Interview Issue 12 Joe Bates

This Travelling Life: James Donaldson, The Botanist

The man at the heart of production at The Botanist Gin shares his travel experiences

The Botanist Gin head forager James Donaldson is responsible for hand-picking the 22 locally-grown botanicals used to make the spirit. These days, Donaldson spends most of his days on remote Islay, a “rock in the Atlantic” in his words. Yet this professional forager is very well travelled – and never leaves home without an apple or a tea towel.

What have been some of the most memorable and interesting countries and places that your work has taken you?

I was lucky enough to visit the USA with Adam Hannett, The Botanist’s head distiller, in 2019. It was a whirlwind tour – three cities in four days – but it was great fun. It was incredible to see the enthusiasm for The Botanist Gin everywhere we visited and we received a very warm welcome.

What spirits other than gin do you like to buy in duty free when travelling overseas? 

I tend to treat duty free as an opportunity to explore options I wouldn’t normally seek out. I’ll often pick up something a bit exotic or a brand with specific relevance to wherever I’m visiting.

Do you spend a lot of time on the road? If so, what travel tips do you want to pass on to our readers?

Not a great deal, but in a previous life I was on the road pretty solidly for about 15 years. I always stick an apple in my pocket before I set off anywhere; that way you always have access to a healthy snack. Also, always pack a tea towel. It takes up next to no space and has endless uses!

If your flight was delayed, who would you most like to share a G&T with in an airport bar?

Jenny Graham, she’s a hero of mine. In 2018 she demolished the women’s record for an unsupported round-the-world cycle. She seemed to treat it with about as much drama as most of us would a commute to work. She has incredible grit and determination but is utterly humble – and hilarious. Look up her podcast [‘Round the World Podcast’ on The Adventure Syndicate] – it’s great listening for a long flight.

If you had 24 hours to spare, what city in the world would you most like to use them to explore?

I’m not especially drawn to big cities, but I would like to visit Tokyo. It just seems very different to anywhere else I’ve experienced so far. 

We have a long 12-hour flight ahead. What book would you recommend we read to while away the time?

I would go with a collection of short stories; it’s difficult to focus with all the distractions and interruptions on a flight. I read Takeshi Kaiko’s Five Thousand Runaways many years ago and remember enjoying it.

Brand loyalty aside, what are some of your favourite gins and gin cocktails?

Lussa Gin from Islay’s neighbouring island of Jura is very good. If I’m trying a gin for the first time, I like to be able to explore the flavour so a simple Martini or a Tom Collins is a good way to go.

Tell us about a funny, strange or unusual thing that happened to you on your travels?

When I had a bit of time spare in New York, I ended up using the Atlas Obscura [] as my travel guide. There are so many daft and offbeat things hiding in plain sight in that city! I’ll not spoil all the fun, but I definitely recommend seeking out the Times Square Hum, visiting Reach at the 34th Street Subway Station, and taking a trip to my personal favourite, The Earth Room.

Once international travel gets back to normal after this awful pandemic, what destination (international or national) will be top of your list to return to?

I had a trip to the Faroe Isles planned for earlier this year, which had to be postponed. I would still like to get there when it’s possible. If you live on a rock in the Atlantic, where else would you visit but a different rock in the Atlantic?  

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