Gin Tourism kicked-off, officially, in Scotland, in January 2016, with The Wine and Spirits Trade Association's publication of The Scottish Gin Trail and the emergence of a set of new craft spirits, ready to challenge the country’s whisky heritage.
Scotland is known for its whisky, however, Scottish spirit producers are also now beginning to spoil us with a choice of world-class gins (and vodkas).
Between 2010 and 2014, 73 new spirit distilleries opened in the UK and the number of gin brands registered in the country more than doubled.
Most of these (and some of the best) are in Scotland, with new ones due to open in Callander, Dundee and Glenshee, in the coming months.
There are now so many gin distilleries in Scotland that there is also an official Scottish Gin Trail, to help you navigate your way around – and if you explore this trail you will discover that each gin reflects its own particular ‘sense of place’ and that provenance is high on the botanical agenda.
A good place to start is Summerhall, particularly in June, as it is then - during the weekend of World Gin Day (which this year falls on June 11th) - that the venue plays host to the ever-growing Scottish Juniper Festival.
Based in a converted veterinary college - once called The (Royal) Dick Vet - it is also the home to Pickerings Gin, based on an old Bombay recipe, kept secret since 1947, and an arts centre that is the personal project of the husband of gin expert Geraldine Coates. Coates knows all that there is to know about gin and multi-award-winning Pickerings Gin, though not her work, directly, I am sure, meets with her approval.
A short drive, or scenic train ride along the coast, to Edinburgh’s east, you will find lots of opportunities for windy beach walks and some of Scotland’s best links golf courses, providing the opportunity for working-up a thirst.
This can be quenched by the local drop, North Berwick Gin - voted The World’s Best London Dry Gin, at The World’s Drinks Awards 2015 - in one of the area’s fine pubs, or by popping into Lockett Bros, wine merchants and whisky specialist, for a tasting.
If you wish to go no further than Scotland’s capital city, there is still plenty of gin to choose from. Not strictly a gin, at 20% abv, Edinburgh Gin’s Rhubarb and Ginger Liqueur will spice up most people’s lives (and once got me through a rather wet and windy cricket match).
This gin liqueur was also an IWSC Bronze Medal winner in 2015. Owned by The Spencerfield Spirit Company, Edinburgh Gin Distillery, offers tours of its gin distillery right in the centre of Edinburgh (and offers fun in its Heads and Tales bar post tour) nestled comfortably below Edinburgh Castle, in the New Town’s West End.
However, if planning on going north, a good place to stop, on the way, is St. Andrews, which is known as the home of golf. However, the town now has its own Golf Gin. Perfect for the 19th hole.
Eden Mill produces a range of gins in a disused paper mill, near St. Andrews, converted to accommodate a brewery and distillery and two beautiful 680 litre copper stills. Its Love Gin adds a touch of romance to the gin shelf. This heady gin (infused with hibiscus, rose petal, elderberry, rhubarb root, goji berry and raspberry leaf), turns pink, when tonic is added.
The brewery/distillery does regular gin and beer tours, where you get the opportunity to see just how hands-on and craft this distillery is.
If planning on staying in St. Andrews, book into Michelin-starred The Peat Inn, for a touch of luxury (and an excellent wine list), or one of its many B&Bs and spend the evening at The St. Andrews Brewing Company. This great little bar not only sells its own beers, but a whole range of guest beers and ciders and a totally excellent set of unique whiskies and gins. In this multinational University City, you are also likely to meet some interesting characters…
If you are heading straight to Speyside, in search of a some of Scotland’s finest whiskies, you will also find the distillery that makes one of the best gins to come out of Scotland – Caorunn, which is open to the public in the summer months, only.
Winning Silver at The International Wine and Spirits Competition (IWSC) 2015, Caorunn is a true gin star. Gaelic for rowanberry, this intoxicating mixture contains these characteristically Scottish berries, collected by teams of foragers, along with 10 other botanicals, including heather, bog myrtle and coul blush apple that take you back to Cairngorm Mountains of Scotland, where this gin is made.
