the Monymusk.

Taste: Not very sweet Demerara, not in a big way, well, quite dry actually. Again a Rum that chances quickly in the glass. The Tempranillo is immediately a bit overpowering and I can’t say it does wonders for this Rum. Next a flinty note that doesn’t seem right. Paper, cardboard and Grappa come next. Lots of Grappa actually, with some fruity and Wine-like notes. So expect hay, dry grass and a very dry taste. Definitely still recognizable as a Port Morant on the nose, but in no way, here in the taste. As I said earlier, overpowered by the Wine finish.Funky Wine cask finish you also got from the first batch of Whiskies being finished in Wine casks. By now in the Whisky-world they have mastered finishing in ex-Wine casks, but Rum is a different puppy ‘eh Jim? Quite big into the finish, but a quick break-down afterwards, making the finish medium at best. I hoped that this one would taste better than the slightly disappointing Monymusk I reviewed before this one, alas, here the experiment is even less interesting, although not a totally failed effort. There is something to be learned here, but I’m not sure what exactly…

Well, I hoped this would do better, but in fact it worked even less for me. If you know your Grappa’s than this one will interest you for sure. I know a lot of people raise their eyebrows when tasting (their first) Grappa. Definitely an acquired taste, even more so than a Rummy, acquiring the taste of Rhum Agricole. When I tried to taste the Port Morant right after the Monymusk, well all I can say, don’t do that. Doesn’t work either…

Points: 78

Monymusk 5yo (46%, Renegade Rum Company, JMA, Tempranillo Finish, Jamaica)

Renegade Rum Company. What might that be? If you are familiar with Single Malt Whiskies, then the name Bruichladdich should mean something to you. In fact it will mean the world, since it is one of the famous Whiskies from the Isle of Islay. Home of the best peated Whiskies in the world, only historically, Bruichladdich is more famous for its unpeated Whiskies than for their peated Whiskies. To put an end to that, master distiller Jim McEwan started to make Port Charlotte, a heavily peated Single Malt Whisky (around 40 ppm phenols) and the astronomically peated Octomore (up to 258 ppm, which is a lot more than 40 ppm). There is no normal way to peat Whisky that high, so in comes the skill of Jim. Bruichladdich is also the home of The Botanist Gin, made up with botanicals from Islay, and also of Renegade Rum. Jim supposedly hand-picked casks of Rum and hand-picked Wine casks to finish those Rums in. Expect relatively young Rums, all finished in some sort of Wine cask. All reduced to 46% ABV, in my book better than the usual 40% ABV. Anything below 40% I don’t even consider buying if I have to be honest. In everything Jim does he pushes the envelope, so prepare yourself, as will I, for an unusual Rum experience…

monymusk-5yo-42-renegade-rum-company-jma-temperanillo-finish-jamaicaColor: Light gold.

Nose: Yep, funky Jamaican style. I love the high ester quality it has to it. Easy to recognize. Fresh cookie dough. Extremely creamy. Already the promise of a cloying syrupy Rum. Wait a minute… A drier note emerges. Old raisins and some wood. There is a note here I struggled for a while to identify, so common, but what is it? Its Grappa! The Temperanillo cask infused a Grappa note to this Rum. Grassy, hay-like. Clay, butter candy and a more vegetal note. If you have ever sticked your nose in the hole of an empty Red Wine cask, you’ll recognize its strong spicy notes in this Rum as well. Nice and quite unusual for a Rum. Amazing how the finish is taking over the Rum when you let it breathe for a while. When nosing this the high ester Jamaican smell is retreating quickly (move it around a bit so it gets some more air, and it briefly returns). With the Grappa nota also a more nutty aroma emerges as well as some warm butter. So it starts big, funky and creamy but after a while it has this well-balanced dryness combined with a nice warm butter note. This is the most two-faced Rum I have smelled untill now. A bit unusual, but I like it. Pushing the envelope a bit. If you love Grappa, you’ll love this nose.

Taste: Here the funky part is even shorter. Upon entering your mouth, for a brief moment, you think you are drinking a typical and clean and simple example of a Jamaican Rum, but it turns around rather quickly. Lots of wood and heaps of acidic woody notes followed by strange red fruit acidity from stale Wine. It doesn’t have the taste of wood itself though. It also lacks the bitterness of clean wood. No, its different. What it also lacks is the Grappa I found on the nose, for some that is a good thing, but it also makes for a somewhat unbalanced Rum. Well it’s not really a Rum either, especially a Jamaican Rum. What it does have is some nice exotic spices, dare I say Indian again? Also slightly soapy and floral, and it has some notes of Foursquare as well, which is a Rum, although not Jamaican. A long time after swallowing, a very discrepant winey, acidic and fruity note re-appears, combined with toasted cask, well hidden into the background. Can’t really say that the finish is well-balanced. It’s like a race where all the competitors cross the finish well apart from each other, running different distances as well. So unbalanced it is, and definitely the weakest part of the whole experience.

