Special thanks to Caorunn Gin for sponsoring this article, and the “Bartender to Consultant” seminar from the Craft Bartender Summit.


Today is “World Gin Day”, and we are commemorating the occasion with a post created in collaboration with Caorunn Gin about how important the botanicals are to the creation, production and final flavor of a gin. After all – a gin without botanicals is no longer gin at all! Thanks again to Caorunn Gin Master Simon Buley for taking the time to answer our questions and tell the story of Caorunn’s botanical heritage.

A Remote Distillery

Located in a pristine boreal forest within the Cairngorms National Park, the Balmenach Distillery is at the foot of the Haughs of Cromdale. For those of us unfamiliar with Scottish geography, that puts it in the far north – 75 miles west of Aberdeen and nearly 150 miles north of Edinburgh.

The distillery was established in 1824 and was one of the earliest distilleries sanctioned after the Excise Act of 1823.

A Sense of Place

With such a strong heritage and location deep within the Scottish countryside, it made sense for Caorunn to be made with the same flavors that had been used for centuries in nearby villages in their food, drinks and medicines. The unique and remote location of the distillery placed it on the fertile soil of the surrounding hills – nurtured by the burns and streams of the Cairngorm mountains. As a result, Caorunn’s gin master and distiller had a long list of plants and botanicals growing within a short walk of the distillery’s front door.

“Foraged within a hand’s reach of the distillery” said Buley, “the Celtic botanicals infused in Caorunn provide a sense of place, contributing to its unique flavor profile.”

The Botanicals

Simon and his team experimented with their list of local plants and traditional gin botanicals, crafting various sets in small batches until they arrived at the recipe you can taste today: made up of 6 “traditional” gin botanicals and 5 locally foraged, Celtic botanicals.

Locally Foraged Botanicals

The final recipe uses the following five ingredients, chosen for their ability to contribute taste and complement the other ingredients.

  • The soul of our gin, the Rowan Berry (Gaelic: Caorunn) thrives on hills and rocky, peaty soil and adds notes of bitterness
  • Dandelion: Contributes herbal notes with just a hint of sharpness
  • Coul Blush Apple: A dessert apple unique to northern Scotland, which brings a crisp acidity and a clean, sweet taste
  • Bog Myrtle (Sweet Gale): Infuses a soft, sweet aroma and notes of spice
  • Scottish Heather: An integral botanical of the Highland landscape that allows subtle perfumed undertones with a nuance of honey

“The outcome is a dry and crisp, aromatic taste with fruity, floral touch and with a long dry finish” explained Buley, “The taste profile of the 5 locally foraged Celtic botanicals stretches from piquant, to herbal and from fragrant to sweet and they form a perfectly balanced complement to our traditional gin botanicals.”

Traditional Gin Botanicals

Of course, to remain within the London Dry Style, Buley and his team needed to incorporate more traditional flavors as well, while finding a blend that upheld and highlighted the existing Celtic flavors. The final recipe features Juniper berries, orange peel, lemon peel, angelica root and cassia bark.

Hand-Foraged on the Distillery Grounds

For centuries, plants and herbs have been foraged by hand by locals for their food.

Like the locals have done for centuries, the Celtic botanicals are foraged by hand. The day before he’s planning to distil, Buley himself makes the walk around the distillery, hand-foraging the plants and herbs he’ll need and weighing them individually using a set of Avery scales to ensure consistency. The botanicals are seasonal, so Buley will also collect extra stock during the summer months to carry them through the wintertime.

The distillation itself is done 1000-litre batches, and Caorunn Gin exclusively uses a Copper Berry chamber – the only working chamber of its kind. This process allows the vaporized spirit to rise through the chamber of botanicals, infusing it with flavor and aroma.

Heritage, Geography and Flavor

However you’re celebrating World Gin Day today, take a moment to notice the botanicals in what you are drinking. It’s likely you’ll taste unmistakable juniper, perhaps hints of citrus and some bitterness as well. Those botanicals are truly the heart of the gin, and in spirits like Caorunn, they bring more than just flavor – they bring a taste of where they came from, and a story of how they were made.

Julia Tunstall

Julia Tunstall is the co-founder of A Bar Above and Chief Cocktail Taster. She's in charge of keeping things running smoothly around here, but you'll also find her stopping by on the Mixology Talk Podcast or hanging around the Craft Cocktail Club.