WHISKY may be Scotland’s national drink, but our country could also lay claim to being the spiritual home of gin. About 70 per cent of all the gin produced in the UK is made north of the border, including big brands like Gordon’s, Tanqueray and Hendrick’s.
What’s getting gin drinkers really excited though is the explosion in craft gin, with small distilleries being setup throughout the land to produce the white spirit. Many of these distilleries will go on to sell their own whiskies once their spirits have had three years to mature in wooden barrels.
Gin is a good stepping stone – it can be sold as soon as it is made because, unlike whisky, there is no legal requirement to age it. So gin can bring in some much-needed cash while the whisky continues to slumber in its casks.
Yet gin isn’t just a jumping off point for whisky. Many country estates are commissioning their own gins as a way of using the fruits, herbs and spices grown in their gardens or to create a flavoursome and exciting product that can bring in extra income.
To be classified as gin, a drink must be made using a highly-rectified spirit – which is usually made from grain – and have a distinctive juniper flavour. After that, the world is your oyster when it comes to the other botanicals that you can use to infuse flavours into your gin, such as fruits, seeds and herbs.
More and more distilleries are springing up each month and so this is a topic to which we will no doubt return. For the time being, here are eight of the best new Scottish gins that have caught my eye…
Darnley’s View London Dry Gin (40% ABV)
Made in London for the Wemyss family, who own Wemyss Vintage Malts and the Kingsbarn distillery in Fife, this gin lists elderflower, lemon peel, coriander seed, angelica root and orris root as its botanicals, with the elderflower and other floral notes coming through on the nose, along with more subtle aromas of lemons and herbs. Light and rounded in the mouth, the citrus flavours of lemon are more apparent on the palate and are joined by some lime and gingery notes from the coriander seeds. Wemyss also produces a Spiced Gin, which packs a punch of paprika and ginger on the nose, followed by really well-integrated flavours of cumin, coriander and cloves on the palate.
The Original Sea Buckthorn Gin, Eden Mill (42%)
Eden Mill has gone from a brewery making beers in Guardbridge near St Andrews to a full-blown distillery, producing gins and laying down spirit that will mature into whisky in years to come. The gins are made in small batches and come in limited editions, including sea buckthorn, hopped and oak aged. The Original Sea Buckthorn Gin has a pronounced nose, with aromas of juniper, lemon and an almost salty twang. In the mouth, it’s rounded, with warming spicy heat from the alcohol. A drop of water brings out the deeper flavours of lemons and herbs. The Hop Gin – in which hops are added to give flavour – is an almost day-glow yellowy-green colour, but the nose is inviting with lemon and grapefruit aromas that follow through onto the crisp and refreshing palate. The Oak Gin is a paler yellow shade and delivers a more subtle hint of caramel and vanilla on the tongue, which comes from the bourbon casks in which the spirit has been aged.
Edinburgh Gin Cannonball Navy Strength, Spencerfield Spirit Company (57.2%)
Spencerfield Spirits – the company behind whisky brands such as Pig’s Nose and Sheep Dip – went from outsourcing the making of Edinburgh Gin to taking production in-house after it opened the Edinburgh Gin Distillery in a cellar on the city’s Rutland Place. One of the first gins made on the site is Cannonball, a navy-strength gin that is distilled a little bit stronger so that it can be used as a more flavoursome mixer in cocktails. The nose is subtle, with juniper and citrus coming through. On the palate you can tell it’s stronger, with a fuller and more rounded mouthfeel coming from the higher alcohol content. Sweeter spices such as cloves and cardamom are revealed once water is added, opening up the gin even more.
Gordon Castle Gin (43%)
Thames Distillers makes Gordon Castle Gin for Angus and Zara Gordon Lennox using botanicals grown in their walled garden at Fochabers in Moray. The result is sweet and more floral on the nose, with aromas of lavender and herbs like rosemary and thyme. Its taste is lighter and more refined that many gins, with flavours of juniper, lemon and lime. It also has arguably the best-looking packing, coming in a squat bottle with square shoulders and a painting of a lavender plant showing through from the back.
Makar Glasgow Gin, Glasgow Distillery Company (43%)
The Glasgow Distillery is very proud of its seven botanicals, lining them up on the label for all to see. There’s a pronounced nose, with aromas of salty sea air joining the juniper and citrus notes. Hotter spices like cardamom and black pepper tickle the tongue, adding another layer of flavour to the lemon and lime notes. It has a soft mouthfeel and a warming finish.
NB Gin, North Berwick Distillery (42%)
Steve and Viv Muir have been making NB Gin for just over a year and already it’s winning plaudits, including a silver medal in the micro-distillery category at the Gin Masters 2014 awards. Whenever I serve this to guests, they always comment on how flavoursome it is when compared with mass-produced brands. It’s fresh and smooth, with the juniper and citrus aromas and flavours shining through.
Pickering’s Gin (42%)
Pickering’s is made at Summerhall, the new name for the Old Dick Vet School on the edge of the Meadows in Edinburgh. Restrained notes of juniper and orange peel grace the nose, followed by lemon, lime and sweeter clove notes on the palate. Those sweet orange peel flavours are joined by slightly warmer spices on the finish.
Rock Rose Gin, Dunnet Bay Distillery (41.5%)
Up in Caithness, husband-and-wife team Martin and Claire Murray are making Rock Rose Gin using locally-grown rose root and sea buckthorn. If you can get your hands on the result – which is selling out fast – then it’s well worth a try, with distinctive notes of grass and seaweed on the nose and a rounded and warm mouthfeel.