This bottle is clearly an experiment. Where for me it works wonders on the nose, it doesn’t actually work that well when tasting it. Somehow the finish overpowers the young Jamaican Rum. Maybe this experiment would have worked better if the Jamaican Rum was older, bigger, more of a match to the Tempranillo?

So there it is. I love Jamaican Rum to death, I love Jim McEwan and I love a good experiment, and that is what experiments are for. You try something that is usually out-of-the-box. It might work or not. Here it clearly works on the nose, but less so on the taste. So not the best of Rums around, and the score will reflect that, but because of its out-of-the-box-ness I still would buy one, although many of the Renegades are sold out by now…

Points: 81

Bruichladdich 15yo (46%, OB, First Edition, 2003)

Earlier I reviewed the Bruichladdich 10yo. That was one from the first batches to be released, right after the distillery was sold to Mark Reinier & Co. The first releases were that 10yo, the 15yo I’m about to review and a 20yo. Ten years ago that is how a standard range looked. Age was everything back then. Today we’re not that far removed from an age, where age statements seem to be only for people with Lamborghini’s. Real ones, and I don’t mean the tractors too. It’s all about demand people. The 10yo I mentioned before didn’t float my boat, so I’m not sure what to expect with this 15yo. Let’s have a go shall we?

Bruichladdich 15yo (46%, OB, 2003)Color: Medium gold.

Nose: Reminds me of the 2003 10yo with just some more of everything, in fact, this one doesn’t want to stay in your glass! Fresh citrussy barley. Hint of peat and a little bit of smoke. Smells quite sweet for such a Malt. Garden bonfire. The sweetness is fatty and oily, or you can call these aroma’s well-integrated.  The more I smell this, and the more air it gets, the better it becomes. By now it’s already way better than it’s 10yo brother (or sister). Nice succulent wood, again integrated with the sweetness. Hints of vanilla, not much, and fresh, some distant fruitiness. I spoke too soon. The vanilla part grows bigger with more air and becomes creamy. Sweet yoghurt with peach. Lovely. Great balance and quite appetizing. I hope it tastes as good.

Taste: Quite sweet and very creamy with a woody, bitter edge to it. Again the sweet yoghurt with peach and toffee. Reminds me a bit of the great Bourbon casked Whiskies from the seventies. Great entry and a similarly great body. Not a lot of development though, but with something that tastes this great, who cares? Towards the end of the body the slightly peated toffee sweetness takes a step back and lets the wood through. It’s there, without taking over, barely though. You felt it coming: “but”. The flaw is in the finish. It breaks down a bit and is slightly shorter than the nose and the great body suggested. A wee bit too much reduced? Yes I know, its 46% ABV., but that doesn’t matter. This is how reduction with water, sometimes alters the finish. The aftertaste moves in to the territory of soap and stale beer and a minute amount of hops, but that sounds worse than it actually is, so don’t worry. Not a lot is left in the aftertaste, and there is only one remedy for that. Take another sip so it all starts all over again.

Points: 85

Bruichladdich 10yo (46%, OB, 2003)

Earlier I reviewed the most recent, standard range, Bruichladdich from the Dumpy OB era: the Scottish Barley bottling. Today we’ll have a look at the one that started it all for the previous owners. A short recap is in order I guess. In 1994 Bruichladdich was closed (again) since not a lot of Malt Whisky was needed back then. In 2000 Bruichladdich was taken over by a group of people fronted by Mark Reinier (of Murray McDavid), who in turn, asked Jim McEwan to take on the post of master distiller and (progressive) production director. Who would have thought Jim to ever leave the Bowmore building. In 2001 Bruichladdich was reassembled, without making it a computer driven modern distillery and without disturbing the Victorian bits as well. If memory serves me correctly, by 2001, three bottles were released as some sort of core range. A 10yo (this one), a 15yo and a 20yo. So this 2003 bottling, is one of the next batches after that. Yes no NAS bottles back then yet!

Bruichladdich 10yo 2003Color: Light gold.

Nose: Light, sweet barley. Extremely dusty. Paper. Dishwater citrus, but also perfumy wood, otherwise not a lot of wood noticeable. Pretty fruity. Thick sugared yellow fruits. Some pineapple and papaya with a slight hint of mint and cardboard. Somehow it smells sugary with hints of toffee and caramel. No peat.

Taste: Paper and a sweet woody note. Also something metallic. Perfumy too. It tastes almost the same as it smells. A bit hot on entry, but quickly dissipating the heat. Citrus fresh, but not of the dishwater kind. Rhubarb and again some caramel, which moves into toffee towards the finish. Hints of mocha and wood. Some woody bitterness helps the Whisky along. To my amazement, the dishwater component returns.

The current entry-level Bruichladdich is the NAS Scottish Barley and as luck would have it, I still have that one here too! The Scottish Barley has a lot of butter on the nose, but the fruit reminds me of the 10yo (but only the fruit). Definitely a younger Whisky. More raw and closer to new make spirit. It even has a tiny amount of smoke (and a wee bit of peat and oil, since it resembles Springbank a bit), which is nice. Tastewise the NAS is even simpler than the 10yo, more on barley and lacks some of the off notes of the 10yo.

