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Sam Heughan's Sassenach Gin: Outlander star reveals inspiration, botanicals and story behind new spirit

The Outlander star has revealed the botanicals used in his new gin, plus the inspiration behind it.

Published: March 3, 2023
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In the latest episode of our podcast, Scran, Sam Heughan, told us about his latest spirit release - Sassenach Wild Scottish Gin.

Speaking over lunch in the Ubiquitous Chip's Wee Whisky Bar, Sam explained how the gin was actually his first project, before The Sassenach whisky. He said: "This is something like our twelfth batch. We were actually talking about our gin before we did our whisky.

"I wanted to create a Scottish gin, something that represents where I'm from represent Scotland. Everything comes from Scotland, all the botanicals, and I want it to be something that was from where I'm from in which is Dumfries and Galloway.

"So I looked at we looked at all the botanicals you can get and we distilled each one individually to try see what it was like, put our favourites together, and then have tried subsequent recipes.

"This is where we're at now we're almost ready to be released this summer. I'm really, really excited by this gin. It's very moreish. Very well balanced. It's not like other gins."

Sam then went on to explain the distillation process, which involves pureeing, macerating and straining pre distillation. This is carried out to ensure 'vibrant notes' rather than stewed notes.

Botanicals in the Sassenach Gin

Sam and the team behind the Sassenach spirits have worked with distiller Craig Rankin, of Crafty Distillery, in Newton Stewart in Dumfries and Galloway to make the gin.

Sam explained that he wanted to work with someone who was also from Dumfries and Galloway as they'd understand where he's from and how to capture an essence of southern Scotland, or Scotland in a bottle. Inspiration for the botanicals came from things you see when you're walking in a glen in south west Scotland.

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Speaking of the botanicals used, Sam said: "The main one in here is crab apple. In Scotland it is very difficult to find citrus. A lot of other gins use, lemon, mango or orange, but the only real citrus we could find that was strong enough was crab apple and I just remember being a kid, and picking crab apples and they're so sour.

"You can't really eat them. I used to try but they would give you a stomach ache because they're they're so sour, but they're very abundant in Scotland. We've gone with that in a very high concentration so we've got a real sort of citrus zing.

"Then we've got heather, which is an amazing botanical, it's got this real herby flavour to it but it's also kind of earthy as well. And obviously heather is synonymous with Scotland.

"Then one of my favourites is toasted oats. I'm a huge porridge fan, and I just love the the mouthfeel you get from them, you get a real creaminess. Then we've got Blackberry leaf, because actually the leaves of blackberries hold a lot of flavour.

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"Then there's Blaeberry, which almost like a blueberry, like a wild blueberry and they grow wild in Scotland. We have got Juniper in there, and you know what's interesting, I don't really love juniper. A lot of gins can be quite juniper heavy. However, I found when we took it out, I found that actually it lacked a bit of body. So we do have juniper in there and actually especially as a gin and tonic, I think you need that Juniper just to cut through a lot of tonics.

"Finally there's rhubarb, which is also one of the main botanicals because I have a lot of wild rhubarb growing around my house. What I've been doing the past few years is picking it and I'll roast it with a wee bit of orange or lemon zest, and I've been putting it in gin, making my own sort of pink rhubarb pink gin.

"I really wanted to get rhubarb in there because it's sweet, but not in a sort of overly sweet scents. There's a real umami about rhubarb. It's got like a real richness to it. I always think about the side of my mouth when I taste our gin.

"There's something about (that area) that I think a lot of other gins don't get to, and I think it's the rhubarb that adds that."

Outlander star Sam Heughan reveals his favourite whiskies
Sassenach Gin
Picture: John Devlin

The botanicals used are:

  • Juniper, one of only three native conifers to Scotland, Juniper has a rich history within the Scottish landscape. It is the key ingredient to gin, and has both great vibrancy but often dominates with bitter notes.
  • Heather, which covers the moorlands, glens and banks of Scotland, and gives vibrant floral notes.
  • Bramble leaf, which is found in woodlands, hedgerows, gardens, scrubland, cliffs and roadside verges - everywhere you turn in Scotland's landscape. This gives complex floral notes.
  • Scots pine resin. One of only three native conifers to Scotland - two of which are in Sassenach Gin. Scots pine has a rich history within the Scottish landscape. The resin of Scots pine is extracted and distilled in a separate distillate for full control of flavour. It provides an extremely clean flavour. Rich in conifer notes, with a slight menthol clean hit in the background, it tastes like the smell of a Scottish conifer forest on a cold crisp day. 
  • Wild Scottish crab apples. A prominent feature in the gin, this native fruit is an abundance in the autumn. These apples have a huge amount of acid tartness, which replaces the citric acid found in citrus fruits commonly used in gins with "apple acid" - Malic acid apparent in apples. A much more native flavour, crab apples deliver that same zingy, tart, fruity, fresh and lively flavour to the gin.  The apples go through a crafted process pre distillation to ensure no solid matter touches the heat, leaving those stewed fruit notes to the side and only bringing the most vibrant apple notes across. 
  • Toasted Oats. Historically one of the only grains that can be grown relatively easily in the harsh Scottish Highlands environments, the people of Scotland have a deep connection with this ingredient. These were introduced to the gin to counterpoint and balance the apple and conifer zingy tart top notes. Oats bring a savoury soft note, with a toasted preparation to bring body and depth of flavour.  
  • Rhubarb. Grown in valleys in Scotland, and an extremely common sight across Scotland's gardens. Harvested in Scotland since at least the late 1700's, rhubarb has been consumed and enjoyed in Scotland for a very long time. Sam said: "There is nothing quite like rhubarb for me. Unique in taste, part fruity, part savoury, part citrusy, all whilst being very bold in flavour. It brings all these things." Again an approach to bring the best notes has been taken, with the rhubarb being hard frozen for distillation. This allows the bold and clean notes to shine through, delaying the stewed effect from the heat of distillation. 
  • Blaeberry - a very good friend of Scots Pine, and often found near, but also spans the heaths and moorlands of Scotland. It gives a punchy sweet, fruity flavour, that brings bold body and vibrancy to the gin. Again an approach to bring the best notes has been taken, with the Blaeberry being hard frozen for distillation. This allows the bold and clean notes to shine through delaying the stewed effect from the heat of distillation. 

The Sassenach Gin perfect serve

Sam explained that he's a huge cocktail fan but, at 40 per cent ABV, he doesn't think that some can stand up in cocktails. Therefore the ABV in the Sassenach Gin is 42 per cent, meaning the gin can still be tasted in a G&T and gin based cocktails.

Sam recommended using Franklin and Sons natural Indian tonic water, and we enjoyed Sassenach gin and tonic with a slice of lemon but it'll also stand up very well in a gin martini or negroni.

Listen to the podcast in full

The Sassenach Wild Scottish Gin will launch this summer. Watch this space for more updates.

Watch the podcast in full

Known for cake making, experimental jam recipes, Champagne and gin drinking (and the inability to cook Gnocchi), Rosalind writes for The Scotsman on all things food and drink related as well as hosting Scran, The Scotsman's food and drink podcast.

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