Since antiquity, East and West have come together in pursuit of something more valuable than gold: beautiful spices that turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. In his quest for the world’s best botanicals, PJ Rigney followed the ancient routes pioneered by spice traders – and brought his best finds back to The Shed Distillery in Drumshanbo, the home of March's Gin of the Month: Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin.
From the eastern coast of China to the hills of Ireland, follow PJ’s curious journey in the search for the world’s best gin botanicals.
The starting point of the ancient silk and spice trade, China built one of the world’s greatest civilisations on the export of their fine goods. From his travels there, PJ picked up gunpowder tea, Chinese lemons and star anise. Experience the majesty of China, including the glory of the Three Gorges, on a Yangtze River Cruise.
Directly to the south is Indonesia, where the Dutch found an unobstructed route into the silk road by sea. It was here that PJ discovered incredible oriental grapefruits, which can grow larger than a basketball if left unchecked. While you’re in this incredible archipelago, visit Tanah Lot. Isolated on the peak of a sea crag in Bali, legend has it that this Hindu temple is guarded by sea snakes.
In Cambodia PJ picked up beautiful kaffir limes, so fragrant that their leaves and essential oils are used to make perfumes. Here you can marvel at Ta Prohm, where over 831 years nature has half-reclaimed this ancient centre of religion and learning.
A desire for India’s riches drove the European powers both east and west – and it was in the quest for India that the Spaniards stumbled upon North America. The coastal port of Muziris, modern-day Kerala, established itself as a centre for the spice trade as early as 3000BC.
PJ sources two amazing spices from India: caraway seed and cardamom, the latter of which is used in the preparation of masala chai all over the subcontinent. Stop by ‘God’s Own Land’ to visit the slopes of Eravikulam National Park, where beautiful Neelakurinji flowers bloom just once every 12 years.
Coriander grows wild all the way from Eastern Europe to North Africa, and the darker green shade of Romanian coriander makes it prized. PJ sources his coriander seeds here, one of the most noted coriander producers in the world.
While you’re here, stop by the stunningly beautiful Snagov Monastery. Beautiful mosaics give this place – situated on a little island just outside of Bucharest – an otherworldly beauty, and local legends have it that the remains of Vlad the Impaler rest here.
When it comes to making amazing gin, there’s one botanical in particular you have to get right: juniper. PJ sources his juniper from Macedonia, where the hot weather matures these black berries to perfection.
Revel in the glorious weather and natural beauty of Macedonia at Lake Ohrid, one of Europe’s oldest and deepest lakes. With gloriously blue water to dip in, delightful towns along its banks and more than 200 species you won’t find anywhere else, this is one for the bucket list. Stand on the cliffs beside the Church of Sveti Jovan for a once-in-a-lifetime view of this beautiful place.
For orris root, the gin botanical that binds all of the flavours together, PJ heads to Morocco. If you join him there, head to the Atlas Mountains. Here you’ll find the Todra Gorge, one of the most beautiful canyons in the world. Now a popular tourist attraction, the Gorge is crisscrossed with wonderful hiking paths.
In the mountains of Germany, PJ discovered the next botanical for his blend: angelica root. Fragrant and musky, it’s used as shamanic medicine by the Saami people of Europe’s far north.
For a taste of German history, stop by the stunning Neuschwanstein Castle, built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, in the 19th Century. Its towering spires and elegant architecture have inspired Disney castles galore, but the expense of its construction saw Ludwig labelled insane and stripped of control of his assets.
At long last, it’s time to head home to beautiful Drumshanbo. PJ picks fragrant meadowsweet from the hills around The Shed Distillery. As you join him in his work, keep a careful eye out for the mysterious Jackalope, rumoured to appear at will on these hills.