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Our journey towards making an Isle of Harris gin begins back in the winter of 2013 when ethnobotanist Susanne Masters produced a special research paper for us, investigating the how, where and why of ingredients to combine in this first spirit from our distilling endeavours. As an ethnobotanist, Susanne is interested in the relationship between people and plants, something historically intrinsic to life in these islands also.
We were keen to discover which botanicals our island’s flora could bring to the fore. Our fragile island environment may not lend itself well to the commercial gathering of ingredients but with care and attention we hoped to find something special among the abundance of wild plants found on low land and high hills across Harris.
Casting her eye over croft and moor, Susanne soon turned to Silverweed, Heather, Lady’s bedstraw, Meadowsweet, Bog myrtle, Sphagnum moss and clovers of white and red, considering carefully their characteristics and ecology in the context of our plans, weighing conservation practices with the practicality of harvesting sustainably for our new gin. But it was towards the sea her searching gaze was finally to fall…
Seaweed harvesting has been a significant mainstay of crofting, often providing a means to fertilise the soil. One particular species, Sugar kelp, is a true Hebridean seaweed found in underwater forests all around the island. As expected for a seaweed, it holds a salty flavour element but crucially, as indicated by the name, it is also sweet due to the presence of a substance called mannitol (named after the biblical foodstuff manna).
And so Saccharina latissima became the focus of our attention. Growing in deep abundance around our shores and hand-harvestable by traditional methods, it would be a most environmentally friendly ingredient when taken carefully from our seas by local gatherers. Would this special seaweed bring some maritime joy to our gin-making? Well, we had to go and gather some to find out…
Our Isle of Harris Gin story will continue in Part II but meantime, those of you attending the wonderful Hebridean Celtic Festival in Stornoway this weekend will be able to get a first glimpse of our beautiful gin bottles and botanicals at our distillery stall in the craft tent where the team will be delighted to meet you.
Posted on: 17th July, 2015