We speak to Arran Botanical Drinks founder Stuart Fraser about the captivating alchemy of foraging, brewing, and distilling, with locally sourced flavours curated in their botanical kitchen. Engage your senses with ingredients harvested from Arran’s abundant landscapes, creating an unforgettable symphony of flavours.
Thanks so much for joining us. Firstly, tell us a bit about who you are and what you do.
Hi, I’m Stuart Fraser – Founder, waiter and chief forager for Arran Botanical Drinks – formerly Arran Gin Co. I founded the business with two friends/investors and between the three of us created a foraged gin which tries to be a little different in both taste and our brand-vibe.
We create a range of botanical drinks, inspired by the wild plants and flowers of our lovely island – but we also run our HQ as a thriving cocktail bar, right on the beach at Cladach, a mile from Brodick Ferry Terminal. So, we grow; forage and harvest the plants, distil, macerate and brew the products. Then decant, stir and shake them into delicious cocktails…right on the beach!
Take us back to where it all began, and tell us how Arran Botanical Drinks came to life?
Back in 2014, my wife Clair and I left 10+ years of life in New York City to head for a more rustic-country existence, and took over a tired village shop in Whiting Bay. There was really something of a lightbulb moment in 2015 as we realised we were ordering and selling lots of Scottish Craft Gins – but there wasn’t a gin from Arran. We decided as amateur foragers and keen-to-try-things kinda people that we’d have a go. We enlisted a botanist and worked with a small group of growers, gardeners and chefs and before we knew it we had a big powerful coastal gin which we hope evokes the spirit of our island.
The change of name from Arran Gin Co to Arran Botanical Drinks, was largely because we felt there were too many gins on the market and we needed to try something new. Cassis felt like a fun and left-field fit for us, and then came the Botanical Beers. Add in a cocktail bar at our beachfront premises, and here we are today!
All of the drinks you produce are inspired and made possible by the beautiful island you call home. Can you tell us a bit about the ingredients you use and how they’re harvested and processed?
For us, everything begins with the island plants and wildflowers but only those with a story, and packed with flavour! We want our products to be something of a tour of the island, so you really engage with the diversity of Arran’s botany. In our gin you will find a big savoury hit from our sea lettuce – a fabulous seaweed we harvest in the late Winter/early Spring. Mid Summer sees us gathering both the blackcurrants for our Cassis; and the meadowsweet for our gin.
Meadowsweet is my favourite- a medicinal plant which speaks to warm Summer meadows and a perfume of marzipan and honey. We also use noble fir, home-grown lemon balm and the humble hogweed seed- a surprising orange and coriander note on the gin.
Do you work with any other businesses on the island to create your botanical brews?
We do, yes. Local brewers Seagate Brewery work with us on our premises to develop recipes for botanical beers- really unusual, but tasty and very popular. We also work with local grower/chef Robin Gray to obtain home-grown botanicals which go into our gin, beer and of course his huge blackcurrant patch which helps create our Creme de Cassis.
The network of local growers, foragers, retailers and hospitality venues on Arran is crucial to our success… And thankfully, there is real partnership on the island.
As well as The Cladach Beach House, what would you recommend doing/seeing in your area to someone visiting?
We are very fortunate to be in a great location for food and drink, shopping and history. Brodick Castle is right behind us; as are a range of art and craft spaces to visit; the Arran Sawmill/garden centre and Arran Brewery; and just down the road Arran Cheese Shop and Arran Aromatics, to name but a few.
Are you working on any new products at the moment that we should start looking forward to?
We are thinking about a new beer for the Summer which will really evoke those Arran Summer memories. We also are looking into canning one or two of our cocktails – perhaps a Kir Royale to-go… Watch this space.
INTERVIEW BY Eryn Inglis
IMAGES BY Simon Hird