Usual Disclaimer: Gin Bothy very kindly sent me a selection to try and write about for International Scottish Gin Day. All opinions, content and editorial decisions are, as ever though, solely my own.
Normally, when I try something from a distillery for the first time, I start with their original gin, their core offering. This tasting marks one of the few times that didn’t happen! Earlier in the year, my Little Gin Box had a bottle of Gin Bothy Gunshot Gin in it. I loved it, and it became the first taster bottle I went straight out and purchased a full-size version of. Despite the fact it feels more like a wintery gin, being heavily spiced, it was gone within a week and nary a mixer did touch it. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though, I’ll start at the beginning and come back to the Gunshot later.
A good story and a sense of place is something that seems to have come to the fore more and more in the gin market in recent years. A great gin is great, but one with a story, botanicals and inspiration from the people and places involved in its creation – provenance – just give something more.
Gin Bothy is the, somewhat incidental, creation of Kim Cameron. The business started off making jam which, of course, leaves rather a surplus of fruit from its production. Now, what do you do when you have a surplus of fruit from jam-making? If you said, “Infuse gin!” then congratulations! You get a gold star and a large G&T to sip while reading the rest of this. If you said anything else, then please close your browser immediately and hang your head in shame. Kim started by buying in gin and infusing it with seasonal fruits but soon moved to having her own gin distilled at a nearby distillery so she could control the quality of the liquid. From that, Gin Bothy Original was born and has formed the core of the other expressions that followed. The Bothy itself, by the way, is a small stone hut that was often used to house farm labourers or as a mountain refuge. That’s a bit of a broad simplification and just what different meanings it has to the people there is covered in a rather nice little background story section on their website. Nestled in the stunning Scottish countryside, you can see why the area inspires such a love for the land and wanting to bring that provenance into the gin.
Gin Bothy Original is a true Scottish gin, inspired by the landscape and the locally available botanicals. Along with the Juniper, there’s local Scots pine needles, milk thistle, heather, hawthorn, marshmallow root and rosemary, along with orange and lemon. On the nose, it starts with what you’d both hope and expect – juniper is front and centre but there’s something else at the start, herbal and floral notes and a little sweetness that comes along with it. I’m no botanical expert, and it’s one of those things I find fascinating because you’re learning new scents all the time and linking them to different botanicals that you pick up. After a little reading, it seems it’s the heather and the milk thistle that’s coming through with the juniper and giving it that sweet, warm little herbal buzz.
Tasting, it starts as you’d hope from the nose, with the Juniper and those extra pine notes from the Scots Pine backing it up. What’s immediately evident though is just how smooth it is – there virtually no alcohol-burn at all and, despite it sounding a bit cliché sometimes, an almost creamy mouthfeel that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from its viscosity in the glass. The sweet notes in the smell prominent, but in taste, it seems to get more from the orange, along with that milk thistle as the citrus makes itself more evident. Finally, your left on the trail of the lingering pine, which I assume is a combination of both the juniper and the additional pine since it’s more pronounced than you find with a lot of gins.
A splash of light tonic opens things up as you’d hope, but something about this really works well in a G&T. The juniper still dominates upfront, but the tonic really lifts the citrus up to mix with that sweeter milk thistle, so everything just sits in a nice balance. I think you can sometimes judge how good a gin is in G&T by whether it needs a garnish or not. This doesn’t. You could certainly garnish to tweak the flavours, but the important thing is it doesn’t need it in the slightest.
Now, as previously mentioned, the Original gin forms the base for Kim’s infusions, so it would be remiss of me not to talk about what, essentially, started it all. We’ve got 3 here to have a look at: Gunshot, Speycast, and Stirrup Cup. None of these infusions are hugely juniper-forward, as they’re all designed to be sweeter sipping gins, so if you only lean towards more juniper driven liquids, these may not be for you. I feel like I approach these more like I would a liqueur than a drier gin. Whether you’re looking for the juniper or not, they are delicious drinks just to sip over ice in their own right though.
I’m going to start with the Gunshot because, frankly, it was my first love. The bottle I bought myself back in June barely lasted a week and the whole thing was drunk neat over ice. Gunshot is bottled at 37.5%, and in infused with cinnamon, cloves, mixed spices and local honey. What hits you square between the eyes both on the nose and on the palette is cloves – it’s like a little Christmassy hug in a bottle. As I mentioned before, Juniper takes a bit of a back seat here, especially with all those spices muscling into the fore, but the spice is what this gin is all about. Something I meant to try last time was getting this into a Christmas Negroni, and since it’s getting cooler now, it feels like it’s time. Just the Gunshot alone, I think would be a bit overpowering and a little too sweet, so I went for a 50/50 mix of Gunshot and Original, and then equal measures of Agora Vermouth and Victory Bitters. Agora Vermouth is quite a recent release, local to me in Suffolk and is quite heavy on the anise, so it melds really well with those mixed spices. I went with Victory Bitters rather than Campari since it’s not as sweet and so made up for the extra sweetness from the Gunshot. Hello Christmas Negroni! Instant heat from the inside out and nicely balanced between sweet and bitter – photo to follow on Instagram soon!
Next is the Speycast: This one is infused with Scottish heather honey, cherry and mixed spices. Because you haven’t got that heavy clove taking over, you do get more juniper here, but again it’s not juniper-forward. When you smell it, you get the fruity smell of the cherries, combined with the warm sweetness of the honey. This is another that is amazing just sipped over ice, but also one I knew I wanted to try in another cocktail. For me, this was screaming to be put in a Martinez! Normally you’d use an Old Tom in a Martinez, so this honey-sweetened gin was a perfect fit. I combined it with Cocchi di Torino Vermouth, a little Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur and just a dash of Fee Brothers cherry bitters. Delicious – perhaps a little tweaking needed on the ratios and maybe an extra dash of bitters to combat the sweetness, but it was a rich, deep, fruity Martinez that didn’t last nearly as long as I would have liked.
Finally, the Stirrup Cup: The final infusion we’re tasting contains fresh apples, local honey, ginger and gorse. On the nose, it’s the apple that leaps out here, putting me in mind of something like a mulled cider. Tasting follows the same course as the nose again, the apple is there, with that lovely warm honey flavour to back it up. This time though, the ginger kicks in at the end with a warm, slightly tongue-tingling finish. While again the Juniper is there, it backs the apple up rather than taking over. Haven’t quite decided what I’m doing with this one yet – apart from just drinking it neat. A suggested serve is with sparkling apple juice or sparkling water with a dash of Elderflower, but I think, for me, I’d be worried about losing the flavour a little bit. Some experimentation is needed here… if there’s any left.
That’s only a little snapshot of the infusions – there are 13 variations in all, and I’m particularly intrigued to try the Amaretto at some point, inspired by a trip to Italy… That and make my way up north to actually visit the Bothy!
You can find more info on the Gin Bothy range at their web site. If you’d like to know more about Kim, Gin Cooperative did a great interview with her as part of their Women of Gin feature which is well worth a read.