Hebridean Gin from Islay – The Botanist
This London Cocktail Week I was lucky enough to be invited to sample a gastronomic collaboration between The Botanist, the first and only dry gin from the Hebridean island of Islay, and hip East London joint Sager + Wilde. The restaurant’s Head Chef Chris Leach and Mixologist, Marcis Dzelzainis had created a special tasting menu matched with gin cocktails inspired by their foraging and exploration of Islay.
The event was hosted by Brand Ambassador Abi Clephane in the upstairs area at Sager + Wilde, Bethnal Green. The space was beautifully dressed for the occasion bringing the spirit of Islay to East London. Abi explained how The Botanist is distilled and hand-crafted by progressive Hebridean distillers at the Bruichladdich Distillery on the Isle of Islay.The distillery started life making only whisky with an approach derived from winemaking with an emphasis on terroir. Production of The Botanist gin started in 2010 and the flavours of the island are highlighted in the nine classic botanicals and 22 local herbs and flowers used in its production. All foraging is undertaken responsibly by botanical scientists who trawl the hills, shores and bogs of the Hebridean Island for the best produce. Sager + Wilde Mixologist Marcis Dzelzainis told the assembled throng how he had researched and used forgotten techniques in the creation of the cocktails for the evening including fermentation, and the distilling of flavoured waters into hydrosols such as rose water and pine hydrosol.
To open up proceedings we kicked off with an Islay Martini. Made with The Botanist Gin, Dulce (seaweed flavoured) Vermouth and Port Charlotte Whisky it was served perfectly chilled with the delicious botanicals of the gin counterpointed by a hint of peat from the Scotch. It was a great martini!
And then to the dinner menu…
Our first starter was a dish of Lamb Belly with a Wild Mint Sauce. The succulent meat was infused with the fresh mint flavour and fell off the bone whilst not being too fatty.
I really enjoyed The Botanist Gin cured salmon with beetroot and wild herb salad. The salmon was top quality with the salad adding a vegetal herby twist.
Our matched cocktail was entitled ‘Sea’. Blending The Botanist Gin, house-brewed Lemon Verbena & Dulce Beer, Lemon, Kombu Syrup and Manzanilla Sherry it had the freshness of a Tom Collins with added saline and grapefruit notes. It was perfect with the salmon.
The main dish was a rich and rustic Venison Ragu served with a rough-hewn Cocoa Tagliatelle and Pine Oil – a perfect warming and hearty dish for a damp autumnal day.
The accompanying ‘Pine’ cocktail took us on a flavour trail through a pine forest. Made with The Botanist Gin, Verjus, Pine Hydrosol and Asturian Cider, the drink featured pink grapefruit flavours with a hint of pine balanced by the sweetness of the cider.
We were all slightly merry by the arrival of our dessert, a creamily astringent Chamomile Ice Cream with a homely Bell Heather Honey and Apple Cake. Our final drink was a medicinal Meadowsweet Milk Punch. Combining The Botanist Gin, a vanilla-flavoured Meadowsweet Syrup, Clarified Lemon and Milk, this Victorian-era milk punch went brilliantly with the dessert.
The Botanist Gin is beautifully flavoured and if you haven’t tried it you should. However, I was surprised by how well the gin cocktails worked with the food and I will definitely be going back to investigate the regular menu at Sagar & Wilde which seems like the perfect local destination.
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