Highland Boundary Distillery– the story of how Scotland’s ancient woodlands inspired a collection of hand-crafted Wild Spirits
Once upon a time, the ice slowly melted.
The land it revealed is what we now call the Strathmore Valley, scoured out by an Ice-Age glacier along the Highland Boundary line which separates the Scottish Highlands from the Lowlands.
The great wood of Caledon, a primaeval forest, covered most of Scotland for thousands of years and the first pioneers of this land left anew was the Birch. Able to thrive in the most forbidding of landscapes it is no wonder that the first human settlers treated these trees with mystical reverence.
The “Lady of the Woods” would come to symbolise fertility, renewal and purification for the Celtic people. The birch would provide good fuel, useful for smoking herrings and in the distillation of whisky.
The power of the Birch marked the imagination, scenery and language. its roots running deep in Scottish culture and heritage. The old Scottish word for Birch is Birk.
Now Simmer blinks on flowery braes,
And o’er the chrystal streamlets plays;
Come let us spend the lightsome days
In the birks of Aberfeldy.
Robert Burns (1787).
In 1787, Robert Burns, the National Bard, visited The Birks of Aberfeldy, a riverside woodland with an impressive waterfall. He was fascinated by the birk and hawthorn, finding that the simple traditions associated with them evoked the passing seasons, love, fleeting fulfilment and loss.
Around thirty five miles from this poetic spot, Kirklandbank Farm near Alyth, Perthshire is located right on the geological fault line. This is where the Highlands rise to the North and the Strathmore valley spreads out to the South, a tranquil, green, richly fertile landscape.
As well as rearing Rockies, a rare breed of Hebridean sheep, Dr. Marian Bruce and Simon Montador are biologists with a passion for biodiversity and conservation. Surrounded by ancient trees, native flowers, hedgerows and meadows, they were inspired to capture the essence of this natural wilderness with true spiritual imagination.
The birch is just one within a panoply of sacred trees. Regarded as a gift from the Earth Mother, the Elder tree is a symbol of regeneration, believed to ward off witches – hence, Harry Potter’s coveted Elder Wand. The Elder’s delicate, frothy white flowers are instantly recognisable and have been widely used in cordials and liqueurs.
Aptly named, their Highland Boundary Distillery was developed within the old milking parlour at their farm and here, with magical innovation, they hand-craft a fine collection of botanical spirits and liqueurs.
After careful experimentation with the flavours of local flora, Birch and Elderflower Wild Spirit was launched in 2018. Birch buds and elderflowers are picked in Springtime to ensure that only a small amount from any single plant is picked in season. The botanicals are combined with grain spirit and mineral-rich spring water, filtered through the red sandstone bedrock from beneath the Alyth Hill.
The 40% ABV strength Birch and Elderflower Wild Scottish Spirit is produced in small batches through a four-stage sequence of dilution, maceration, distillation and infusion, using a 100-litre copper alembic Still from Portugal.
The simple, harmonious approach of production follows the Highland Boundary’s Eco-Green ethos with solar panels, biomass heating, recycling water, sustainable harvesting to preserve and regenerate the wild, natural environment.
The bottle (with a cork and wood stopper) features a logo of a cool, sea-blue wolf, which celebrates Scottish wildness and is a modern twist on the Pictish animal stone carvings found near the farm.
And it all links into Scottish cultural heritage. The Scottish botanist John C. Loudon wrote about the Birch in his 1842 Encyclopaedia of Trees and Shrubs: “The Highlanders of Scotland make everything [out] of it”. In traditional medicine the birch provided healing tonics, ointments and oils.”
Medicinal properties for the Elder were documented from as early as 1620 as a cure-all for everything from freckles to piles and bites from mad dogs. (Good to know!).
So, back to the story of ice. The Birch and Elderflower Wild Spirit is more akin to whisky and suitable as an ice-cold shot, served on the rocks or for a long drink with a mixer – sparkling water, soda or tonic.
Birch and Elderflower Wild Scottish Spirit with Tonic
The forest pine-flavour of birch buds, fragrant notes of the elderflower with a splash of fizzing tonic, and a slice of lemon or apple, creates a pure and refreshing drink.
Highly recommended is Bitter Orange and Elderflower Tonic from London Essence to draw out the honeyed elderflower and zesty citrus notes, and add a twist of orange peel.
As well as a long ice cold drink, this Wild Spirit has the complex depth shows versatility and can substitute gin, vodka, rum and tequila in classic and modern cocktails.
Forest Dry Martini
50ml Birch and Elderflower Wild Scottish Spirit + 25 ml dry vermouth + ice.
The earthy, floral flavour of the spirit is a fine alternative to Gin, and shaken up with Vermouth, a complex fortified herbal, spicy wine, results in a perfectly balance, bittersweet Martini. A garnish of an olive or indeed sprig of thyme enhances the herbal scent.
See the website for many other classics such as the MacJito, a modern Scottish minty whirl on a Mojito, a reinvented Wild Negroni and a spicy Bloody Mary.
Creative colourful cocktails too inspired from Scottish literature and legends such as the much loved Outlander time-travelling Highlander tales.
The White Raven: In a cocktail shaker add ice cubes and pour in the Birch and Elderflower Wild Scottish Spirit, lime juice, honeysuckle syrup and apple juice. Garnish with borage flowers.
Birch and Elderflower Wild Scottish Spirit was awarded a Gold Medal at the 2019 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, presented to “Exceptional spirits that are near the pinnacle of achievement.”
Highland Boundary has also produced a Birch and Elderflower Liqueur has also been crafted for a lighter alternative (20% ABV) and is equally versatile in various refreshing drinks. The wolf logo now wears a jazzy Technicolour Dreamcoat.
At the San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2020 the liqueur was awarded a Silver Medal.
To let nature come to the fore, a dram of the Liqueur simply flows over a generous glacial block. It’s not crystal clear, there has evidently been some “magic” going on. Nor is it syrupy as might be expected with just a light viscosity. The nose too is subtle, a light floral from the Elderflower, but not overpowering. Soft and subtle to the taste, with again those flowery notes, a little resin and warmth and a long fairly sweet aftertaste.
The liqueur can also be added to Prosecco or Champagne, just like a soupcon of Crème de Cassis for a Kir or Peach puree in the Bellini.
The pungent pine aroma and fresh floral taste of Birch and Elderflower Wild Scottish Spirit and Birch and Elderflower Liqueur, is akin to a ramble through a Scottish woodland; Rabbie Burns would certainly have approved. Slainte Mhath.!
More stories to follow ..
For all information on the Wild Scottish Spirits and liqueurs, where to purchase, on line sales, cocktail recipes and how to serve and full background on this farm distillery in Perthshire.