The Botanist - Abi Clephane

Learn about foraging and being part of a brand with an environmental mission.

We joined the Bruichladdich brand ambassador to discover more about their brand ethos and the distillery's progress towards their sustainability targets over the past few years.

We also chat about foraging, how not to munch on a hunch and how drinkers can get involved in bringing a sense of the outdoors into their drinks....

Let's jump straight in the deep end! Bruichladdich  philosophy is to ‘re-evaluate the prescribed rules of the industry’ and to pioneer change. A huge part of your role is working with trade (you also come from a bartending background), do you think the hospitality industry is moving fast enough to respond to the increased need for sustainable practices? 

I definitely think it is trying to move in the right direction and has been for a couple of years, but obviously there is still a lot that we can be doing along the way to play our part in balancing profit with positive industry change. I think implementing these practices, and a level accountability at all levels not just on a smaller personal scale is a big part of moving it to a bigger picture. After attaining BCorp status in 2020 it has been exciting and encouraging to see others pop up day by day.

Abi Clephane interview
Abi Clephane interview

What sort of sustainability trends are you seeing becoming normalised in bars and which would you like seeing more of? 

I have seen a lot of ideas that have come from the culinary world, ie menus becoming more seasonal, maybe foraged in my case, and using trying to make cocktails by using waste products from the bar or maybe from the kitchen. 

Locality is something I love the idea of seeing more of, reducing the footprint of your ingredients. Also, considering the values of the spirit being used rather than just the other component parts of a serve. It’s been something often seen as an afterthought in making sustainable drinks but that’s changing. The provenance and transparency is surely as important as using the whole part of a fruit (for example).

2020 was a big year for Bruichladdich in terms of pushing the importance of sustainability further into the brand’s identity, from local Islay Barley production to The Botanist Foundation. 2 years on, which resonated with you most and what’s next for those projects?

Genuinely everything! 

I’ve worked as ambassador for 8 years now and to see the progress we have made as a distillery has been amazing. Things like being the first whisky and gin distillery in Europe to achieve BCorp status was an amazing achievement, but also a more a validation of how we have tried to operate since reopening in 2001.  From using our runoff water to heat the offices, to 100% renewable energy, to looking into alternative fuel sources…we always think big but start small…so seeing everything take shape is really exciting. 

As barley provenance is such a huge part of our ethos, watching the Islay barley conversation evolve since our first farm in 2004, to having our own maltings in the pipeline is incredible. Another thing I find facinating is our research into sustainable agronomy on Islay itself and how we can work with the farmers to ensure we can experiment with terroir, varietal and crop rotation to distil new and exciting liquid whilst also taking care of the soil.

Another project was our partnership with the Botanic Garden Conservation Institution. It has been a great way to further our endeavour to support the global conservation of plants. As we forage our 22 Islay botanicals in The Botanist we have a duty to do that responsibly and that mindset extends past the island. 

Bruichladdich Dram
Bruichladdich Dram

Do you see a shift in the kind of drinkers who are engaging with the distillery as a result of all the work? Or is it liquid first and taking time for the message / ethos to find an audience?

I think they go hand in hand as we have always been very vocal on our values, it’s hard to separate that from our liquid. 

I think people have become more aware of consuming less but better, and now there is a real quest for transparency as information is so accessible. We go into such detail whether it’s barley provenance or varietal, how it’s grown (e.g. organic, biodynamic) telling you the full recipes for our non-age statements, or being fully Islay matured and bottled, I think people appreciate that more so than ever. 

We are here for anyone with an open and interested mind.

Where do you see the journey of Single-Malt Scotch moving towards and what does innovation look like for you?

I see the journey of single malt going in many directions for everyone to be honest. We have always championed the use of other casks since we reopened in 2001 but it’s something you see getting more weird and wonderful year by year. For us it’s pretty simple we want to produce spirits that balance profit with positive change. We have always sought to make natural, Islay centric, thought provoking, experimental spirits possible, with complete transparency and that won’t change.

Abi Clephane, The Botanist Ambassador
Abi Clephane, The Botanist Ambassador

Being a brand ambassador must come with a portfolio of responsibility, challenges, and opportunity. What has been your most challenging learning curve? 

Admin! I come from a bar background so for me the main thing has been having to work on a laptop on things like excel every so often was a shock for me. 

There have been a few nod and google office situations over the years but I can always barter my skills with someone in the office and we get by - I teach you how to make a Botanist Martini you show me how to create something on a ‘deck’…

Wild Cocktails with The Botanist Gin
Wild Cocktails with The Botanist Gin

And what has been your favourite memory so far?

Impossible question really, but there is nothing quite like taking people and giving them a dram on one of the beaches on Islay. I have also been really lucky to work with a huge number of amazing wild food chefs working alongside them creating foraged cocktail pairings for their menus. 

People like Craig Grozier with Scottish wild food business Fallachan, Nick Weston with wild food and fire cooking to Michelin star chefs in Carousel in London and on Islay itself.

Just looking at gin for a second… With Earth Day on the horizon, how are you encouraging more people to follow The Botanist’s passion for foraging local ingredients? 

The first thing I was always taught by Mark William’s of Galloway Wilds Foods, who’s website is a fountain of knowledge is don’t munch on a hunch so don’t eat anything that you can’t ID for certain. 

And if you are not into it – what’s an easy first step?

Just thinking outside the traditional prescribed garnish is a good start. I have more of a savoury tooth so I naturally gravitate towards the herb garden. If you have a wee box planter or even just some left in your fridge from cooking - they offer a great way to enhance your Botanist & Tonic as herbs work really well with the handpicked Islay botanicals in the gin.

Drying botanicals and foraged drinks
Drying botanicals and foraged drinks

What kind of ingredients can people look for at the moment to bring into their drinks at home?

One I love to use this time of year with The Botanist is rhubarb. Make a wee cordial with sugar, water and some citrus peel and keep it in the fridge and drink with Botanist in an ice filled glass and top with soda.

Another slightly more left field is wild garlic, hugely abundant at the moment. If you can pick the blower buds and pickle them to garnish a dry martini for a wild take on a Gibson Martini. Or delicious in a Red Snapper too. 

My favourite plants for eating and drinking is the nettle which you can get all year and makes a cordial when dried that tastes like peach iced tea. 

Gibson Martini, Botanist Gin
Gibson Martini, Botanist Gin

Finally – what are your top tips for those infusing their drinks and joining in the fun?

Picking blossoms (e.g.  elderflower) – always better in the morning and in the sun whilst the nectar and pollen is still fresh, if you are using elderflower I would try and pick it from somewhere higher but don’t wash it as you will lose the flavour and wild yeast. 

If trying to infuse blossom flavour (e.g. gorse that has a coconut note) into syrup I would usually do it with a 1;1 sugar syrup and cold as you want those more delicate flavours.

For something woodier (e.g. douglas fir that has a grapefruit twang) I would do 1;1 sugar syrup but use a bit of heat to draw out the flavour.

I always carry around a few wee bags in case I happen upon anything by chance!

I think it’s very useful to know your plants throughout the season too, as they have different uses as the year progresses. For example, elderflower turns to elderberries etc. 

Just don’t forget though, be responsible and respectful and only take a small amount to assure regrowth. 

Spirits Kiosk
The Botanist Islay Dry Gin
The Botanist Islay Dry Gin
Bruichladdich The Classic Laddie
Bruichladdich The Classic Laddie
Bruichladdich Islay Barley Single Malt
Bruichladdich Islay Barley Single Malt

20 April 2022