Just over 2 hours from Oban we arrive on the Isle of Colonsay. It is the Jewel of the Inner Hebrides, and there's not many who would accept that title. I leave the gang pushing the Gin Bus up the ferry ramp, I can see their ok by their happy sooty grimaces through the belching clouds of diesel fumes. I'm off to hunt down the Wild Island Botanic Gin, a newly discovered species on this isle. In short, we're Hunting the Snark, but we're going to catch it!
It is a small island of around 200 souls and it is beautiful and tranquil - except for the Gin Bus farting up the quay. There are sandy beaches, dramatic cliffs grouted with seabirds and machair as far as the eye can see - what's a machair? It is low level grassland full of flowers over the peat, think of it as a Hebridean savannah without any lions. To speed up the Hunt, I already have a bottle in my backpack (it is a Gin Review, after all, not a documentary sponsored by Visit Scotland) and let's head down to Kiloran Bay, a long sandy crescent beach, you see in the picture above, like a golden smile facing the Atlantic. Let the silly terrier off the lead to run after gulls whilst we'll sit down and pour.
The bottle is eye catching with a lovely transparent, yet colourful impressionistic label of Kiloran Bay - it certainly gets points for 'shelf presence'. It speaks of light, air and freshness. It proudly proclaims its credentials by its name Wild Island BOTANIC Gin, so let us have a look at them. There are 16 botanicals in total of which 6 are foraged on the island. First, the other 10: juniper, coriander and lemon peel give us our flavour triangle and then cinnamon, cassia, nutmeg and orange play in the middle with the angelica and liquorice lying at the bottom giving an earthy sweetness. Our old pal, orris root brings up the rear, binding and stabilising the other botanicals. Now for a look at the foraged Colonsay herbs - we have lemon balm, sea buckthorn and water mint, giving sharp juice and high zing to our upper register, with meadowsweet and heather accenting a sweet floral quality in the middle and dear old bog myrtle parping away on a euphonium with the juniper. So, Wild Island Botanic Gin seems stacked at the top and middle and so I'll expect a light floral gin with whispers of juniper.
A few slugs into a hiball glass, an ebb tide of Walter Gregor Tonic and a spitz of lemon peel over ice. Wild Island does not disappoint. It is light and fragrant on the nose with an underlying sweetness and musk. On the tongue it explodes with it's high botanics - citrus cooled by the mint. Then the florals with a rasp of the spices, but sweet. The lower register of juniper, angelica, bog myrtle and liquorice are distinctly mellow, yet distant. Wild Island Botanic Gin is like listening to Johnny Cash singing "The first time ever I saw your face" - it's beguiling and yet reassuring. I think this would go well with an elderberry tonic or pressé. I am hard pushed to think how I could mix it and come up with a potion. So I merely add two raspberries and rubbed three coriander leaves in my hands before dropping them in. It added some juiciness with an aromatic edge.
Wild Island Botanic Gin is produced in very small batches of around 75 bottles from a copper still using grain spirit. This care and attention has blessed it with a smoothness that belies its proof of 43.7% ABV. It's definitely one for the gin cupboard. I might not have bagged a Snark, but I found peace of mind: sitting on the machair, looking out across Kiloran Bay I understand this gin, drinking it - I love it.
Getting back to the Gin Bus and time to take a ferry to Jura, via Islay. Our next discovery is another new one on me: Lussa Gin from Ardlussa, Isle of Jura. Oops - I left the dog on the beach ... will she make it back in time for the sailing?