Peter Ranscombe reviews some of the amazing Scottish drinks featured in Local Selects’ gift boxes.
ONE of the few positive results of lockdown has been the inspiring and innovative ways in which many Scottish drinks businesses dealt with the closure of bars, pubs, and other on-trade venues.
The Start-up Drinks Lab in Port Glasgow is a perfect example; before the pandemic, its business focused on helping brands develop and bottle new products.
When hospitality businesses were forced to close, the lab launched its “Local Selects” project.
It worked with 22 brands to create seven choices of Local Selects gift boxes, featuring more than 70 products in total.
The boxes were such a success that the lab has carried on selling them even after many on-trade premises were able to reopen.
The boxes are filled with some of the most exciting Scottish products on the market.
Highlights for me included the lab’s own Inverclyde Gin, which was full of juniper, lemon, orange peel and spicy black pepper notes aromas.
On the palate, it was deliciously dry, with coriander and lime joining the notes from the nose, with plenty of warmth and a rounded texture.
Adding the accompanying Just the Tonic brought out lighter grapefruit and more savoury lemon rind flavours.
The tonic water on its own was pretty interesting too – a big, textbook quinine kick and then the merest hint of lemon and yellow grapefruit, without detracting from its crisp and clean taste.
A duo of ciders also caught my eye – the Hamilton Cider Company Colonel Anne and the Lost Orchards Cider Scottish Red Berries & Lime.
Colonel Anne crackled with mouth-watering freshness, with red apple and spun sugar on the nose giving way to crisper green apple on the palate.
Lost Orchards’ red berry mix of strawberry and raspberry brought back memories of strawberry laces and red cherry drops on the nose, alongside lime cordial notes.
All those promises were delivered on the palate and, although it’s a sweeter and riper style of cider, it still delivered plenty of freshness and so avoided becoming cloying on the finish.
Rounding off the alcoholic side of the samples I tried, a wee taste of home – the Wooha Hello Friday Session Pale Ale.
Although the brewery may have moved from my native Nairn further along the coast into Moray, I’ll forgive it if it carries on producing beers as good as Hello Friday, with bright lemon, green apple and light spun sugar on the nose, which all followed through onto the fresh palate.
Local Selects includes a mix of alcoholic and soft gift boxes, and its alcohol-free options highlight the innovation that’s going on within this part of the Scottish drinks market.
The Start-up Drinks Lab’s own Sparklingly Sober Nomosa – see that they did there? – is made with blood orange, mango and chilli.
The chilli came through on the nose – sparking a wee sneeze – with lots of pink grapefruit aromas.
On the palate, a juicy mix of strawberry, lemon, watermelon and more pink grapefruit came to the fore – there’s lots of flavour here for a soft drink.
While cream soda isn’t something for which I’d ever reach due to memories of sickly sweet childhood examples, the Bon Accord Cream Soda may just have changed my mind.
This grown-up version of the kiddies’ favourite has the textbook sweet honey, coconut and vanilla notes on the nose, but then has a much lighter mouthfeel than I was expecting and is refreshingly clean on the finish.
Similarly, the Paisley Drinks Company Strawberry & Coconut Soda is the kind of combination that gives me gastronomic nightmares, but reminded me that I need to be more adventurous in my tastings.
Raspberry jam and vanilla on the nose gave way to strawberry, vanilla and much more intense coconut on the palate.
It sang with freshness, cutting through the fruity flavours and aided by its lively fizz.
As different parts of the country yo-yo in and out of local lockdowns, I can see there being demand for Local Selects and its boxes for a long time to come.
Read more of Peter’s reviews on his drinks blog, The Grape & The Grain.