Claire speaks to Francesca from the Old Curiosity Distillery to find out about the magic behind their gins and hears all about the latest flavour expression to emerge from The Secret Herb Garden: Lemon Verbena Gin. But first…
A brief history of the Old Curiosity
The story begins when Hamish, a wine merchant, began to pursue his lifelong passion for plants by gaining a Herbology Diploma. Then, in 2012, Hamish and his wife Liberty bought a derelict plot of land on the outskirts of Edinburgh and it was there that they laid the roots of what is known today as The Secret Herb Garden. Alongside Liberty’s passion for all things vintage, the overgrown lowlands at the foot of the Pentland Hills has transformed into an award-winning herb nursery, local arts centre, shop and café.
Today, over 600 different varieties of herbs are grown naturally and completely chemical free at The Secret Herb Garden. These botanicals are then hand-harvested by a member of the garden team. At the height of the season, The Secret Herb Garden employs someone full-time to harvest and de-stem all of their herbs, assuring nothing goes to waste. Each herb is then dried inside a bespoke drying room which is the perfect condition to dry their botanicals whilst ensuring they don’t lose any of their healing properties or vibrant colours.
But with over 30 years’ experience in the drinks trade, a passion for creating unique tipples with gloriously natural ingredients, and an entire Secret Herb Garden at his disposal, Hamish began experimenting…
For those who haven’t come across you yet, how did Old Curiosity start and when did the gin journey begin?
The Old Curiosity officially started in October 2017, but the idea had been around for years before. Hamish has always made tinctures and tonics as a herbologist and it was through this knowledge that led him to find the incredible colour change of our apothecary roses. From here, it became a household drink and then, due to fate, it became clear that it should be brought out in the open to be enjoyed by everyone else.
Hamish was a wine merchant before The Secret Herb Garden, and it was his lifelong passion for plants that led to Old Curiosity through a herbology diploma. The garden has over 600 natural and chemical free herbs that have been used in the making of many products, not just gin, such as; candles, beer, wine, herbal salts and dishes in top Edinburgh restaurants.
How long did it take you to get up and running, producing your first gin?
Nine months of blood, sweat and tears mixed in with passion, botanicals and gin. Hamish has over 30 years’ experience in the drinks industry and has always had a passion for developing drinks from natural herbs and ingredients. It was through this that Apothecary Rose Secret Garden Gin was created.
Beginning with apothecary rose, an ancient ingredient in tinctures and tonics, he discovered a natural reaction that can only be explained by the magic of nature: a natural colour change and the magical beginning of Secret Garden Gin.
Unlike other coloured gins, Old Curiosity’s gin does not include colourings or flavourings – it is all natural from floral and herb flavours – including the magic colour change that Hamish discovered!
At The Secret Garden, you grow and pick all of your own botanicals. Do you face any challenges with this and the temperamental Scottish weather?
The only challenge we do face is we can only harvest our botanicals on dry days. However, climate-wise, it’s perfect because we have south-facing slopes and the East coast is far more forgiving than the West – so we have less rainfall and more sun.
Can you tell us all about the herbs that you grow in the garden?
We grow over 600 different types of herbs, from our scented lemon verbena, geraniums, coriander, angelica, junipers, roses, chamomile and many, many more. However, they were all grown before the gin; they were grown to be used medicinally as all herbs have incredible healing properties. This is something Hamish is incredibly passionate about. It is actually why we started making gin because no one really is interested in hearing about the magic of nature but when you mix it with gin, everyone is desperate to learn!
What’s the process like for developing a new idea and a new recipe?
It is all very last minute! We love to experiment and are constantly trying new flavours, looking at new colours and, when one works, it’s all go to get it out as soon as possible.
How did you decide on Lemon Verbena as the next addition?
Lemon verbena has been grown at the secret herb garden since day one; it’s been used in teas and herbal remedies and so we thought the next step would be gin! We also do a lot of staff tastings where we put possible gins in the mix and taste them blind. We also did one for the public before Christmas and each time the Lemon verbena came out on top.