At Buck & Birch HQ, we're always playing around with new concoctions, foraging new ingredients and experimenting with a plethora of flavour notes that the natural world has to offer. It's almost a science; testing, learning and discovering. Us the scientists, nature our subject. Co-founder and infusion expert, Rupert, tells us all about his passion behind playing with flavours and gives some insight into how they capture some Buck & Birch classics.
At Buck and Birch we do a lot of flavour capture. It’s as much about our experiences and landscapes as it is just raw lifting of tastes. For me, it goes back to being 7 and nibbling the base of grass flower stems while waiting for the ferry to come in to Canna harbour. It was mind blowing even back then that it tasted of coconut and I was very chuffed with myself that I had ‘discovered’ something new. That maybe no one else had ever happened upon. I’ve no idea what drove me to try it that time but I guess at 7 the mind is quite open to adventure and exploration. There is a lot about being 7 I really don’t remember, but I remember that moment.
Leaping forward again and I’m nearer 47 than 7 but that type of experience echoes through my life. A fascination with plants, a love of cooking and flavours and feeding folks, getting lost in the wilderness and in the moment of staring intently at grass or trees or beaches and feeling the wind and the cold and the sudden sun on the face and the call of the birds and all that fluffy stuff. Making memories is one thing, trying to capture some of those experiences and share them with others can be really special and it drives much of what we do and hope to achieve today.
At one end, one must try to remain open to the raw experience while at the other, one must be vigilant and almost organised in the ability to capture the building blocks of flavour and smell in order to use them either alone or in symphony to transfer the joy to the imbiber. To infuse your drinks with as much joy as possible, it is then necessary above all to live. To be open and adventurous and boldly go off-piste every once in a while. But to infuse them with the flavours of those experiences might require some good old down to earth techniques and the odd sleight of hand. Sometimes you want an exact lift of an ingredient (its fingerprint if you like) to lock it up and store it for later release, like the BFG and his dreams.
Many of the techniques we use are typified with our approach to the birch tree. It’s April now and we have just finished the sap run. This pure clear liquid is magical to us – it’s where we started things from. In its raw state, it contains sugars and minerals and is volatile in that it will sour and go off very quickly. Every morning in the sap run, we take this liquid and pour it straight into pure alcohol to prevent spoilage and to lock in its raw magic. This is the start of a cascade that spreads the birch love across many of our drinks. This base spirit is further infused with the slightly spicy, wintergreen freshness of the emerging birch buds and catkins. Left for up to a year, the alcohol strips bare the stems and buds of their flavour and, when combined further with fresh green leaves and bark, it makes up our birch bitters.
Sometimes, when you just want to get everything, alcohol can be amazing at stripping out flavour in a cold infusion. Sometimes just simply steeping the material in it for a few hours or days or maybe blending it up a bit first to really release the flavours. We use this method to strip and hold the incredibly volatile essence of sweet cicely seed pods as well as pine needles and event things like essence of forest floor, rowan shoots, and all manner of barks or more woody material.
Some things are good lifted straight up, like a fingerprint, while other things need a transformational stage before the final capture. Sweet woodruff for example is pretty well useless as a flavour until it is dried very carefully. Other things like seaweeds can be smoked or aged to build up the flavours before capturing them. The likes of Jack by the hedge can be tamed and transformed with a lacto-fermentation before infusing in hot water like a tea and it’s incredible the difference between fresh nettle cordials and ones made with the dried plant.
We also infuse mushrooms. There is something very pleasing about bright fresh chanterelles steeped in vodka or the transformative deep earthy bass notes of dried porcini. A really interesting one is the beefsteak fungus, which when steeped in vodka takes on earthy almost port like qualities.
However it is captured, it is the combination and sensitive capture of these building blocks that allows us the later flexibility and freedom to express creatively at our leisure. It is a truly fantastic way of celebrating the earth and bringing the outdoors in.
Experience the captured flavour with Buck & Birch Wild Cocktails
Crafted using our exclusive liqueurs and foraged ingredients from around the fantastic county of East Lothian we have created a delicious range, from twisted classics to completely original creations for you all to enjoy.
Each 150ml bottle contains 2 drinks and can be purchased individually for £8.00 (Plus P+P) or as part of our Signature Pack (Aelder Sour, Amarosa Old Fashioned, Espresso MartAna) or the Adventurer Pack for those wanting the full Buck & Birch experience (the 3 signature cocktails plus two wild surprises)