Whisky, Bees and other musings…
It’s been a busy few weeks, Christmas boxes to make, new orders to supply and friends to visit and with that, life briefly turned from cooking for the skin to cooking for the stomach. Rain. Hours of catching up. Rain. Chilling out. Rain. Finally the inevitable departure. Joyful and unsettling in equal measure.
In between bouts of making, I had a moment to read ‘The Bees’ by Carol Ann Duffy and found ‘Drams’ which is the most perfect description of Highland Whisky:
“Barley, water, peat, weather, landscape, history; malted, swallowed neat…the perfume of place, seaweed scent on peaty air, heather dabbed with rain…Not prose, poetry; crescendo of mouth music; not white wine, whisky.”
It reminded me the terroir of each plant is crucial to the final product and that the best products somehow capture the place within them. We see it in wine and whisky all the time, it is an established understanding that the geology and climate of a place will be reflected in the finished wine/whisky. It begins to gain some appreciation in food but not in cosmetics and rarely in perfume.
So here’s an observation – I grew Lavendula angustifolia Mailette in the UK and exactly the same plant in Cyprus. Both were treated in the same way (little watering, general neglect), both were distilled in the same kind of Alembic Still but the difference between the two was immense. The Cypriot Lavender essential oil was sharp and highly scented, little camphor and incredibly heady with a full clean floral top note and a really herby base note. The UK Lavender in contrast was much gentler, rounder and softer. The floral note was pronounced and the herbal scent more of a background note. It was a question of the terroir.
As makers, we can source oils from anywhere in the world, we can buy commercial blends and have little or no regard for the provenance of the plants we use OR we can mindfully produce, thinking about the plants, the terroir, the real essence of the oils and what will create the best product for that particular place. Hot, burning sun needs a potent Lavender to soothe the skin – matching like with like. Cooler, quieter summers need a different Lavender; something rounder, gentler and softly soothing.
So many of the big commercial producers have no relationship with the land, the plants, the seasons. They produce slick websites that seem to suggest relationships with the plants and their suppliers and even photographs of happily smiling pickers but it’s an illusion. Cosmetics and perfume are big business, with massive profits to play for. The small, independent producers are different – there is a need for profit, but it’s about something so much more than that. It’s about the plants, the community, the environment and an appreciation of the inter-connectedness of us all. We forget that at our peril.
Where the bee sucks,
in a cowslip’s bell lie,
in fields purple with Lavender,
yellow with rape,
and on the sunflower’s upturned face;
on land monotonous with cereals and grain,
sour in the soil,
sheathing the seeds, systemic
in the plants and crops,
the million acres to be ploughed,
seething in the orchards now,
under the blossom
on the bough.
Carol Ann Duffy
Amanda Saurin AS.AP