AN innovative drinks company founded in 2015, Buck & Birch specialise in producing spirits, liqueurs and cocktails that are all inspired by or derived from the Scottish wilderness.

Arriving in the historic East Lothian village of Gifford I’m met by the duo behind the firm, Tom Chisholm and Rupert Waites, who describe themselves as ‘explorers, experimenters and wild flavour innovators’.

As we head deep into the woods, we pass a number of buckets placed beneath the canopy of mature birch trees to collect the sap which goes into their products.

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Tom and Rupert’s knowledge of wild botanicals, trees and herbs is extensive, with Rupert explaining that the birch-tapping season can last anywhere between two to six weeks in March and April. 

He then delves into the history of birch trees, as well as the myths associated with the species around the world – and also explains the practical and medicinal benefits of birch sap.

“It’s a really good cleanser,” he says. “A small amount has all the magnesium you need for a day with loads of antioxidants in there too. You fall in love with these trees – I think they’re just beautiful.

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“This girl is about 80 years old,” he says, resting one hand on the white bark. “She’s nearing the end of her life cycle, which is about the same as humans.”

When Rupert hands me the drill, I admit to feeling a pang of guilt as it pierces the trunk. However, I’m assured by Rupert and Tom no lasting damage is caused by the process – and they never tap the same tree in consecutive years to give them time to heal.

After drilling an inch in, the liquid immediately begins to weep from the hole.

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Rupert then carefully hammers in a spout and connects a bucket to collect the sap which drips as “steady as a heartbeat”.

In 2012, Tom and Rupert began developing botanical-flavoured products with foraged ingredients at their distillery in Macmerry, and launched Aelder Elixir. It received a Great Taste Awards star.

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Tom, originally from Norway, and Rupert, who grew up in the Western Isles, previously worked together in Brown’s Brasserie in Edinburgh. Both have a passion for using foraged local ingredients and botanicals, and were passionate about finding innovative ways to infuse these in food and drink.

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Now, their products are stocked in high-end bars and restaurants across the country, including Edinburgh’s Panda & Sons and the Johnnie Walker Experience on Princes Street.

Rupert offers me a mug of hot herbal tea with the addition of birch pollen – which works to enhance the natural flavours.

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Another unique Buck & Birch innovation is their delicious birch syrup liqueur – which is used to flavour the company’s popular vodka spirit Ana (16% ABV).

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With a butter caramel colour and natural flavourings, the liqueur goes down very easily and is smooth on the palette with a sweet aftertaste. It’s immediately clear why it is commonly used in Espresso Martinis or with affogato.

The Birch botanical spirit (39.6% ABV) on the other hand has a light summery flavour with a slight evergreen hue.

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This pure spirit is married with raw sap and seasoned with wild birch flavours. Each bottle also contains a small twig from the tree … a delightful aesthetic detail that highlights nature’s hand in the making of the product.

With the sun warming our backs and birds singing all around, the duo thank the forest for its bountiful gifts and I thank Buck & Birch for sharing theirs.