Kevin Johansson – Distillery Ambassador & Academy Host since 2016

IN

On France

A fluent Swedish and English speaker, Kevin (26) claims he could have added one more to his belt. Former founder Mark Reynier helped get him a job at Domaine des Baumard in the Loire. A few years have passed since he was due to spend the summer and instead stayed for eight months. Luck would have that he escaped the gruelling picking work to help out in the cellars. He blames the abundance of wine consumed for his lack of French prowess.

“I don’t think I’d go back there to live. Winter comes in on Islay, it’s dark, raining, everything is damp and then you look at both sides. I enjoyed France…not that I belonged there, but I had some connections that I’ll never drop. The villages. The old traditional people who were stubborn but kind. But I’m settled on Islay now. I’ve spent half my life in Sweden and half my life here and I’d consider this home.”

 

On Morocco

In 2014, Kevin spent 8 weeks cycling around Morocco. From Tangier down to Marrakech and then back up through the Atlas Mountains. He appreciated the rhythm of life in the countryside. Seeing how moods changed from the city bustle to the laidback friendliness of the mountains, families took him in, shared their food and their home. He claims it was the experience that ignited his passion for cooking.

“Living off the land, growing their own veg, using amazing spices, it totally changed my mindset. The goal now is to live with what we can grow and hunt ourselves. Now I’m dehydrating meats, canning tomatoes for sauces, pickling veg for the winter months.”

Nerabus, Isle of Islay

On Self-Sufficiency

“I’ve taken inspiration from the people who’ve worked for the distillery. James has given me an insight into the foraging, Mark into the practicalities of wild food and Craig on the flavour and cooking side. You can pick what you want, grow what you need… now we’ve got a polytunnel and raised beds. We’re trying to be self-sufficient, to grow our own food requirements. Islay has so much to offer but It takes time and planning.

“In winter we won’t be able to grow as much as we’d like, the sun goes and the temperature changes but I’ve built a smoker, a hot and cold smoker from casks that Adam gave me. We can fish for mackerel and smoke it, smoke the eggs from the hens and ducks, even the chicken and then we’ll vac-pack and freeze it to do us over the winter. If Donald (Heather’s stepdad) and I shoot a deer, we need to plan ahead for that, it takes about a week to hang and break down, so it does take time and planning. It’ll last us six months in various forms, frozen, jerky, tagines… But once we’ve done it, we won’t have to go to the Co-op. We’re thinking about growing wheat next. All you need is the field. Then we’d be able to make our own bread, pasta, pizza.

“If we didn’t live at Nerabus, I wouldn’t have the same mentality that I do… instead of buying the shed, we build the shed. I get satisfaction from those responsibilities we’ve created too. I don’t need to travel because I’m busy and happy here, it’s like I’m magnetised to Islay because of what I’ve built here.

“And it makes sense from a money point of view. Instead of blowing our money, we do things cheaply so we can save for a deposit for a house. I think it’s a choice you make… to do things the hard way.

On Islay

“Last winter we sat and binge-watched Netflix. Everyone goes into hibernation and we weren’t really going for long walks. That’s when you start to crave March coming. You’re waiting for things to start blossoming, then you push through it.

“The island is in jeopardy of losing the essence of the place. People don’t realise that when they come for a week, it’s a whole load of locals who have to keep things running for them to be able to enjoy it. We can’t let the corporate world get ahold of us.”

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