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13 Sep 2016 By

Islay will always be associated with its known peaty or smoky whiskies. But it the last few years, the island’s first and only dry gin is slowly making its way into notable bars and cocktail recipes. And it’s made by Ugly Betty. Who? Read on…

When we were last in Bruichladdich distillery in Jun 2016, we were privy to a lot of their old school methods and Victorian-era equipment. But while in the room with the whisky copper stills, we noticed a more forlorn still off to the side on its own. It even had a name – ‘Ugly Betty’. 

This particular copper still was a recent purchase from a distillery that was closing, and it was used only to make The Botanist Gin, Islay’s first and only gin.

Whisky making takes a long time because of the sleeping spirits in the casks. For a younger distillery, this means a long period when the company has no revenue. For Bruichladdich and its new owners, an idea was hatched that they could make gin quickly with a spare still, and have some income while waiting to wake the whisky spirits. And so Ugly Betty was procured.


Commercial gin can be made quickly in two to three months; masceration and distillation doesn’t take that long – once you have the formulation right. But figuring out your recipe is tricky and is a much longer process, and master distiller Jim McEwan wanted it to reflect Islay’s character. The Botanist features 22 hand-foraged botanicals which delicately augment the spirit’s nine core ingredients of berries, bark, seeds and peels. The process may be quick, but it is meticulous as well.

botanist gin

All the ingredients were handpicked locally and sustainably in Islay.

The first bottle of The Botanist was released in 2009, and it’s a layered and nuanced dry gin that’s reflective of the island’s wild, windswept character. The nose is a melange of botanicals such as hawthorn, elder, creeping thistle, sweet cicely and meadowsweet. The palate is a mix of spicy flavours with a touch of zesty citrus.

“We believe in innnovation and progress, in constantly striving to produce a spirit with integrity and provenance. A spirit to put a smile on your face wherever you are, and to help you close your eyes and quietly dream of Islay.”, says McEwan.

botanist gin Islay

Bartender Vijay Mudaliar (above) is a Singapore forager, and he recommends for us his Jackfruit Negroni.

Jackfruit-infused Campari

The Botanist Gin

Sweet Vermouth

Chinese Cinnamon leaves for garnish (instead of orange peel)

“I used jackfruit because I forage it, and my Campari is very forward and the big flavours kinda play together,” he explains.


Bees Knees (variation)

Jasmine-infused mint

The Botanist Gin

Citrus and honey


The Botanist G&T

1 part gin

2 parts tonic (we recommend artisanal tonics

Serve with loads of ice in a Burgundy wine glass.

Garnish with a slice of juicy orange or any kind of green herb you may find locally. To best enjoy your Botanist Gin, go forage and find interesting herbs and leaves to enhance the flavour of its botanicals.Yes, get off your couch and The Botanist Go!

Available in the good cocktail bars and from 75cl, Barworks, and Tuckshop

Like this? Why are millennials drinking more gin and tonics than us?

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