As I’ve repeatedly said, I don’t go in for this “World’s Best”, “America’s Best”, or even just “Best Of…” nonsense much, if at all. That judgment is far too subjective to even begin to claim that your Vodka or wine or widget or racehorse is universally better than any other of the same. I also recognize a Truth that a LOT of folks who appear online as shared authors of such lists have privately admitted to me: they might name this one beer or whiskey as “best” on Tuesday and, asked again on Thursday, may well say something else altogether. Which I have largely stopped making lists in The Pour Fool at all.
BUT…**sigh**…am I a big ol’ hypocrite if I admit that, when it comes to discussing the relative merits of the planet’s many, many Gins, I am at least willing to discuss that Bruichladdich Distillery’s brilliant offspring, The Botanist Islay Dry Gin, has to be in such a conversation, should I ever be held at gunpoint and forced into opining on it?
Whatever that might make me, I’d have to at least talk about it.
I first tasted The Botanist back in 2012, when a rep from a local wine distributor – Washington had just transitioned from state-controlled liquor sales to privatization – brought it in as part of their new import deal with Bruichladdich (brook-LODDIE), a maker of some of the most delicious Whiskeys to come out of Scotland’s Kingdom of Peat Smoke, the island of Islay (AISLE-uh). Because of the island’s jaw-dropping wealth of different plant species, someone at Bruichladdich got the idea of a botanical Gin made with Islay-foraged plants. 22 different locally-sourced botanicals go into The Botanist: Apple Mint, Chamomile, Creeping Thistle, Downy Birch, Elder, Gorse, Hawthorn, Heather, Juniper, Lady’s Bedstraw, Lemon Balm, Meadowsweet, Mugwort, Red Clover, Spearmint, Sweet Cicely, Bog Myrtle, Tansy, Water Mint, White Clover, Wild Thyme, and Wood Sage, all hand-gathered right there by the distillery. If you know all of those, well, good on ya. I was a chef for 32 years and I’ve used maybe six of ’em.
The temperature of the spirits in their still – named “Ugly Betty” – is raised until it is literally hand-hot, hot to the touch. No thermometers are used. The botanicals are added in a particular order, until they form a sort of mat on the surface of the liquid. There, they steep for twelve hours before the temperature is raised to a simmer and the distillation process proceeds. Out of that drip comes The Botanist, an impossibly, ridiculously complex raw Gin that carries a bewildering array of flavors and aromas. It is literally impossible to describe the totality of what I tasted in that first sip, in 2012 but I have never forgotten it. This Gin haunted me for nine solid years, so when my step-daughter walked into our house, last Friday, and yanked a bottle of this out of a brown paper bag, I was shocked and then delighted. “May I?” I asked.
“Of course,” she smiled.
My weird, nearly eidetic sense memory coughed up in one sip that it tasted virtually the same as it did nine years ago and the flush of pleasure had to have lit me up like a Christmas tree. It has at least a passing kinship with other, lesser gins in that there is some juniper, front ‘n’ center, and it is a very pleasant and nicely reined-in flavor that is quickly integrated with flavors of wildflowers, sweet herbs, wood, heather, seaweed, smoke, and a mild, pleasing stone-fruit character like eating a young, fresh pear. A lovely honeysuckle hint emerges, followed by a melange of those different leaf and stem notes. The alcohol (it almost seems disrespectful to mention ABV in discussing these flavors), scented with this cornucopia of wildness, hits the retro-nasal passage with a sinus-tickling clarity, and the finish never even comes close to the cloying juniper overdose common to a lot of modern Gins. With each sip, the aromas swirling in the glass insinuate themselves into the flavors and create a sort of immersion in the act of drinking this that is damned near magical.
I wouldn’t dream of ever mixing The Botanist with anything, but then I don’t really drink cocktails. You very well may dream of a lot of your favorite mixed drinks with this as their base. On The Botanist website, a recipe for something called “The Lemon Balm Martini” reads like something I may well try, if I can ever get past the desire to experience this stuff neat, chilled, and without distraction…This will probably never happen, so I’m going to live vicariously through anyone who tries it and tells me about it.
If you mix this with something like Mike’s Hard Lemonade, though I have no idea where you are, I will find you and haunt you like Marley’s Ghost. Really.
Okay, here’s the second best part (aside from the taste): The Botanist is quite readily available and will usually run ya right around…Thirty-five bills. For a bottle of any distilled anything that is done with this much thought, effort, creativity, skill, and care, $35 is literally a steal. Even a skinflint bastard like me will hand over that much and, as a gift for that Gin Geek in your life, this is something they will talk about for years, unless they are somehow the most generic, vanilla, library-paste, bar-coded dullard you’ve ever met. And if they are, best get away from them quickly. If they happen to be a dyed-in-the-wool traditional London Dry or Plymouth or even Old Tom freak, they’ll find just enough juniper here to tell them that, yes, this IS a bottle of legit Gin. After that…they are in for a horizon-widening thrill ride.
The Botanist hits my own pleasure centers like a warm, wet fist and has not let up in the past nine years. So, if we want to talk about “The Best Gin in The World”…well…I may just have. 99 Points