Scottish Gin

By: Hillary Lyons

Summer is in full swing and you know what that means: it’s gin & tonic season. Though we typically associate gin with the English, the G&T has taken the world by storm in recent years and Scotland is stepping in to slake our thirst.*

I know what you’re thinking: hold up, Scotland’s the land of whisky! In fact, Scotch gin dates back to the 1600s, when the Dutch first introduced Edinburgh to gin’s close cousin genever. When taxes on imported spirits rose, local entrepreneurs began crafting their own. It was only in the late 1800s that whisky came to dominate the domestic distilling industry and it’s maintained a stronghold ever since. But strict regulations around the aging of this amber spirit, coupled with the proliferation of craft distilleries throughout the UK, has led distillers to find innovative ways to sustain their companies through this long aging process.

 Rolling out the barrels at Eden Mill Distillery. Photo compliments of  The Guardian .

Rolling out the barrels at Eden Mill Distillery. Photo compliments of The Guardian.

The law dictates that Scotch whisky must be barrel aged for at least three years, and as you can imagine, the start-up costs of distilling are not small. Besides ingredients, there’s the cost of copper stills, well aged barrels, bottles and much more to consider. Since gin requires the same equipment, some distillers have decided to experiment with botanicals both traditional and unconventional to bring in shorter term revenue. Little did they know the craft gin market would explode. The boom in demand for artisanal spirits has led gin to excel in Scotch country to the point that 70% of all British gin is made in Scotland, making it the world’s leading producer.

To be called gin, the spirit must be infused with three core botanicals: juniper berries, coriander seed for spice, and angelica root which acts as a binding agent. London dry gin (such familiar labels as Gordon’s or Tanqueray, both of which produce most of their spirit in Scotland) is considered the purist’s gin, containing only these three botanicals, but gins today can contain up to 47 different herbs and spices (how Monkey 47 get its name).

 Various botanicals for gin distilling. Photo compliments of Gin Foundry.

Various botanicals for gin distilling. Photo compliments of Gin Foundry.

How it works is distillers simply suspend a hessian bag or sachet of their botanical blend in the still. Given Scotland’s lush hills and lochs, woods and coastline, there are endless botanicals to choose from. Not to mention, the focus on sourcing locally and using natural ingredients greatly appeals to the millennial market. Johnny Forsyth, Mintel drinks analyst, notes of this trend, “Gin was in the right place at the right time.”

Gin, unlike whisky can go from vat to glass in a matter of weeks, so not only are the distilleries able to hit the market with product faster, but (as with beer) they’re able to toy with their infusion and perfect their blends much more rapidly. As Scott Fergusson, Eden Mill’s head distiller says, “I spend lots of time thinking about recipes that will work, you’re free to experiment and you can taste the effects in a matter of days. So, if it needs a bit more pepper, for example, you can change the results quickly. It’s made the job much more fun.”

 A line up of some of the best Scottish distilleries, large and small. Photo compliments of The Edinburgh Woollen Mill.

A line up of some of the best Scottish distilleries, large and small. Photo compliments of The Edinburgh Woollen Mill.

To kick start your summer sipping, here are a few of our favorite Scottish gins (just be sure to pair them with the perfect tonic, a house favorite of Charles Communications is Fever Tree which makes both a standard and a light version for you carb counters ):

·      Eden Mill – Playing with unusual infusions such as their hop gin or ‘love gin’ (which uses rhubarb, raspberry and hibiscus to impart a delicate pink color and bright fruit flavors), Eden Mill is one of the pioneers of Scottish craft gins. With their creative, balanced combinations, these gins hold up on their own or make for complex G&Ts.

·      Arbikie Highland Estate – Arbikie is a fourth-generation, family-owned working farm first and distillery second. The estate farms their own wheat and many of their own botanicals (others are locally sourced by Master Distiller Kirsty Black) to produce gins that give a true sense of the Scottish terroir.

·      Teasmith Gin – In true British fashion, this distillery celebrates its region’s history as a key port in the tea trade by infusing their gin with handpicked black tea. Paired with mint and a delicate tonic, this gin makes for one delectably refreshing G&T on a hot summer day.

* For the cocktail historians out there, we recommend a fabulous book on the history of this quintessentially British beverage by our friend Camper English titled Tonic Water AKA G&T WTF.