I was never a fan of the 10yo, and after more than ten years, I still don’t like it that much. The Scottish Barley however, reminds me of Springbank, and even though it is simpler, less complex, in this case I prefer the NAS over the 10yo. (The “Yellow Submarine” I had next, was definitely better than both)

Points: 78

Bruichladdich Classic Laddie Scottish Barley (50%, OB, 2014)

In the more recent past when Bruichladdich had different ownership, a lot of bottlings saw the light of day and a lot of bottlings comprised the standard range. Now that the distillery has changed hands and tries to be a fashion accessory, the stanf=dard range is reduced to only two NAS bottlings. Scottish Barley and Islay Barley. If my memory serves me well, all standard bottlings with an age statement have been dropped.

In 2013, this same Whisky was released with a somewhat different “label”. The first release had big lettering for “Scottish Barley”, whereas the 2014 release I’m about to try, has “Classic Laddie” in big lettering. I have tasted the 2013 version and scored that one 85 points. Let’s see if this newer version is equally as good.

Bruichladdich The Classic Laddie Scottish Barley 2014Color: Light gold.

Nose: Well this is a nose that screams Barley. Very young smelling and even has some Bladnoch-butter. Fatty, with a citrussy edge. Hints of new make spirit, and given some time to breathe, a more bread like, coffee and milk chocolate note appears. The whole is quite soft. Wet. fresh wood. Virgin oak. Nevertheless it is also recognizable as a Bruichladdich. It does remind me sometimes of the Cadenhead Bruichladdich 17yo I reviewed earlier.

Taste: Soft paper like wood and an extremely creamy taste. Coffee with a lot of milk. Chocolate milkshake. When the higher ABV flows down my throat a short flash of hotness flies by, but also dissipates quickly. Cream with a hint of ashes. Bourbon and vanilla, but also dark chocolate and a faint fruity note. Cherry liqueur bon-bon? Virgin oak again. Lots of barley (and sugar?) in the finish. Barley, oak and cream are the three words that describe this Whisky best I guess.

As consumers we are compensated. We get less ageing and less complexity, but we get more ABV. 50% to be precise.

Here we go again, another NAS bottling that will split the Whisky world in two. Definitely a young, crude and uncomplex Whisky, but at the same time a nice and designed sophisticated soft taste that a lot of people will like. The Bruichladdich spirit is a good spirit, but this spirit didn’t get a whole lot of time to develop. It’s like a child asked to drive a bus. Some would even say that this isn’t really Single Malt Whisky. If someone had invented this about a 1000 years ago, he or she, may have called it Barley Wine. Not bad, but not my NAS of choice.

Points: 81

Bruichladdich 10yo 2003/2013 (56.3%, Malts of Scotland, First Fill Sherry Hogshead, MoS 13051, 285 bottles)

Almost two years ago I reviewed a Glen Keith bottled by Paderborner outfit Malts of Scotland. Being an indie with quite a reputation it took me quite a while to review another bottling of theirs. A sample of this very Bruichladdich was bestowed upon me by the former owner of this very cask. MoS renames the cask numbers so we do not know the original cask number. I hate it when Thomas does that, just like Bert does with his Asta Morris bottlings. Something to hide guys? Well nothing more to say really, (I’m a bit distracted by some nice live music by Primus), so let get on with it…

Bruichladdich 10yo 2003/2013 (56.3%, Malts of Scotland, Sherry Hogshead, MoS 13051, 285 bottles)Color: Orange brown.

Nose: Mellow Sherry of the Oloroso kind. Soft wood, dry forest plants like fern and slightly sulphury. Freshly baked bread. Chocolate, brown sugar, honey and fruity acidity from red fruits and berries. Vanillin and a distant bonfire in the woods. Wet earth and mocha. Raisins. Nice and pretty laid back. Mint in the finish (when warm).

Taste: The fruity acidity from the nose. Waxed chocolate sprinkles, cola and some wood. Again some sulphur, but not a lot. Extremely warming. The acidity stays on well into the finish and deep into the finish the sulphur gets more room to play, but still it is not a lot and never overpowering. It’s in the background carrying the aroma along with black tea leaves and a hint of woody bitterness. Not a very long finish though. Reminds me a (more than a) bit of the Bunnahabhain and to a lesser extent of a Bruichladdich I reviewed earlier. A quieter version of both I guess.

I have to say this one needed warming up. Even at room temperature I found it pretty closed, but when I held it in my hand for a while it showed a lot more of itself. Honey in the body and mint in the finish for instance. When I finished it, I poured myself a fresh dram, and again, very closed. This is an example of a closed and dry heavily Sherried expression as opposed to a fruity one. Bottled at the right time. Ready for another strange remark? The empty glass smells better than the full glass…

Points: 85

Thanx Andy!