The Secret Garden Distillery
Hamish Martin, a former wine merchant and whisky blender turned herbologist, started making natural products and experimenting with gin in 2012.
Hamish Martin, a former wine merchant and whisky blender turned distinguished herbologist and his wife Liberty bought the land on the outskirts of Edinburgh back in 2012. The couple set about planting and creating the herb garden, café and local arts centre which opened its doors to the public in 2014. The intention was to operate as a herb nursery, although the nursery season was so short it became apparent that it was limited as a business model.
Hamish and his wife then went on to hold functions and weddings in the garden and the beautiful glass house (which is the size of a football field). At the same time Hamish was making several natural products and was experimenting with gin using a small three-litre still when he created his first floral, colour changing gin from the Apothecary’s rose. He’d give everyone who attended a wedding at the garden a small bottle of Apothecary Rose gin as a gift. As luck would have it, a buyer from a major UK retailer was in attendance at one of the weddings, loved the gin and asked if they could buy some for their stores and the rest is history…. To this day, The Secret Garden Distillery still supplies that retailer and many more. The distillery followed shortly after in 2017 and a head distiller was appointed.
What are your favourite flowers?
I have no favourites – they all are but I suppose if I had to pick my true favourites they are to be found in the wild, growing in the derelict and forgotten lands and corners of cities – they are to some people the weeds, the plants that they want to pull up, poison and eradicate – these are the true wonders – real plants, real medicine, tenacious and beautiful if you get to know them.
What kind of “experiments” do you enjoy making?
I am always ‘experimenting’ or just ‘playing’ with the plants allowing them to show me what they can do -–they love to give – whether it is for the colour, the perfume, the flavour, the texture the list goes on – from medicine makers to food for our soul. I always say when working with nature if you have a limitless imagination there are limitless possibilities.
Which flowers do you enjoy working with?
All of them – you would be amazed how many flowers have this ability to change colour a natural pH indicator lives within the flower/plant called anthocyanin a water-soluble pigment that changes colour on a change of acidity ie adding tonic or just squeezing lemon juice. You can even do a experiment with red cabbage water and watch the colour change when you add lemon juice. However apart form these colour changing abilities there are certain flowers that I really love to work with for medicine and their true beauty: chickweed, calendulas, chamomile, echinacea and cornflowers to name but a few – nature just keeps giving we however need to learn how to work with her and not continually take from her
Everything is handcrafted, what makes your gin so special and magical?
The garden is now almost entirely used for cultivation of some very special botanicals (200 varieties are used in gin distillation), which give the gin a unique taste and much valued provenance. We hand pick all the flowers and herbs for drying and to make our single plant distillate. The destemmed petals are gently laid on trays in our drying room along with the herbs. Drying room is about 37°, same temp as body and beehive, this process can take anything from 24 hours to 2 weeks depending on the plant. We make our base Gin from four botanicals – Juniper, Coriander, Angelica Root and Winter Savory. We refer to them as the “back bone” botanicals and they result in a smooth, elegant and light base gin. To this base gin we then add our single plant distillate, which is also clear and made from fresh plants, we refer to these as the “soul” botanicals. We currently have around 35 different single plant distillates. This clear spirit is then infused on petals to intensify the flavour and colour. Just as you would if you were making tea, the infusion can be between 2-5 days depending on the plant and the gin we are making. So the back bone with soul botanicals and the infusion are what changes this clear spirit into an exquisite naturally infused premium Gin.
Can you explain why your gin is changing colour? Which flower or what are the components that allow to change colour?
The colour changing is a result of the reaction of the citric acid in the tonic or lemonade and the natural coloured water-soluble pigments of the plant, which are called anthocyanins, and these are found in many plants and some fruits. For example, red cabbage, raspberries and blueberries are all rich in anthocyanins.
What should Opimian Members know about your gins and you? Anything that you would like them to know?
Our gins are chemical free, nature based ingredients, 100% natural and crafted to deliver the pure essence of nature. It was from Hamish’s passion for herbs, together with a little 3 litre still and constant experimentation with the plants that he found out how to create a floral, colour changing gin. A combination of his knowledge of plants, distilling and his previous experience in the drinks trade he knew there was an opportunity to develop the brand and proposition. The garden is the true passion behind the brand, it is the beginning (the growing of the botanicals), the centre (the harvesting and drying room) and end of the story. We would like to be renowned as the best example of how to farm hand-in-hand with nature sustainably. Hamish has over 30 years’ of experience in the drinks trade and due to a family connection, Hamish’s background is deeply entrenched in Scotch whisky blending, and has made specific whiskies in the past for The Wine Society, Scottish Parliament, Holyrood Palace (Prince Charles designing the label), The Savoy Hotel plus many more. Don’t be surprised to see a Scotch whisky expression from The Old Curiosity in the future.
37.5ml Geranium & Mallow Gin
12.5ml raspberry liqueur
50ml fresh pineapple juice
Dash egg white (optional)
Add all ingredients to shaker. Dry shake, then add ice and wet shake. Double strain into classic Champagne coupe and garnish with raspberry.
Rose & Apple Sour
40ml Apothecary Rose Gin
5ml smoky whisky (optional)
20ml cloudy apple juice
20ml fresh lemon juice
10ml sugar syrup
1 egg white
Add all ingredients to cocktail shaker, dry shake, wet shake, strain over cubed ice in a rocks glass. Apple fan/slice garnish.
I’ll Bring You Flowers
50ml Lavender & Echinacea Gin
10ml Cointreau / Triple Sec
20ml lemon juice
1 spoon orange marmalade
Pour gin and marmalade into bottom of shaker and stir until marmalade dissolves. Addrest of ingredients, shake and double strain into martini glass. Garnish with fresh lavender tied around stem of glass, or edible flower floating on top.
Elderflower Gin Fizz
25ml Pink Elderflower & Jasmine Gin
15ml spiced pear syrup
15ml lemon juice
1 egg white
Add gin, syrup, lemon, and egg white to a shaker. Dry shake, then wet shake. Double strain into flute. Top with prosecco.