Colonsay Gin from Wild Thyme Spirits captures its wild Hebridean sense of place – in a bottle
“From the lone shieling of the misty island, Mountains divide us, and the waste of the seas
Yet still the blood is strong, the heart is Highland, And we in dreams behold the Hebrides”.
Canadian Boat Song, 1829
There are few more romantic, beguiling and bewitching destinations than the Highlands and Islands, rich in ancient history and natural scenic beauty. Listed in “1,000 Places to See before you Die” by Patricia Schultz, the Scottish Hebrides should be on your Bucket list.
Plan an island hopping Cruise on board the luxurious floating country house, Hebridean Princess, on one of the charming Majestic Line boats, or explore independently with your car, bike or on foot by CalMac Ferry.
From Oban it’s just a two hour crossing to reach Colonsay, located between Mull and Islay, an unspoilt peaceful haven of craggy heather-wrapped hills, wild goats, abundant flora, woodland, a quasi tropical garden and stunning white sand beaches. Just around eight miles long and three miles wide, island life and work revolves around sheep farming, oyster and lobster fishing, arts, crafts, honey-making and tourism with a hotel and self catering holiday accommodation.
Seeking a taste of the Good Life, in August 2016 Finlay and Eileen Geekie, left their well established home in Oxfordshire and moved to this tiny Hebridean island of around 135 residents. They had both spent childhood holidays in the Western Isles and then brought their own children here too, such that they had always dreamt about escaping the rat race to live on a Scottish island.
But what work could they do in this remote community?
Inspired by the modern day Gin Craze and the fact that 70% of gin consumed in the UK is distilled in Scotland, with pioneering, entrepreneurial spirit, the Geekies spent a year researching and developing a business plan and then the task of concocting the recipe.
Perfecting the art of the artisan distiller, Wild Thyme Spirits was born.
Their small batch Colonsay Gin is described as a classic London Dry style rich in juniper flavour blended with carefully selected botanicals including angelica root, calamus root, coriander, orris, liquorice and orange peel.
I followed the suggested serve and had my first taste of Colonsay Gin with Fever Tree premium Tonic poured over the rocks in a large tumbler, with a slice of orange. On the nose, the neat gin has a subtle earthy scent, which is delicately transformed when sipped as a G&T.
There is certainly a well crafted, complex flavour, bittersweet at first and then a spicy, salty taste on the tongue derived from the coriander and ginger-based calamus root. Ice cold with the effervescent tonic, this dry as a bone gin is exceedingly refreshing, the fresh orange reflecting the tasty tang of sweet citrus notes. To create more of a contemporary cocktail, you can also try an innovative garnish – a slice of green chilli to draw out the aromatic botanical spices with fiery gusto.
A colourful Celtic folk tale has been imbued within the creation of Colonsay Gin. The Gaelic name of the Geekie’s island home is Tign na Uruisg which translates as Home of the Spirit. So they developed a story of the legendary Alva, a red-haired supernatural Sprite whose vivacious image illustrates the artistic label on each bottle, the inspiration of Wild Thyme Spirits.
On the nearby island of Islay, Laphroaig is a most distinctive whisky, distilled right on the seashore. The 10 year old single malt is described poetically as “Peat reek, soft oak, craggy coastline, screeching gulls.” Likewise, Colonsay Gin embraces the heritage and wild beauty of its rugged land and sea, the fresh, pure salt sea air of the island encapsulated as a poignant aroma in a glass.
Gin Lover’s Retreat
So why not visit Colonsay to find out more the gin’s spiritual home?. Finlay and Eileen Geekie suggest that you leave the car behind and take the ferry over to Scalasaig where you will be met at the pier for the start of your getaway escape at their beautifully designed Guesthouse. Expect a chill out weekend of outdoor adventures, scenic seascapes and relaxation combined with gourmet meals and a unique gin tasting experience.
Their “Bar” offers no less than 200 gins from around the world and, of course, the opportunity to sample their artisan Colonsay Gin. Wild Thyme Spirits has also created Red Snapper, a gin-based Bloody Mary, a Bramble liqueur and an alcohol lite Gin Solas.
The rocky cliffs, grassy machair and sandy beaches are a natural habitat for seals, otters and abundant bird life – kittiwakes, cormorants and guillemots with the chance to see a golden eagle. A destination for artists, photographers, watersports, hill climbing and golfing too. At the Scalasaig Pier, there’s a gallery (knitwear, arts and crafts), and visitor centre while the grounds of Colonsay House has a woodland garden featuring rare flora and rhododendrons.
Year round there are Art, Music and Book Festivals through the seasons: from Wednesday 10th to 24th October 2018, the Colonsay Food and Drink Festival celebrates the fine local produce, harvested, fished, grown, brewed and distilled here. As natural as the island itself.
If you are a keen mixologist, here is the recipe for a special cocktail entitled “Kiloran Waves” which certainly captures the essence of the sea splashing over the sand.
50ml Colonsay Gin, 1 tsp Greengage Jam, 20ml Seaweed and tea syrup,* 5ml Smoky Scotch Whisky (e.g. Islay Malt), 25ml Lime juice, 1 Egg white
Shake all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and fine strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a sprinkle of salt, spritz with twist of lime and decorate with an edible flower. *To make the syrup: add 1tsp loose leaf breakfast tea and 1 sheet (2.2g) Nori seaweed as well as 500ml caster sugar to 500ml of hot, not boiling, water. Dissolve the sugar and leave to infuse for 10 minutes before straining.
And on a final note, Colonsay Gin won a Silver Medal at the Global Gin Masters 2017. Cheers.!
Wild Thyme Spirits – Information, Ordering and Stockists
Gin Lovers Retreat: www.wildthymespirits.com/gin-lovers-retreat/the-experience/