What distinguishes one gin from another? It’s all down to the botanicals—the herbs, roots, and plants that lend the spirit their own distinct character. Juniper is mandatory, giving every gin that unmistakable, piney scent. But from there, anything goes.
Many classic London Dry gins count botanicals in the single digits. Tanqueray has four; Beefeater, nine. The Botanist, made on the rugged, wild island of Islay, off Scotland’s west coast? Thirty-one—twenty-two of which are foraged right from the island.
We don’t often talk about terroir in spirits, as we do in wine. But a gin that incorporates local, wild-growing elements has an unmistakable sense of place. You’ve likely never heard of many of The Botanist’s botanicals—the bright yellow flowers of Lady’s Bedstraw, the bitter bog myrtle, the fragrant gorse. (Unless you, too, have foraged your way around Islay.)
The result is a gin that’s nuanced, complex, and takes incredibly well to mixing. A simple martini or a G&T would off The Botanist’s character, sure. But we have fun running a little wild, taking the multifaceted spirit and playing up its herbaceous elements. Since we’re not in Scotland, we’re not garnishing drinks with Lady’s Bedstraw; instead, we’ve devised three foraging-inspired cocktails, with no actual foraging required.
Easy: Stinging Nettle Collins
Bitter and mellow, stinging nettle grows wild across Scotland. In this cocktail, a stinging nettle syrup plays up the rooty, herbal elements of gin, while lemon and soda leave it light and drinkable.
Lest you get stung, we’re using stinging nettle tea, rather than the plant itself, to prepare the syrup. Nothing too complicated; you’re just making a strong tea and dissolving sugar in it.
Instructions: To make stinging nettle syrup: Steep one stinging nettle teabag in four ounces of hot water for ten minutes. Remove teabag, measure remaining liquid (it will be less than four ounces, due to absorption from teabag). Add an equal amount of sugar. Stir until sugar is fully dissolved and let syrup cool before using.
In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine an ounce and a half of The Botanist, half an ounce of fresh lemon juice, and ¾ ounce of stinging nettle syrup. Shake until very well-chilled, then strain into a tall glass with fresh ice. Add two ounces of club soda and stir briefly. Garnish with a long lemon peel.
Intermediate: Dandelion Gimlet
When we think of foraging, we think of green, and the near-endless number of vibrant green plants whose flavors are just waiting to be discovered. Dandelion, so widespread many regard it as a weed, is a perfect example. Slightly bitter, it’s almost arugula-like, with a vivid color that translates beautifully to cocktails. And the garnish is irresistible, too. (Find dandelion greens at Whole Foods or any equivalent high-end grocery store.)
Instructions: In the bottom of a cocktail shaker, muddle five long dandelion leaves (tearing them into quarters before you muddle). Add two ounces of The Botanist, an ounce of fresh lime juice, ¾ of an ounce of simple syrup, and ice. Shake, hard, then double-strain into a rocks glass with fresh ice. Garnish with three dandelion leaves, torn down to the size you want.
Advanced: Nori Martini
The scent of the sea permeates everything on Islay, which inspires this unusual martini. Steeping gin with nori overnight lends it salinity and that unmistakable seaweed flavor. Martinis are one of the few cocktails that tend to skew savory. An olive garnish is commonplace; why not similarly salty seaweed?
Instructions: The day before: Macerate one gram of nori (half a standard sheet) in 4 ounces of The Botanist. (This will make enough for two drinks; scale up if you want). The next day, remove nori from the gin, and strain to remove any remaining bits.
For each drink, in a mixing glass with ice, combine 2 ounces of nori-infused gin and an ounce of dry vermouth. Stir very well, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an olive and, if you wish, another piece of nori.