With Skye being such a small island, it’s amazing how inundated we are with all sorts of produce. From seafood to meats, fruit to veg and herbs; the possibilities are abundant. What about the natural plants that occur on our wee island though? What can we use these for? Well… Gin, of course! To give you a little bit more of an insight as to what we forage for Misty Isle gin we’ve comprised a small profile for each botanical used. Here goes:
Juniper is the known essential building block of all gins. In fact, by legal requirement, it needs to be the predominant flavour for a spirit to even be classified as gin! Gin even takes its name from this main ingredient; with gin originating from the Netherlands, the Dutch word for juniper is ‘genever’. The main fruit used comes from the juniper tree (Juniperus communis) – which is native to the UK and has a whopping lifespan of 200 years – but the common misconception that often comes with juniper is that the fruit produced is a berry; it’s, in fact, a tiny, smooth, fleshy pinecone that only the female flowers of juniper trees produce (the plant itself is dioecious, meaning male and female flowers grow on separate plants). The tree is very capable of growing in difficult, rocky landscapes making Skye its ideal home – how lucky are we? The fruit is typically safe to eat, as long as identified correctly, but the flavour is quite strong, bitter and tart so beware if trying when out and about! FACT: In the nineteenth century, Highland juniper bushes were prolific enough for their berries to be collected by the bagful and taken to the Inverness and Aberdeen markets to be exported to the Dutch gin distillers!
A native spice of Europe, North Africa and South West Asia, coriander is the second most common botanical found in gins. The dried fruits of the plant are what we actually refer to as the ‘seeds’. When tasting gin, it’s often one of the notes most instantly recognised – especially if you use it in a lot of cooking! Using coriander gives a dry-spiced, lemony citrus twist with a touch of mustiness. Much like the primary ingredient – juniper – it contains the compound known as ‘alpha-pinene’, which is where the woody, pine-like flavour in gin comes from, making it a perfect partner for blending with juniper.
Before being dried for up to five whole years and ground into a heavily floral, woody powder, orris root actually begins as the thick, dense root of an iris flower. It’s the dense nature of this botanical that makes it so good at grounding other, lighter flavours and fragrances found in the gin, stopping them from disappearing altogether during the distillation process giving it the name of a ‘fixative base’. Orris root has plenty of other uses in everyday life too, though! It’s prominently used in perfumes and potpourri to bind other scents found together.
This botanical is quite a mysterious one also known as wild cherry, Norwegian Angelica, and ‘the holy ghost’. The scent of the plant itself has been compared to musk and, of course, juniper with the roots enhancing these fragrant characteristics. What makes Angelica so different from juniper is the woodier, bitter-herbal character it has from being a root, rather than a fruit! Interestingly, Angelica fruits are also used to distil Absinthe, while the seeds are one of the main flavours in Vermouth and Absinthe.
Cassia is sometimes referred to as cinnamon, especially in the United States, and while it is closely related to cinnamon, Cassia actually comes from the bark of an evergreen tree native to Southern China. The initial taste of this botanical in gin is sweet and slightly bland but it quickly develops into a warming cinnamon, woody flavour. This slowly diminishes into a slightly rough, raspy aftertaste with faint echoes of lemon and a generic woodiness.
Grains of Paradise
The addition of Grains of Paradise seems to enrich the gin, making all of the flavours a little more intense. The grains do bring their own flavour, too; a greenish-peppery taste with a warming, spicy, tingly feeling that lasts in the mouth. FACT: It’s thought that the presence of Grains of Paradise, in the natural diets of gorillas, has a cardioprotective effect. Apparently, gorillas in captivity are quite prone to heart conditions.
Liquorice has a distinctive flavour, similar to anise or fennel, but with a pronounced additional sweetness. It’s often used in gins for both its flavour and for the sweetening effect. It’s particularly of interest in gin because the root itself is thought to have been widely used as a sweetening agent in early forms of gin, including some ‘Old Tom’ styles.
Black cubebs add to the overall complexity, particularly when acting in harmony with juniper. Despite its fiery nature, there’s also a soft floral quality to its influence but for easy recognition of its presence in your glass, just look for an immediate peppery, ginger-like note when enjoying our gin.
Almost all gins use citrus zest in some form or another; dried or fresh, with the more common fruit used being lemon right through to grapefruit even being used. It serves the purpose of balancing the tartness of Juniper. Did you know that the lemon is probably a hybrid of a bitter orange and the citron?
So, are there any more botanicals used? Well yes, there are but shhh… it’s a secret ingredient that can only be found on Skye!
Hopefully, now you have a better idea of all of the fascinating flavours that we marry with spring water from the Storr Lochs to create our unique – and the Isle of Skye’s very first – Misty Isle gin.