The team behind the world’s smallest bottle of Scotch has released its first gin, as Peter Ranscombe reports.
WHISKY may be Scotland’s national drink, but our country now also has a growing reputation for its gin.
With more than 70 distilleries churning out “mother’s ruin” north of the border, gin makers must work hard to come up with their unique selling point.
Perhaps it’s using a specific blend of botanicals to add flavour to their gin? Or perhaps it’s coming up with a clever name or swanky packaging?
Mother-and-son team Jane and Iain MacDuff – best known for producing the world’s smallest whisky bottle – chose a different tack.
They’ve brought together the worlds of whisky and gin to create Fifty/50/Gin (£55 for 50cl, houseofmacduff.co.uk), a London dry gin aged in oak and whisky casks for 20 years.
The project began back before the current gin boom got underway.
“Gin in those days was Gordon’s and Beefeater and all the big well-known brands,” remembers Jane.
In fact, there were so few gin producers in Scotland that Jane ended up buying the spirit from Langley distillery at Bishops Stortford in Hertfordshire.
She put it into about 40 virgin oak casks for the first ten years and then, after tasting the gin, decided it didn’t need any further woody flavours and so transferred it into third-fill whisky casks, which would only impart some notes from the last Scotch to have slumbered in the barrel.
After a decade in the whisky casks, the time came to assemble the final blend.
Jane looked over the regulations covering gin and was intrigued by what she read.
“London dry gin has to taste predominantly of juniper, and I was quite surprised because I thought how on Earth can rhubarb gin taste of juniper?” she laughs.
To avoid falling into the same trap as so many fruit-laced gins, Jane returned to Langley and bought fresh spirit, blending it with her cask-aged version in a ratio of fifty-fifty to make sure the finished product still tasted of juniper.
She continued the theme by placing the gin into 50cl bottles at 50% alcohol-by-volume.
The result is distinct aromas of juniper and pine on the nose, along with caramel, shortbread and floral notes.
What impressed me most was the juniper on the palate – it looks like a dark spirit to the eye, but it’s clearly a white spirit in its flavour profile, with gin’s tell-tale botanical woven into the caramel, spun-sugar, lemon and mint.
Jane and Iain are thrilled with the reception for their gin and are already planning their next steps.
“When it comes to replacing the gin in casks, we’ll be talking to Scottish distillers,” says Jane.
“They weren’t there 20 years ago when we were first looking for gin.”
Other spirits are also on the horizon, including grain whiskies and rums.
That’s as well as running The House of MacDuff, the family whisky business, which produces brands including The Golden Cask single casks, The Selkie blended malts, Burns Nectar single malt, and Blend No 888 blended whisky.
Innovation is key in the crowded craft gin market and it’s exciting to see Jane and Iain’s effort, which I can see appealing to both gin and whisky drinkers.