Cayman bartenders went on a field trip recently to learn more about gin and botanicals, which form the flavor basis for the increasingly popular spirit.
After some quick training at KaRoo on The Botanist, the Scottish dry gin from the island of Islay that became available for purchase in Cayman Islands earlier this year, a dozen of Cayman’s bartenders hopped on buses and headed to the CayFresh Farm and then the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park to look at, smell and taste a variety of flora that grow on Grand Cayman.
The Botanist gin brand manager, Kyle Ford, led the training session, first talking a bit about Islay, which is primarily famous for a very peaty and smoky style of whisky. The House of Bruichladdich, where The Botanist Gin is made, also produces three artisanal single-malt whiskies: Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte and Octomore.
“A lot of craft distilleries are making gin or vodka because they have to age their whisky,” said Ford, noting that gin and vodka don’t need aging so they can be bottled and sold quickly after production, giving them a way of “paying the bills” while they wait for their whisky to age.
Ford explained that The Botanist is made by re-distilling neutral alcohol made from English wheat and then flavoring it with various plants – called botanicals – with the predominant flavor coming from juniper berries.
The flavoring by the botanicals can be done in one of two methods or, as is the case with The Botanist, by a combination of both methods.
The first method involves heating the neutral alcohol and then adding The Botanist’s nine core botanicals in what is called a Lomond still. They are then steeped, like a tea bag, for 12 hours to impart a solid flavor base. After that, the alcohol is heated again to the point where vapors start to rise and eventually make contact with The Botanist’s 22 “foraged” botanicals, which are foraged from the island of Islay. The vapors are then cooled to ultimately create the dry gin.
The distillation process using both flavor methods takes 14 to 17 hours, much longer than most commercial gins, Ford said, adding that the number of botanicals in The Botanist is also higher than most other gins, some of which only use four botanicals.
“The Botanist has a ridiculous number of botanicals,” he said. “There are 31 botanicals – the nine classic ones plus 22 local herbs and flowers from Islay.”
The abundance of botanicals and the long distillation method, overseen by master distiller Jim McEwan, produces an elegant and refined gin that has floral notes.
“What we believe is produced on the back end is one of the smoothest gins on the market, one you could drink on the rocks with a twist of lemon.”
The bartenders’ first stop on their field trip was the CayFresh farm off Frank Sound Road, where owner Bruce Mico showed them the collection of herbs grown hydroponically and in soil there. In addition to mixed greens, CayFresh grows several types of basil, mint, thyme, sage, rosemary, chives, oregano, tarragon and lemon grass. Using fresh herbs in cocktails is popular these days, and the bartenders were surprised to see so many were grown in Cayman, and they were especially excited about the potential use of the very aromatic lemon basil growing at CayFresh.
From there, the buses made a short drive to the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, where general manager John Lawrus and guide James Miller gave a tour through the park, pointing out some of plants that could possibly be used in a cocktail to complement the flavors of the botanicals in gin.
The bartenders were allowed to gather small amounts of the flowers – like the Ylang Ylang flower – and tree leaves to experiment with in a quick practice cocktail-making session under the trees in the park.
Because of its subtle complexity, The Botanist works well with classic cocktails like gin and tonic or Tom Collins, Ford said.
“And it really shines in a martini with two parts [dry vermouth] to one part gin and a splash of orange bitters.”
Findlay Wilson, the sales and marketing manager for beers and spirits at Jacques Scott Wines & Spirts, which imports and distributes The Botanist gin, said he thought the two visits were very worthwhile for the bartenders.
“I never thought foraging in the Cayman Islands was possible,” he said. “I was surprised at how much local flora is suitable for making cocktails.”