As the Old Curiosity Distillery prepares to restart its tours, Peter Ranscombe hears the story behind the gin it’s created for Aldi.
GOOD things come to those who wait – or so the old saying goes.
For Hamish Martin, that adage was certainly true.
He took over a derelict site just south of Edinburgh in August 2012 and spent nearly four years turning it into the Secret Herb Garden, complete with nursery and café.
Three years ago, he opened the Old Curiosity Distillery, using some of the herbs he grows in the garden for the botanicals in his gins.
The distillery hit the headlines with its colour-changing gins, but it was the freshness of Martin’s ingredients and the fact that the juniper flavour was still allowed to shine that really caught my attention.
That’s why it was such a treat to join Martin for an online tour of the garden and distillery as he explained the story behind his latest creation: Eidyn, a gin he’s made exclusively for supermarket chain Aldi.
Christie Clinton, the grocer’s spirits buyer in Scotland, had been speaking to Martin for the past two years about the possibility of working together on a gin.
Old Curiosity’s lemon verbena gin featured in the chain’s gin festival last year – and then last autumn Martin won the tender to create a premium Scottish gin for the retailer.
Eidyn uses a base of four botanicals – juniper, coriander seeds, angelica root and winter savoury – plus two not-so-secret ingredients to beef-up its citrus characteristics: lemon balm and lemon thyme.
After leading journalists on a virtual wander around the herb garden, Martin explained that the “best things are done simply” – rather than pack the new gin with 28 botanicals, he wanted to concentrate on six with real character, likening the idea to a chef using simple, high-quality ingredients in a dish and letting them shine.
Choosing lemon thyme as one of the star ingredients meant Martin spent the spring planting more of the herb in the garden, but the effort definitely paid off.
Eidyn has a really warm nose, full of orange, lemon and cloves, with some lighter floral notes alongside the typical spirit aroma.
The palate is quite delicate and subtle, with lime joining the lemon and orange flavours, plus more warming clove and sweeter spearmint notes, leading into marmalade on the finish.
For me, Eidyn joins that short list of Scottish gins that I’d happily sit and sip neat.
But, if you’re going to add tonic, then Daniel Cunningham – the distillery’s head of on-trade – recommends using a slimline version so that there’s no sugar to mask the citrus flavours in the gin; wise words.
Cunningham has also come up with a “South Eidyn Fizz” cocktail, which mixes 50ml of the gin with 25ml of fresh lemon juice, 12.5ml of elderflower cordial, club soda, and eight mint leaves.
At £19.99, Eidyn is an absolute bargain, especially because it comes in the full 700ml bottle and not the 500ml measure that’s becoming more popular with distillers.
It easily holds its own against similar small-batch gins, which tend to appear on shelves around the £28 mark.
And soon, visitors will be able to see where the gin is made and many of its botanicals are grown, with tours of the distillery and garden resuming on Saturday.
Read more of Peter’s gin, whisky and wine reviews on his drinks blog, The Grape & The Grain.