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.


A Bombay Martini

I was picking up some supplies in the supermarket when this gin caught my eye. Bombay London Dry Gin: more muted in appearance than its bright blue Sapphire  sister, it has a simple, almost stringently-coloured branding.

I am not a fan of floral or overly botanical gins in my martini so I though that this one with only 8 botanicals (to Sapphire’s 10) might provide a basic, clean, high street option so I took it home and chucked it in the freezer to find out.

A day later when the gin was thoroughly chilled, I made a simple martini, garnished with lemon peel and accompanied by the obvious snack of Bombay Mix.

The gin was less citrusy and floral than Bombay Sapphire. I love citrus notes, but I prefer them firstly in the aroma of the drink, ideally from the lemon peel I’ve just squeezed into it, then finally as a slow melting aftertaste which follows what I prefer to be a strong, leading juniper flavour. The Bombay Dry leads with juniper which was a nice surprise. It was overall less citrusy than I like, but this gives you the option of squeezing extra lemon peel into the drink if you want it, or leaving it out if you don’t. I know several martini fans who prefer less lemon in their martini so this one would make a good option. Otherwise, the botanicals were understated, much like the branding of the bottle.

There was a heat in the aftertaste of the gin which I don’t particularly welcome, especially in a martini which should be ice cold and ideally smooth. It reminded me somewhat of the warmth of the Botanist gin, a sensation which I think is more suited to a whisky than a gin. Nonetheless, for a high street brand I thought it was good value for money with a suitable clean and juniper taste.

As chance would have it my flatmate brought back a bottle of Bombay Sapphire the very next day. Absolutely perfect for a bare-faced comparison test. As you can see, the branding is far more exuberant. The blue-coloured glass is iconic, while the black and gold detail is positively regal, enhanced not least by the image of HM Queen Victoria.

I threw it in the freezer next to the Bombay Dry and whipped up another quick classic the next day.

Bombay Sapphire is lovely for a gin and tonic, especially for people who are otherwise put off by the strong juniper taste of standard gins. It has a smooth taste with complex spicy notes that dominate, followed by an almost sweet citrus aftertaste.

As expected, for me, Bombay Sapphire is not my gin of choice because I expect a strong, leading juniper flavour in my martini. It bolsters the almost surgical cleanliness of the drink while adding a sharp freshness evocative of a cold, winter pine forest.

However, the bold and admirable botanicals of the Bombay Sapphire were nonetheless pleasant and interesting. I love coriander and cardamom and while they might dominate my coveted martinis they were more like a temporary house guest. It’s a slight inconvenience and not as quiet as normal but it’s interesting to catch up. Furthermore, if gin isn’t normally your thing, or if you’re not especially keen on juniper, give this one a try in a gin and tonic or a martini. It has been described as a ‘gateway gin’ luring innocents into the sophisticated but Hogarthian danger of the gin world so for that I must salute it!

In summary, Bombay Dry is largely juniper, with a slight heat in the aftertaste, but good value for money. Bombay Sapphire is sweet and spicy and a good choice if you’re new to gin or not overly keen on juniper.

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.

The mango martini

Growing up on an island off the west coast of Scotland, I don’t think I even saw a mango until I was a fully grown adult living on the mainland. However they almost immediately became my favourite fruit. I love their sweetness combined with a zesty taste that reminds me of the smell of pine needles.

This pine flavour might be one of the reasons this fruit it goes well with gin. I think it compliments the juniper which also has notes of pine (Christ that sounds pretentious). Anyway, for the sake of objectivity I tried eating a mango cube followed by chewing a juniper berry and the two seemed to go well together.

In order to make a mango martini get yourself a tin of mango slices in syrup.

Pour the syrup into a glass and place it in the freezer for around 45 minutes to cool down.

Take a fresh mango and slice off an end, cutting it as close to the stone as possible. Use a blunt knife to cut the flesh of the cut side into cross-crossed squares but be sure not to cut through the skin of the fruit.

You can then invert the sliced piece which makes it easier to cut out little cubes of the flesh.

You’ll be left with a piece of skin that by law you must chew and suck while your guests aren’t watching. Don’t let any of that succulent flesh go to waste!

When it’s time to pour add a measure of vermouth (to taste), then fill up the rest of the glass approximately half and half with gin/vodka and the mango syrup.

Garnish with a slice of mango and serve with some of the pieces of mango as an accompaniment.

I also had my first breakfast on the balcony this year the next morning. A cup of tea with mango pieces and a small sprinkling of pepper – an unusual combination I first tried during my time in Sri Lanka. I’m not sure why it works but it does!