Speyside’s newest distillery has chosen to make white spirits instead of whisky, as Peter Ranscombe reports.
STAND at the top of Ben Rinnes on a clear day and you can look down from Moray’s most famous Corbett to see eight counties – Aberdeenshire, Banff, Moray, Nairn (the best one, obvs), Inverness-shire, Ross & Cromarty, Sutherland, and Caithness.
That view from the summit inspired Glenrinnes Estate owner Alasdair Locke and his stepson, Alex Christou, to name their new spirits brand “Eight Lands”.
Instead of joining their neighbours in making whisky, they’ve created their Glenrinnes Distillery to produce white spirits, starting with gin and vodka.
They’ve brought in expertise in the form of distiller Katrina Stewart and operations manager Meeghan Murdoch – their enthusiasm for the new distillery and their wider Speyside home is infectious.
A recent trip to the estate – which has been organic since 2001 – gave me the chance not only to sample the spirits themselves but also to learn about the ways in which the distillery suggests serving its drinks, many of them developed in partnership with local cocktail expert Scotch & Lemon.
I was really impressed with the Eight Lands Vodka (£37, eight-lands.com), especially its feeling in the mouth.
On the nose, it’s got distinctive cereal, lemon and sticking plaster notes, which are fairly pronounced for vodka, so often such a neutral spirit; on the palate, the cereal notes come to the fore, ending with a delicious malty finish.
The Eight Lands Gin (£39, eight-lands.com) has really pronounced citrus aromas of lemon, lime and orange peel on the nose, with warmer black pepper notes too.
Like the vodka, it has a soft and rounded mouthfeel, with warmth from its 46% alcohol by volume, relatively high for a craft gin, and more citrusy flavours on the palate; it’s well-made and will appeal to fans of citrus-led gins, but in a crowded market it perhaps has less to set it apart than the excellent vodka.
Where the gin really comes into its own is in the cocktail and culinary serving suggestions developed by the distillery and its partners, which make excellent use of its distinctive citrus character.
Mixed using gin, raspberry liqueur and tonic, it’s that classic combination of lemon flavours from the gin and raspberry notes from the Chambord that shines through.
Eight Leaf Clover
What happens if you bring together gin, Discarded vermouth, sugar syrup, fresh lemon, fresh raspberries, egg white and a dash of Angostura bitters? You get one of the most creative cocktails I’ve tried in ages, with a velvety texture.
Not all Eight Lands’ serving suggestions fall into the cocktail category – after dinner at the distillery, we tried frozen gin with frozen raspberries, dipping them in honey. Again, the citrus twang from the gin worked superbly well with the fruit.
Gin and cucumber yuzu scallop ceviche
Ceviche is so simple that there’s nowhere to hide, so you need quality ingredients and the Eight Lands gin worked really well with the cucumber flavours and the scallop as a starter.
Frozen vodka and scones with clotted cream and jam? Nope, I’ve not gone mad – this was my favourite combination on the trip. Cooling the vodka brought out more of the vanilla flavours and worked with the blackcurrant jam. Not your average afternoon tea.
Count to Infinity
Described as a “negroni in a kilt”, this combination of vodka, Campari and bramble liqueur with an orange zest garnish came across to me as rounder and softer than a traditional negroni, thanks to the liqueur and the vodka’s mouthfeel.
One of the most creative serving suggestions, which brings together vodka, amontillado sherry and tonic water. An excellent balance between sweet and sour flavours.
Bloody Mary sorbet
A classic use for vodka, served with melon, cucumber and gazpacho. The texture of the vodka again came to the fore, creating a distinctive take on a Bloody Mary.
For more stories from Peter Ranscombe’s The Grape & The Grain drinks blog visit https://www.scottishfield.co.uk/category/grapegrain/