Isle Of Harris Gin, Isle Of Harris, Scotland (Alcohol 45%) LCBO $86.35 (700ml)
I first fell in love with the pleasures of gin when I was living in Edinburgh, Scotland after a stint at university in London. At the time I was seeing a great deal of live theatre, and in the United Kingdom it simply seemed to be what one drank at the theatre: gin and tonic, a couple before the show and one (pre-ordered, naturally) at the interval. How very theatrical.
To this day gin is still the only spirit that I enjoy on a fairly regular basis. I’ll have a wee malt whisky now and again, a decent rum when the mood/situation takes me, but I will never turn down a gin and tonic… with lemon. I’m very much a traditionalist when it comes to such matters, and not fond of lime in there at all; it is an utter travesty, in my mind, but each to their own.
Over the decades my gin-loving palate has changed quite a bit, with me originally having a crush on the basic Gordon’s Dry, moving through the what-I-imagined-to-be-exotic Bombay Sapphire, dabbling with the quirky cucumber notes of Hendrick’s, and ending up with good old Tanqueray as my all-time favourite. I had honestly imagined that I would be sticking with Tanqueray until the end of my days, until at the tail end of last year I tasted a gin that rocked my world, and that gin was from the Isle Of Harris.
Like many distilleries, the Isle Of Harris Distillery in East Loch Tarbert has made the decision to use their facility for the production of gin whilst their The Hearach single malt matures before being released to market. The benefits of this approach are twofold, both helping with the distillery’s cashflow (producing single malt whisky ties up a hell of a lot of capital), as well as building a certain degree of brand recognition. Obviously the fact that gin is rather “hot” right now both in Europe and further afield, doesn’t hurt either.
So what makes this Isle Of Harris gin so very special? With a view to using the Outer Hebridean island’s very particular flora as botanicals that would set their gin apart, the distillery commissioned ethnobotanist Susanne Masters to produce a research paper that would outline what she discovered could be sustainably harvested there. After researching Silverweed, Heather, Lady’s Bedstraw, Meadowsweet, Bog myrtle, Sphagnum moss, and clovers of white and red, Masters decided that Saccharina latissima, the island’s native Sugar Kelp, would make for a fine addition to the profile of Isle Of Harris’ singular gin. Working with the distilling department at the International Centre for Brewing and Distilling at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh, the distillery came up with a recipe that managed to wholly capture the inherent salty/sweet character of the kelp whilst integrating it with the Juniper, Coriander, Angelica, Orris, Cubeb, Bitter Orange Peel, Liquorice, and Cassia Bark that makes up the rest of the botanical profile.
On the nose the Isle Of Harris gin exhibits a prominent crisp citrus profile, accompanied by some delicate floral and savoury herbal elements. On the palate the gin is at first dry but texturally creamy and then curiously sweet for a second, the sea kelp adding an intriguing brininess that distinguishes it from so many gins out there. I have always felt that Juniper should be integral to a true gin’s core, and that is most certainly the case here. When mixed with tonic the kelp’s sweetness really comes to the fore, but not in an overwhelming manner. This is indeed a superbly crafted sweet/savoury gin, and in my mind worth every penny. I managed to indulge in about half a bottle of the stuff last night, and it brought me so much pleasure.
The packaging is quite something also, the bottle redolent of the crystal clear waters washing up on the beaches of the Isle of Harris.
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And that’s a smashing gin.