This sense of place is very much a theme in these newer distilleries. Initiated, on Islay, with Mark Reyner’s creation The Botanist, provenance has been taken in new directions by creative ‘gintrepreneurs’, such as Jonathan Engel, who, in collaboration with PlantLife.org and The Forestry Commission have revived Scotland’s juniper production, enabling his Crossbill Gin, distilled in near Avimore, to be made with 100 per cent Scottish juniper.
If you can avoid being distracted by the plethora of fine whisky distilleries and the bright lights of Inverness on route, then don’t stop until you hit the edge of the massive cliffs of the northern edge, of mainland Scotland.
Forget Cornwall, Rick Stien and posing around in a pair of board shorts, Thurso is where you will find The UK’s top class surfing (and seafood!), however you will need a full body suit, before stepping on a board.
As well as visiting the spectacular Dunnet Bay and its eponymous distillery, to sample some of the multi-award-winning Rock Rose Gin, make sure that you book a table at the joint UK Sustainable Restaurant of The Year, The Captain’s Galley Restaurant, for the full flavour of the ocean. The Rose name come’s from the locally harvested Rhodiola Rose that grows on edge of the. In the past six months Rock Rose has launched a Navy Strength Gin, at 57% abv, aimed at the mixologist looking for a cocktail gin, where the flavour of the gin shines through. Take the camper van, park-up in the campsite, breath-in the ozone, pour yourself a Rock Rose and enjoy the view eating your fish and chips.
If remoteness is your thing (and you have now got a taste for this) you could push the boat out and catch a ferry to Lerwick, on The Shetland Isles, then on to The Shetland Reel, on to Unst, The UK’s most northerly-inhabited island. The company’s Shetland Reel Gin contains locally grown apple mint and its Ocean Scent Gin, bladderwrack seaweed.
The alternative is to visit one of the newest (and most remote) distilleries in Scotland, The Isle of Harris Distillery, on The Outer Hebrides, recently voted (along with its Siamese twin, Lewis) Tripadvisor’s top island in Europe. On the fringes of The Atlantic Ocean, Harris is a god-fearing and treeless land, where 60 per cent of the population speak Gaelic and the distillery is closed to the public on Sundays. However, a day of rest is not a bad thing on these islands, famous for their white sandy beaches.
Visit around mid-summer, when the sun barely sets. Spend your days surfing, cycling on single track roads, or SUP-ing, on the shallow inlets, then light a beach bonfire and eat fresh seafood, on the beach, under the midnight sun, along with Isle of Harris Gin, which is made with sweet sea kelp, foraged from the shore at low tide.
However, it is not just Scottish gin that is catching the attention of the world’s top spirits experts. Top of the Scottish vodka list comes Ogilvy vodka, made on ‘high planes’ of the Angus countryside, from potatoes, this ISWC Gold-Outstanding-winning Vodka is super-smooth, sweet and creamy, on the palate.
Ogilvy also won the coveted ISWC Vodka award and an award for its packaging design. The farm does not, as yet run tours, however if you see this fine spirit in a bar, take a break from gin and order it over ice.
And another Scottish ‘single-estate’ Angus vodka, Arbikie is made on site, from potatoes, on the Stirling family’s estate. This is a vodka with a bit of swank that has been voted one of the world’s best vodkas by GQ magazine.
Despite all this, Arbikie knows where it is coming from. Made close to one of Scotland’s most special beaches, Lunan Bay and Arbroath’s, equally, hidden gem, The But’n’Ben restaurant, Arbikie’s home turf is worth a visit, particularly in July and August, when this sun-drenched area, famous for the Arbroath Smokie, produces some of Britain’s best strawberries, best served-up with a scoop of Arbroath’s famous ice-cream and enjoyed by its attractive harbour.
You can also explore The Scottish Gin Trail, by visiting some of Scotland’s finest gin palaces (please see my next article), or buying a ticket for events, such as The Scottish Juniper Festival, or Crossbill’s Gin Shed Festival, on The Inshriach Estate, near Avimore (held in August, in the Channel 4’s Amazing Spaces 2015 ‘Shed of the Year’).
The Scottish Gin Club will happily lead you astray, London Cocktail Week, will provide you with lots of Scots straight-up, or on the rocks – and, if you don’t want to leave your couch, pour yourself a drink and log-on to gintime.com.