When most people think of Scotland, one of the first things that comes to mind is Whisky. Distilleries have been warming hearts the world over for hundreds of years. More recently Scotland has begun to make a bit of a name for itself in the world of Gin.
When a new Distillery starts it takes a considerable amount of time for the ageing process needed to make great whisky. Unless they have a huge pot of money to keep things ticking over while they wait patiently for 12 years, they need to find something else to keep the business running. In many cases the answer to this challenge is Gin.
With so many amazing Gins springing up all over Scotland, I though it was the perfect time for a From Real People feature on the best independent Gin makers that the country has to offer. During our trip we’ll meet up with some amazing people combining local ingredients with a passion for perfection.
1 – Isle of Harris Gin
The Social Distillery
First on the list is the fantastic Isle of Harris gin. The distillery is based in the picturesque surroundings of Tarbert and it defines itself as a Social Distillery that has the local community at it’s very heart. It’s founders were a group of local men and women called the Tarbert Ten who are at the centre of day-to-day life at the distillery. As the distillery grows, more and more members of the tight knit local Harris community become involved in supporting their community effort. Despite considerable beauty of the island and boatloads of summer tourists, economic-life on the island is always a challenge. This means that every bottle of Gin sold helps to benefit real people at the heart of their local community and ensures the continued success of the Distillery. When you want to buy a bottle of Gin as a special for someone supporting a small local distillery like this means you get more than just a great gift. You also get that warm feeling in your heart that you did something good at the same time.
Tours and a Cafe – