This is the third wild food and drink podcast and so I thought I’d go all out and make an Islay special. Over the last three or four years, the folk at the Botanist Gin have been inviting the world’s finest foragers, bartenders and chefs up to Islay. I’ve been lucky enough to make four visits up there and each time it grows more magical than the last. Islay now has become something of a spiritual second home for me as whenever I return home from there I feel transformed, rejuvenated and inspired. This time was no different and I hope this podcast reflects some of that magic that I feel on each and every visit.
Whilst I was there this time I was lucky enough to meet up with my good friend and favourite chef, Craig Grozier of Fallachan dining and Alex McNaughton an extreme forager from Vancouver Island, Canada – a man who contends with two types of bears, men with guns and Cougars to pick his foraged goods. I also chat with another mate, Dave Winnard from Discover the Wild, he’s a man on a mission to get people out and interested in nature.
As most of this months podcast is chat I have added this short drinks recipe and a few lines written on my first visit to Islay.
Islay – The Foragers Island
We don’t get weather in England, well, of course, we get weather but not the hail, sunshine, gale force winds and rain that we got on the same day Scottish summers day. But is was this weather that was to rob us of our rugged jewel of a home for more than 24 hours when all ferries from the mainland were cancelled. Of course, it meant by the time the five intrepid foragers and one chef had arrived we were champing at the bit*. We hit the shores and, burst out into the woods like a bunch of hounds with the scent. Eager to pick, to chat, to drink and to fill our lungs with pure Island air. Our adventure had started.
*Scottish for excited
An excited frenzy of activity had taken our group and this was to be the tempo that was set for the rest of the week. For me, it was like going on an intensive wild training course. Each of us foragers with our own set of skills, each of us eager to share our knowledge with all around us. Armed with a bottle of Botanist gin, the first drink was made. Mark Williams had found a Noble fir and was squeezing the ridges the protrude around the trunk, once burst they spurt out an intensely piney flavour, viscous liquid.
This liquid, sticky to the touch can then be rubbed around the top of a glass or scrapped into a cocktail shaker. A tiny amount, two squeezes per drink, can furnish you with is more of this essence of fir is more than enough.
We, drank the gin straight with essence rubbed into the bottle, but it really does help create a rather unusual yet delicious gin and tonic. So go for a walk in your local park and have a look out for a noble fir and get wild mixing!
A Noble gin and tonic – Makes one drink
Two squeezes of tree essence
1 measure of botanist gin
2 measures of tonic
Spruce tip to garnish
Squeeze the ridges you find up a noble fir tree until it explodes out as if you were ridding yourself of a teenagers spot. To make this less messy you can squeeze into the nearest leaf you can find. I recommend birch as it might impart a touch of dimension to the flavour. Rub this essence around the inside of a tumbler or goblet.
Fill with Ice and add one measure of gin and two to three of tonic. The spruce tip garnish will also add some extra piney flavour to your drink. Ensure that you pick the bright green spring/summer shoots that grow on the tips of each branch.
Having drunk three of these, I was starting to understand that having just the right amount of booze running around your bloodstream was what was needed to tolerate anything that nature threw at us.