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

Hendrick’s Gin (41,4%, OB, Scotland)

Earlier I reviewed two very good Gins: Hven and Dutch Courage (the aged version). Both are very nice spirits, good enough for sipping. For me however, I already have lots of other spirits lying around the house which are even better for sipping than your average Gin, so for me, Gin is a spirit to do something with. Call me boring, but the best way to do something with Gin is to partner it up with a good Tonic. Many people can tell you how to make a nice Gin & Tonic, so I won’t do that here. Since I’m a taster of spirits, that is what I do. I taste the Gins on these pages neat, but I hope to put something down as well how a particular Gin behaves with a good Tonic. When I do that I’ll use a big balloon copita and very big spheres of ice or chunks of frozen spring water. For review purposes I do not add any garnish, but when you make your own G&T, please do to enhance the experience.

Hendrick’s is a Scottish Gin produced since 1999 in small 450 litre batches by William Grant & Sons. Whisky-people know them better as the people behind Glenfiddich and the Balvenie Single Malts. In the 60’s, Charles Gordon, at that time the president of William Grant & Sons, bought a Carter-head still and a Bennett still (a small pot still) at an auction. Both were restored and put back into service for the production of Hendrick’s Gin. Both stills are producing a different Gin which are later blended together. Part of the botanicals used are macerated and subsequently distilled in the Bennett still with neutral spirit and water. The rest of the botanicals are put into a copper basket that hangs well above the spirit in the Carter-Head still, extracting the more sweet floral and elegant aroma’s by the rising vapour. Finally essences of Cucumber (from the Netherlands and Belgium) and Red Roses (from Bulgaria) are added to the blend of Gins, post distillation. The botanicals used in distillation are: Juniper, cubeb aka tailed pepper, caraway seeds, camomile, elderflower, meadowsweet, yarrow, orange peel, lemon peel, coriander seeds, orris root, and angelica.

Hendrick's GinColor: Colorless.

Nose: Juniper obviously, but also quite some toned-down citrus in the mix. All of this is aided by a rather sweet and very appealing floral aroma. Elderflower and meadowsweet for sure. It is said Bulgarian Rose and Cucumbers are the main markers for this Gin (I am assuming this, since they get mentioned a lot). I eat many cucumbers and I recognize the smell of cucumbers a mile away. Here I don’t get it (yet). I’m sure it’s there, but it is drowned out by the other, much stronger aroma’s. Same goes for the Bulgarian Rose. Although faintly present, it smells a bit more like marketing to me. Do Bulgarian roses smell better than other roses anyway? If mentioned so often, why does the Gin smell of juniper, elderflower and meadowsweet instead of the aforementioned rose and cucumber? Hmmm, maybe that’s why they ask you to garnish it with cucumber, to make it noticeable. Let’s not get carried away now, since the beauty lies in the details, even I should know that! Some whiffs of spicier ingredients pass by. Pepper and a more earthier and rootier smell. Sweet camomile is there too. It is no surprise. Hendrick’s is a wonderful smelling Gin. Well balanced and very appealing.

Taste: Quite spicy, cumin for sure. Oily and nice. Sweet and earthy. Coriander is definitely here, but used with taste. It’s the “hint of” I expected from the cucumber, but it is from the coriander instead. I usually don’t care too much for coriander, but here it does seem to work rather well. Luckily some other, very pleasant, floral, botanicals overpower it. This is quite a surprise. It packs quite an aromatic punch, but also the sweet florality is easily detected. Yes we have some rose-water in the taste. The cucumber however, absent for me. As I said cucumber is very common to me, but I can’t detect it. Maybe something wrong with me these days? It has some sweet barley and aroma’s of dry biscuits. The different tastes work together well, nothing really stands out making for a well-balanced big uniform taste. Subtle (the Zuidam and the Hven are bigger Gins).

Combine with a neutral Tonic like Fever Tree and maybe even more exiting, the aromatic Fever Tree Mediterranean Tonic works quite well since the floral part played by the geranium is a nice match with the Bulgarian Rose from the Gin.

Points: 79 (yup high score again)