A Harris Gin Martini

On the day that one of the worst things ever associated with the Hebrides is inaugurated as president of the United States of America, I thought I would highlight one of the loveliest things to arise from this part of the world.

Harris Gin is so easy for me to blog about. Introduced to me by my generous cousin from Stornoway, it’s exceptional in many ways. The smooth, mellow cleanliness of the finish, the understated yet distinctive botanicals and its striking branding make it a real breakout character in the myriad of today’s craft gin explosion.

From a martini perspective it is distinctive enough to warrant a different preparation technique to other gins.

The first impression you have of this gin is its distinctive glassware. I normally prefer my bottles plain, simple and functional, but in a very competitive market the evocative watery swirls of the Harris bottle stand out well from the competition.

Made to order in Europe, they actually suffered a (non-Brexit-related) shortage of the bottles in 2016 which almost sparked panic but otherwise hopefully only made the heart grow fonder of this unique drink. I’m told that you can take your empty bottles back to the distillery and have them refilled at a reduced tat. What a wonderful idea – and great for the local population.

The company emphasises it’s community involvement, something important to me, many islanders, and increasingly the discerning consumers of the world who want to purchase sustainable, considerately-made products. I’ve also heard that their community gin-tasting events can be quite a night…

In terms of the taste, I usually say that I prefer my martinis to lead with juniper, followed by mellow citrus notes. Harris gin captures this perfectly, but with the unusual use of bitter orange, lime and grapefruit rather than the more traditional lemon. This subtle variation means that it is not my standard gin of choice.

Instead, it is an exotic alternative for when you want something excellent, and slightly different from the norm. It is for special occasions and esteemed guests, not just any old Friday.

Notably, one of the main botanicals is sugar kelp, harvested in Hebridean waters so as to impart a soft and clean oceanic umami.

The distillers recommend serving it on ice with a little sugar kelp aromatic water, although it can also be served with a slice of grapefruit or lime.

For a martini, the gin should be stored in the freezer for several hours.

I would recommend serving it dry, even if you normally like your martinis medium or sweet. The gin is smooth enough and has very little fire so you don’t need much vermouth to calm it down.

Naturally it should be stirred in the glass and never shaken. You don’t want the drink agitated or – heaven forbid – watered down.

Glass, gin and drink should be chilled and still, with a minimal garnish only. Olives and citrus peel could crowd out the gin’s delicate flavours.

Indeed you could serve it zen-like and sans-garnish. The only thing garnishing the martini above is the ice stalactite which formed on the glass when it was in the freezer. You don’t want to mask the botanicals which are well-preserved and easily appreciated with the drink’s smooth finish.

A dash of the sugar kelt aromatic water might be a nice addition to the martini, although I haven’t tried it yet. Consider it added to my to-do list.

As an alternative garnish to evoke the gin’s coastal botanicals you could serve it with a sliver of kelp.

If you can’t find your own on the beach (to thoroughly rinse, lightly boil then cut) you can buy konbu kelp from an Asian supermarket.

Wipe a sheet with a damp cloth then soak it for an hour or two.

Cut it into garnish-sized pieces, then serve as a sliver or rolled on a toothpick.

This should evoke the sea, its fresh produce and island life.

Apparently Hebidean children used to chew raw kelp as a snack. These were the days before chocolate and haribo but I can assure you it would have been an excellent source of iodine and other nutrients, even in he dark winter months.

Naturally a Harris martini would work well paired with seafood. The cold, bountiful waters of a North Atlantic bathed in the Gulf Stream provide the Hebrides with some of the best seafood in the world.

If you’re in the islands, a friend or relative in the fishing industry must always be rewarded for providing fruit-du-mer in a plastic bag as is the norm. A healthy round or two of martinis could work as payment, for example. Deprived mainlanders will have to make do with a fish mongers.

A Hume Country Clothing image.

Harris, home of Harris tweed (illustrated above), has firmly established itself as a brand associated with good quality. This will only be enhanced by the gin, which I am told has secured the sort of funding which should ensure its success and much-earned endurance in the long term.

Having only visited the island when I was below legal drinking age I have not had a chance to sample it’s alcoholic delights in-situ, but with beautiful beaches and rapturous sunsets I think it’s time for a revisit.

You can find out more about the gin here. They deliver all over the world.


