Glasgow-based gin school named in NYT's top '52 places to go in 2018’

Crossbill Gin School at the Barras wins coveted place on US newspaper’s 2018 travel list and sees its bookings soar, writes Shân Ross

Published 15th Aug 2018
Updated 18 th Sep 2023

A small artisan gin ­company based in the Barras in Glasgow is one of only two destinations in the UK to make it to the world’s top “52 places to go in 2018’ list in the New York Times.

Crossbill Gin, a handcrafted Highland dry gin containing juniper berries harvested in the Cairngorm National Park in the Highlands, rosehip and Speyside water, scooped 10th place on a list including La Paz, Bolivia, Trinidad, St Lucia and San Juan.

New Orleans was the winner with Bristol in 51st position.

Jonathan Engels, who founded the small, bespoke award-winning company 12 years ago, said ­immediately after travel journalist Jada Yuan’s ‘52 Places’ story ­appeared in the NYT, online ­bookings for his Crossbill Gin School workshops shot up with bookings from US visitors.

He said: “To say we were ­surprised to get a phone call ­telling us a journalist from the New York Times was planning to come to Glasgow to see us would be an ­understatement.

“It has a readership of over 400,000 and the idea was to find something slightly different, something alternative in each country.

“Scottish gin is now big in the US and Germany. This is because of the popularity of whisky and they can see the similarities with another spirit which is often made in small batches in small distilleries.”

The NYT received more than 13,000 applicants when it advertised for a “52 Places Traveller, a “first-of-its kind job” looking for writer to visit every destination on the 2018 Places to Go list.

Ms Yuan admitted she overdid the gin and had to ask Glasgow-based freelance travel writer Jamie Lafferty, a ­finalist in the competition and her driver-guide in Scotland, for help as she had difficulty deciphering her notes.

“Jonathan makes award-winning gin. And that school, it’s brand-new and in a part of Glasgow that’s been in decline for a long time.

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“It was the Barrowlands, it used to have a lively secondhand market, but a lot like our profession, has been swallowed up by the internet. Now they’re calling it BAAD, Barrows Art and Design. So it’s a bold project to replace the life that was before,” she wrote.

Ms Yuan also wrote about others “fun things” she did in Glasgow.

“A pub quiz at The Sparkle Horse; whisky at the Potstill (where the main bartender has a foot-long beard and wears a leather kilt); wandering around Glasgow ­University, which looks just like Hogwarts; and visiting the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, which had an exhibition in which dozens of bald heads with varying expressions hung from the ceiling.”

However, Ms Yuan’s warned fellow travellers to research Airbnbs.

“In Glasgow, I wound up with a beautiful apartment that was in a rather disturbing building.

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“Dirty hallways, doors with ­broken glass. I arrived in the city close to midnight and picked up my key from a lockbox while an inebriated man swayed next to me. Might I suggest doing a thorough vetting before booking?”

Earlier this year Crossbill Gin School workshop was rated as one of the “35 best Wild Weekends in the UK” by National Geographic Traveller magazine.

In the 18th century, Scotland’s juniper was exported to Holland to produce Jenever, the ancestor of modern gin, but the tradition died out around 200 years ago.

Mr Engels, who wanted to revive Scotland’s juniper harvesting works with the Forestry Commission and conservation charity, to harvest it, was helped by students on the post-graduate brewing and distilling course at ­Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University.

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