We enjoyed a very splendid cake last week, beautifully baked by Katie to mark the retirement of our botanical scientists Dr. Richard and Mavis Gulliver. Richard and Mavis have been an integral part of The Botanist story since the inception and creation of our first, and still the only, Islay Dry Gin.
They started working with Jim McEwan over a decade ago, when the husband and wife team introduced our then master distiller to a range of local botanicals which they had hand-picked from the woods, marshes, hills and hedgerows of our remote Hebridean island home. Jim was then able to systematically assess them for flavour and aroma before selecting the iconic 22 which would go on to provide the floral ‘top notes’, the island melody that overlays The Botanist’s rhythm section of nine core berries, barks, seeds and peels.
Their involvement did not stop there of course. Richard and Mavis then went on to shoulder the very considerable responsibility of ensuring that we had the botanicals available for ongoing distillations. This required enormous dedication coupled with a high level of organisation and local knowledge, because suitable quantities of the 22 need to be collected over an entire growing season. This can start in late March/April if gorse flowers earlier than May/ June when it is more usually at its spectacular best. Honeyed heather and aromatic bog myrtle complete the picking process in August and September.
Picking the botanicals is only part of the story however, because the whole process is both involved and time consuming. Following their collection, in the correct proportions and with due regard to obtaining them in optimum condition, the delicate plants have to be carefully dried, or tinctured in some cases, to preserve their individual characters.
Richard and Mavis have a profound love of the countryside and the diverse community of wild plants that form such an integral part of it. Conservation and the principles of sustainability are central to everything they do – and this is of course reflected in their responsible foraging of our botanicals. They ensured that none of the 22 we use are threatened in any way, with most being positively abundant here on Islay. The one exception is Islay juniper, a small, prostrate shrub which is quite rare. Only symbolic amounts of this are used in The Botanist and, instigated by Richard and Mavis, a re-introduction scheme has been under way which has seen planting of young junipers in suitable locations on Islay. This will continue into the future as we are preparing to introduce juniper plants grown from cuttings, propagated by the botanists, into what we hope will prove to be suitable locations on distillery ground.