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

Port Charlotte 10yo (46%, OB, 13/153)

Many people like Springbank very much and some of those people, the likes of bloggers and vloggers and die-hard aficionados, call out to other distilleries to look more at Springbank as an example how they feel things have to be done. In that respect, hiding in plain sight is Bruichladdich, who are doing things like Springbank but in their own way. For one they have multiple brands: Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte and Octomore and more interestingly they are doing the “Local Barley” thing as well (f.i  the Bere Barley and Islay Barley bottlings). Both series contain rather young Whiskies, which are surprisingly good. Personally, even more exiting is the batch variation, which I find, adds to the adventure in Whisky, although I don’t think they change the composition as much as Springbank between batches. They even code like Springbank (here: 13/153). The first official Port Charlotte 10yo was bottled in 2012, so this is not the first batch of the first release, but it is still the first release, since in 2016 an official second release came out bottled at 50% ABV.

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Nice fresh peat, and dare I say it has a Sherried note? Honest and slightly sweet. Full-on aroma. Slightly sweaty and floral at the same time. Soft as well. Dusty. Clay and finger paint. Pencil eraser. Medicinal. Cold gravy. For me, very special stuff with quite some unusual markers. This big synergetic aroma easily overpowers the soft peat. Maybe not overpowers, but it sure works well in tandem with it. Nice development and evolution of the nose. Every sniff seems different from the last, unless you are sniffing continuously. Appetizing stuff.

Taste: Peat, wood and some fruit in the background. The fruit shows quite some acidity. Starts out sweet, caramel, toffee, but that isn’t here to stay. Well, the aromas stay but the sweetness retreats a bit. Licorice wood. More (different kinds of) licorice combined with milk chocolate mousse. Some soap in my toffee now, as well as some mints (mint candy). Is this the taste of the floral part? Where the nose had a big aromatic presence, the body of this Whisky isn’t as big. Alas the taste cannot keep up with the nose, but the potential is there. If the quality of any of the younger distillates is anything to go by I’m predicting the future of the 10yo to be a bright one. Just compare it to, the sweeter by the batch, offerings of Laphroaig and Ardbeg 10yo’s.

Yes even by today’s standard, 40 ppm phenols is heavily peated, even though by now we are used to the insane peating levels of Octomore, where 167 ppm is just the start.

Bruichladdich might not be the most original distillery around, although Octomore sure is as original as it gets, but it might very well be the most progressive of the bunch today. Springbank is a main stay for me and I guess Bruichladdich can be added to that list now as well. Don’t worry, these two aren’t the only ones on that list. Not by a long shot.

Points: 86

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

Octomore 5yo “Edition 02.1 / 2_140” (62.5%, Bruichladdich, Ochdamh-mor, American Oak, 140 ppm, 15.000 bottles, 2009)

After the sweet and weak Glenfiddich, time for a potential beast. This Octomore, the brainchild of Jim McEwan was, when it was released, the most heavily peated Whisky in the world. Today we look a little bit differently at 140 ppm, since Octomore 06.3 is peated to a level of 258 ppm! Octomore 06.3 is a lovely Whisky and shows quite some fruits and the peat doesn’t even seem that heavy as it sounds. But time to rewind a bit and have a look at Octomore 02.1 that was already released in 2009. The first Octomore that was released is known to the world as 01.1, peated to a level of  131 ppm and bottled in 2008. The first ever Octomore distilled by Jim has never been released, but a small group of people had the chance to try it at the Whisky Show 2015 in London earlier this month, and Jim has probably brought it with him elsewhere too. The first ever Octomore was distilled in 2002 and peated to a level of 80.4 ppm. Filled into a first fill Oloroso butt and bottled at 62.3% ABV. I didn’t take notes since I was listening to Jim, but managed to score it 91 Points.

Octomore Edition 02.1 / 2_140 (62.5%, Bruichladdich, Ochdamh-mor, American Oak, 140 ppm, 15.000 bottles)Color: Very light gold.

