It was my plant-passion that led me to becoming a gin genie – retraining as an herbologist in the process – and now I own a distillery near Edinburgh where we grow more than 600 botanicals.
When we first bought it I had to tell my family of the good news that I had found us somewhere work and live. The bad news, though, was that there was no house.
We then spent three years living in a static caravan with four kids and five dogs, while we created a herb nursery and café. Thankfully, we have now built a house on site.
The simplest way of explaining the gin-making process is to compare it to espresso makers: neutral grain spirit is boiled and the vapours go through the botanicals.
It was my passion for plants, specifically herbs, that led me to retrain as a herbologist and to become a gin maker (Picture: David Cheskin for Metro.co.uk)This vapour then goes through a condenser to turn it back into liquid and you collect the finished product.
For the result to be considered gin, juniper needs to make up more than 50 per cent of the botanicals, but it’s the rest of the plants used that can create real magic.
We hand-harvest, dry and distill herbs and flowers to make a completely natural gin. I won’t grow any botanicals that need artificial heat or feed – only those that are happy to thrive in our surroundings.
My love of nature helps me to understand the chemical compounds in plants, to know the colours and flavours that flowers can give and to appreciate what some might consider ‘weeds’, such as dandelion, nettle and chickweed.
On an average day I get into the office – which is in a converted railway carriage – for 9am.
I start by walking round the garden, checking the plants to see what needs tending, what is ready for harvesting and looking after the general tidiness, before heading to my desk.
I like to think life is one big experiment and take it all in my stride (Picture: David Cheskin for Metro.co.uk)My day is mainly filled with plants and the garden, and working with Mark, our distiller, on gin flavour experiments.
This involves working with flowers to see what colours can be extracted, which flowers have the ability to change the colour of the gin and adding different botanicals to play with flavours.
Plenty of these experiments have gone wrong, but I like to think life is one big experiment and take it all in my stride!
At 5.30pm, I walk across the garden in time for the children’s supper. I then enjoy a couple of home-measure gins before I do bath time and stories, and generally fall asleep halfway through reading!
I don’t have any particular favourite flavours, it all depends on what mood I’m in.
People seem to be obsessed with gin these days, and I think that’s because of its versatility. Even with a plain London dry gin you can change it drastically just by switching the tonic and garnish.
I’m so passionate about gin and I truly love is communicating how amazing nature is (Picture: David Cheskin for Metro.co.uk)Also, with the number of flavoured gins and liqueurs on the market, the choice is huge and just keeps growing.
I’ve seen people move away from sweet white wines some 30 years ago to drier Chardonnay styles and I suspect the same may happen with gin.
Now, there is a whole new market of sweeter styles of gin but I am sure in time people may move to drier gins as they experiment more.
If people think they don’t like gin, I would recommend considering changing their mixer.
Everyone thinks that they have to drink a classic gin and tonic, but there’s also soda, lemonade and flavoured tonics to try, which completely change the taste.
I’m so passionate about gin.
Hamish runs the Old Curiosity Distillery.
Whether I’m talking to a room full of bartenders/mixologists or general gin lovers, telling gardeners how amazing the wild plants are or even exciting children about the limitless opportunities to imagine and play with nature, the story continues.
It’s wonderful to be able to take a minute to look, listen, breathe and interact with our surroundings, and just be in awe of the beauty that nature offers.
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