The Popup Martini Bar

Several months ago, my auntie suggested that we hold a popup martini bar in our family restaurant. The venue is the Gallery, on the Main Street of Tobermory on the Isle of Mull (a beautiful and friendly Hebridean Island in Argyll, western Scotland).

We thought about the idea for a while but it remained firmly in the land of fantasy for quite some time. Then, last month, my Mum decided that we should just go ahead and do it. If it doesn’t work, we will learn some lessons, and if it does work, well, it will be a fantasy fulfilled – for me at least, and we might be able to organise some more.

Given that martinis aren’t exactly common tipples at the drinking establishments on the island, we thought it would be fun to do something new and different, particularly for the locals, although it was peak tourist season so we thought there would be several visitors around as well. Ultimately though, I think I just wanted to try my hand at finally being a martini barman.

So, we bought plenty of martini glasses, a shed load of gin, commandeered a freezer to get it all in, planned the processes and the structure of the evening, and put out some adverts and social media posts about it. With some extremely useful guidance from the restaurant staff and the creative talents of my mother, we came up with a plan, who would serve what, which food items we would include on the menu, the types of martini we would serve and even a playlist.

The Gallery is very conducive to a martini atmosphere. The building is a beautiful old church, the tallest structure on the island, lovingly restored (a work still in progress) by members of the family (such as my gravity-defying brother in the above image) and some skilled friends on the island.

It has great acoustics and a good sound system. In addition, because it is already a restaurant we have an alcohol license in place, tables, chairs, equipment and staff members, which made it a lot easier for us to prepare.

On the day of the event, we were exceptionally lucky with the weather. The sun was out and it was positively hot.

Given that our restaurant has an outdoor courtyard, sociably adjacent to Tobermory Main Street (it’s good for people watching and catching up with passers-by) it’s the perfect setting for sitting out and enjoying a coffee or drink whilst overlooking the harbour.

Word of advice: if you’re going to do this sort of thing, try to practise the entire process in advance. That includes testing all your equipment! I stupidly didn’t check our sound system entirely and at the last minute discovered that my phone (with my pre-made playlist) wasn’t compatible with the sound system. Thank god for local saint Wiksey who turned up and fixed it all in the space of about 5 minutes. Thank you, you technical genius!

Otherwise the freezers were good and the gin and glasses were suitably chilled. I also took my own special martini knife, peeler and chopping board. I’m really fussy about my martini kit which can come across as *slightly* obsessive but if something is out of place it will annoy me no-end and distract me from my goal of getting everyone tipsy.

We were almost ready.

On the day of the event I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. What if we ran out of glasses? What if it didn’t work? What if there was an alcohol related crime? What if we ran out of gin (itself an alcohol related crime…)?

It didn’t help that while I was walking along the Main Street in the afternoon, nearly everyone I spoke to mentioned the event. I was starting to worry that we would be overwhelmed.

I put together a menu, outlining the martinis we would offer:

  • The simple classic martini (please specify if you would like it sweet, dry or made with vodka) with a twist of lemon (or olive if preferred)
  • A dirty martini (with an olive and 3-6 tsp brine according to preference)
  • A hot martini (with 2-5 drops of Tabasco sauce according to preference)
  • A hot ‘n’ dirty martini (combining the above two)
  • A Gibson martini (with a pickled onion)
  • A Paisley martini (with 2 tsp whisky)

We also served a selection of additional drinks like beer, wine, pimms and prosecco.

Mum and I went over the best layout for the drinks. We would serve the martinis at the bar on a plate with a small dish of olives and some miniature pretzels on the side. Additional food was also available on the menu. 

The lovely Turnbull family supplied us with some fat, juicy oysters (my favourite food and an amazing martini accompaniment) while the beautiful Sally Swinbanks of the Tobermory Fish Company supplied us with additional seafood bites which again go fantastically with a martini.

Minutes to go, the music was playing and we stood in expectation. I was very tempted to pour then down a martini to relax but I resisted and my colleague Catriona kindly made me an espresso instead which worked. Then, the doors opened at 5 o’clock and we were ready to go.

My first order came in almost immediately for four martinis and I got to work, assembling them as fast as I could. No sooner had I served them had two more orders come in. I continued at the same pace. I didn’t stop or slow down again until 8 o’clock when we closed. At one or two points a queue had formed. What a rush. I was worried that we might end up making over 100 martinis, and would then run out of things. In the end we only ran out of the miniature pretzels and I served 250 martinis. A personal record! I was over the moon. I was also absolutely thrilled with my colleagues who seemed to effortlessly keep a lid on the proceedings, serving, cleaning and arranging everything with good humour.

