A Few Months on...

Wild Eve and Lilly

It’s been a little while since I wrote anything about Wild Eve but today seemed like a good moment to stop and reflect over the last few months since we launched. Making a drink, much like any creative activity is intensely personal. For months, and in this instance what became years I tinkered, walked away, came back, tested, tried. I moved from Sussex to Harris, set up an independent bakery and deli, coffee roastery, renovated one building, bought another, renovated that, employed local folk and some from further afield.

 We set about the croft, gradually taming it, coming to understand farming methods here and particularly the flow of water and the way to fill the soil with natural nutrition. The soil went from having no worms to many. It became a dark and crumbly loam fit for plants. We erected a 24m x 8m greenhouse and installed the beds so that by this summer it will flow, be beautiful and incredibly productive. When everything is in flower I may live there!

 We looked to the landscape for inspiration and it was easily found. The mountains, machair and sea hold treasure – Sugar Kelp that we make full use of in the deli, in our breads and crucially in Wild Eve. Our Kelp diver is Lewis Mackenzie, the same chap who dives for the Isle of Harris Distillery. He is a wonder and I have immense amounts of time for his stories and tales of the sea. He is wise enough to know that wild harvesting is not ideal and so is busily finding ways of effectively farming the Kelp on seeded ropes. Good for him. Each week, in the season, he sends us Kelp that we carefully dry. We used to have a line outside and storm force pegs to keep it there, but now our greenhouse offers the ideal drying spot, full of salty sea air but impervious to rain.

 On our croft we grow Chamomile in great airy drifts. It is a beautiful plant and full of peace bringing chemicals, in the twilight the daisy-like heads glow and the appley earthy scent is arresting. We also grow Oats – fine, strong and upright with such determination in the face of regular pummeling from the wind.

 I could write a book about Roses, the myriad uses of every part, the incredible healing properties and of course the scent. We have many on the croft now, around 200 with more to come. They’re not in serried rows for regimented picking but rather scattered around the croft. I like mixed planting where possible, so we underplant with veg and flowers. I love picking a Rose, Calendula and a lettuce from the same spot – it’s strangely pleasing.

 So Wild Eve was finally made to my satisfaction in June 2021 for launch in August, I started it in 2017. It has been a long gestation to say the least. I wanted to have the plants to hand, the people in place and the label and bottle just right. Ianthe Hotham-Agbloor designed the label, every flower adorning the neck of Wild Eve is in the drink and the background is the exact view from my croft.

 People assume that making a drink is easy – there’s a recipe and the rest flows from there, but actually even beyond the tortuous development phase, it’s not easy at all. Getting the right plants, in the best condition, working out exactly how to chop them to extract exactly the same flavour profile time and again is incredibly challenging. Take a Chilli – every one has a slightly different level of heat. Think of Pimento de Padron, 9 out of 10 have no heat at all but the 10th will blow your socks off. Then think of Chamomile, when the sun shines its benevolent heat down on Harris, the plant produces more essential oils to protect itself, that makes for a really flavourful flower. If it’s a terrible summer, we need to use a lot more to get the same taste. Everything is nominally measured but in reality it’s educated instinct.

 This is why Wild Eve really is special – there genuinely is nothing like it because we take the time to get it right. We know the plants, the landscape and the pitfalls and we negotiate it all carefully and respectfully. That’s why we have a cap on production – 10,000 bottles per annum to protect our fragile landscape, to minimise our carbon footprint and to maintain our high standards and to allow us to be totally honest about what we do.

 This summer if you find yourself on our beautiful little island, we’ll be offering a very different kind of tour – a guided walk over the machair we walk daily, a tour of the greenhouse, a platter of delicious food paired with Wild Eve and of course a few non- alc cocktails using some of our own island bitters, botanicals and shrubs. The first dates are up and available to book now - every Thursday in July from 11am to 1pm - we’ll take only 8 people at a time. Other dates will follow…

 So to all of you who have bought bottles several times over, to the brilliant Michelin starred restaurants and 5* hotels, the little beautiful eateries and the boutique hotels, the delis and independent shops – thank you for joining us on this most unusual of journeys, we’re so pleased to be working with you.

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