Nose: Fatty peat and hints of red fruits, mostly berries. Peated barley and slightly medicinal, iodine. Smoky. Actually this smells like a lot of Whiskies from Islay do. In nothing you get that it is more than heavily peated. When you let it breathe for a while, a more (yellow fruity) sweetness emerges. Altogether for this to reach a more balanced state, you must give it some time. More meaty, smoky, tarry and salty aroma’s emerge. Burning off dry plants. Licorice, sweet wood and smoke in the mist. Wait even longer and hints of menthol and lemon can be smelled. the whole gets even softer. Old furniture and even creamy. Vanilla Ice cream with pepper and salt. Old paint and some nuttiness emerge late. Cotton candy. If you handle it well, if you are patient with it and use a glass that can handle air well, you’ll be rewarded. Wonderful nose which keeps on giving and giving.

Taste: Again  very creamy. Peppery and lots of it. Peppery attack with lots of licorice and sweet wood. Matches the nose perfectly. Quite sweet, but the rest of the aroma’s are pretty “there” as well so it handles the sweetness perfectly. Hints of old wood integrated with the licorice. Lots in common with Port Charlotte (obviously). Taste is very balanced, but less complex than the nose. It will be great to see Octomore (and Port Charlotte) mature.

Excellent example of a Whisky you have to work hard for, to be rewarded. It needs a lot of time and air to be at it’s best and show you all it’s got. Use the wrong glass or being impatient with it, will degrade this to nothing special at all. This is a wonderful yet modern spirit, which already is great if you know where to look. Lots of potential. The aroma’s are so big it even hides the high strength. I didn’t try it with water, but I’m sure it will take water well. Pour yourself a dram and then drink something else first, come back to this later.

Points: 87

Port Charlotte “An Turas Mor” (46%, OB, American Oak Casks)

In 2000 Murray McDavid bought Bruichladdich for £6.500.000 (from Jim Beam, current owners of Bowmore and Laphroaig). After acquiring the distillery guess what was the first distillate made? Yes! Port Charlotte, not the unpeated Bruichladdich itself. The guys behind Murray McDavid are no fools. We all know Mark and Jim to be very shrewd guys. So the first stuff they wanted to make with their new distillery was peated Whisky. On the 29th of May 2001, the first Port Charlotte was made. The first Bruichladdich under new ownership was somewhat later distilled in July. (2001 which was also the year the first newly bottled Bruichladdich was released; the 10yo I just reviewed, the 15yo and the 20yo). Finally on the 23rd of October 2002 the first Octomore was distilled.

Port Charlotte "An Turas Mor" (46%, OB, American Oak Casks)Color: Pale gold.

Nose: Mild, fatty vegetal peat, with butter and vanilla, pepper and salt. It smells like lavas was one of the plants that makes up the peat. Quite soft and unobtrusive. Some smoke and a tiny hint of burnt plastic and traces of soap. Sappy licorice twig. Wood lying around in the forest. Fresh (air) and un-complex. Dry kippers with hints of tar. Dusty vanilla and some paper. Nice to smell. The nose is worth the price of admission.

Taste: Sweet and peat. Sugar water with slightly bitter peat. Sweet licorice and black and white powder (yes, licorice again). Slightly warming. Licorice and licorice twig. Very tasty (the sweetness helps it along), but not very complex, but who cares when it’s so drinkable. Reduced, brooding peat that resembles coffee a bit. After a decent body, comes alas a sort of weak finish. A finish full of paper, barley, hints of soap and sweet licorice, but I guess we can blame its youth for that.

Lots of young Whisky is noticeable in An Turas Mor, but it shows a lot of potential though. This will become a great peated Islay Whisky when it becomes of age. I feel that Port Charlotte is a sweet Whisky that can be high on aroma, but struggles a bit with its length when it’s young. Highly drinkable, likeable and definitely worth its money. Get it, it’s not as expensive as the PC’s.

Points: 84