Unfortunately because I was so busy I had barely lifted my gaze up from the bar for the whole time so I hadn’t had a chance to see how everything was progressing, but I was told that people were having a good time. Some of the guests kindly shared their photographs with me and allowed me to use them on the blog.

As it went so well I look forward to doing it again in the future. I would also be interested to see how it works out if the weather isn’t as good. If everyone is inside the view wouldn’t be as romantic but the atmosphere could be brilliant.

At some point in the future I would like to co-operate with my talented cousin Cat Loud and do a joint martini-cabaret evening. You can see her perform this month at the Edinburgh Fringe.

I also want to hold a martini night on a Friday so that more people are able to join us (our first one was on a Tuesday). I’d also like to do it in the winter when locals have more time on their hands for a good party.

Watch this space and thank you everyone who helped and those who came on the night!

A Martini with Hayman’s Gin

I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while.

A very good friend and reader of this blog presented me with a bottle of this gin from Haymans. I instantly loved the branding and packaging. The colours, dark blue and gold, were positively regal.

So I put the bottle in the freezer and awaiting a visit from my friend so we could have a martini (or three… oops).


This is the Family Reserve edition, where the gin has been stored in Scotch whisky barrels for three weeks prior to bottling. This mellows the drink and apparently conforms to a traditional method popular in the nineteenth century. Bottles from this limited batch are individually numbered, adding to the exclusive feel of the brand.

I loved the detail on the neck of the bottle in particular; a little flourish of olde worlde meets sharp brand new, reminiscent of the barrel and bottling process perhaps.

The gin has a distinctive taste of liquorice. Not usually my favourite botanical (I’m a citrus and juniper traditionalist), it was very smooth and rich and I definitely enjoyed it. 

I made the martinis using my usual method – keep the gin in the freezer and mix with vermouth to taste as follows:

  • between 2tsp to 30ml vermouth
  • around 80-130ml gin


I served the martini with lemon peel garnish rather than olives as I wasn’t sure the latter pairing would work, although olives were served on the side and went very well. Black olives in particular could compliment the liquorice flavour of the gin.

Other nibble dishes that could go well with this martini include asparagus, cheeses of all shapes and sizes, seafood (including the classic martini accompaniment oysters) and strongly seasoned meat, cured, fried or grilled, particularly if it incorporates liquorice or anise-type botanicals.

Because of its distinctive flavour a martini made wth this gin works well as an aperitif to build ones appetite (especially if you are a liquorice fan) but could also break martini tradition and be served as a digestif as well.

Just don’t overdo it! The rule exists for a reason, it doesn’t matter how nice the gin is.

And nice it is. You can see the full range from the traditional family distillers here.

Martinis ad infinitum

So many martinis…

Here’s one at home with a sprig of lavender.

In the garden during a hot summer sunset.

Dawn breaks over London. Yes, this happened at dawn. Whoops.

A more strategic martini, here with the Lewis Chessmen in the background.

Martinis, wine, olives and walnuts on a tree stump in the garden on a summer’s evening.

A late midsummer martini with thyme.

Martini and dog.

A martini garnished with rosemary. For a rosemary-infused martini see here.

A slightly dirty martini.

Another slightly dirty martini, this time served in the garden. Perfect for Glyndebourne.

And finally, a serene sunset… What a perfect end to a day.

The Botanist Gin

Which martini would you drink in the event of a zombie apocalypse?

Bear with me as I explain the link…


I have mentioned before that I come from the Hebrides. I was therefore very keen to taste this gin, crafted on the island of Islay.

In the event of some kind of apocalypse or worldwide catastrophe (zombies etc), I always thought that my natural instinct would be to scramble back home to the islands to try and survive.

In the event that we managed to cling on to our existence in this beautiful island chain on the fringe of European civilisation I imagine that once the banalities of food production, healthcare and general society had been arranged our community would very quickly address the problem of what we would drink at the end of the day (it’s a cultural thing).  With a global collapse of logistics we would no longer be able to import drinks and ingredients from afar and would subsequently have to craft our own alcohol locally.

The most obvious drink for us to concoct in this part of the world would be whisky, but for die-hard gin lovers perhaps we would attempt to distil a clear spirit and flavour it with local botanicals – including juniper.

That is exactly what the craftsmen at the Bruichladdich whisky distillery have done with the Botanist gin.

It is flavoured with 31 botanicals, 22 of which are hand-picked locally, and slow-distilled to create a distinctive flavour.

My personal favourite addition is gorse-bush flowers, very evocative of a  childhood spent in the outdoors up here.

In this clip you can hear the gorse bush seed pods popping in the (rare) August sun.

Other favoured botanical additions include thyme, birch and bog myrtle, while one of the junipers used in the production is also grown on the island.

The gin is distilled in a ‘Lomond still’ – a rare item traditionally used to make whisky. 

Perhaps it is for this reason that I found the gin to be somewhat fiery in flavour. My favourite whisky is the smokey Laphroaig, also from Islay. Maybe it’s the local water that does it…

(Note that the above whisky is a Glen Moray – a Speyside malt).


Naturally, the post-apocalyptic Hebridean diet would include a significant proportion of seafood (unless the apocalypse included some sort of radioactive fallout). As such I wanted to pair this gin with some locally-sourced fruit du mer. Luckily when I made this martini we had langoustines to hand at home (as you do) but there are loads of other potential seafood variations. Please see  the Langoustini and Loch Ness Monstini for further martini inspiration.

The gin also goes well in a gin and tonic. For further guidance please see here.


Perhaps you could serve the G&T with some herbs sourced locally from the Hebridean garden, such as in this case, with some Rosemary from out the back door.


In a land where summer only seems to last a day you certainly want to make sure that your choice of refreshment is a good one.

A Martin Miller’s Gin martini

I first collected a bottle of this gin in Madrid airport duty free. The unusual branding caught my eye. Made with pure Icelandic water with a traditional English gin technique, it sits in a tall, proud-looking bottle with straight lines and clean imagery. There are strong maritime tones to the bottles appearance.

The gin has a crisp, dry flavour that you can lose in a gin and tonic (make sure you choose a tonic that does the gin justice). In a martini, however, I thought it went very well.

It has a smokey-smooth character, not too strong on juniper, or indeed any botanicals, which helped make a subtle but simultaneously bold martini.

To hark to its Nordic links you could drink it around mid-summer (midsommar), or mid-winter, but to be honest it would work at any time of year. Like most classic martinis it will go well with seafood but there’s something about this gin which makes me want to pair it with smoked things in particular – fish or meat. 

It also went down very nicely in the smokey air as we waited for steaks to cook on our fire pit. Despite the beautiful sunset it was freezing up in the Hebrides when we drank this, but we kept warm with the strong spirits inside us as we stood around the fire. 

Feeling a little bit merry, I went for a nice wander in the trees shortly after. A lovely end to the day.

Tanqueray in a martini

I’ve previously mentioned my penchant for Plymouth Gin which I find smooth and strong on juniper, but tanqueray is another favourite.

There has definitely been a bit of a backlash (not a unanimous one though) against some of the more florally extravagant brands of gin to emerge over recent years. I would feel inclined to agree as I like gin to taste of juniper and not be overpowered by other tastes and aromas. The clean taste reminds me of pine forests. The associated smells are so evocative: Christmas trees, freshly cut furniture, long walks in foresty commission property…

Nonetheless, some of the more floral botanicals of the gin world, such as the cucumber and rose infused Hendricks, definitely have their place. They go very nicely in a gin and tonic on a summer’s day for example. But when it comes to the botanicals needed for a martini I think that less is more and I drink Hendricks infrequently, usually on special occasions when I am back in Scotland. I also imagine that it’s a favourite drink for Scottish expatriates living around the world, in Dubai, Spain, Singapore or the US for example, a pleasant but distinctive reminder of the civilities of home.

Ideally the flavour of a classic martini should involve a balance of botanical vermouth, with a haze of predominantly juniper from the gin seeping in at the end of each taste. I therefore prefer the plain and subtle tasting gins to their more fancy counterparts.

Tanqueray was one of the many vices of the late beautiful Amy Winehouse (whom I actually once met in Edinburgh, when her hair was long and loose, not up in a High Barnet). I find that this brand of gin has a dominant juniper flavour, but one that is soft and mellow nonetheless, making it an excellent complement to vermouth in a martini.

So I mixed some with a little vermouth and drank it down. And they lived happily ever after. 

The end.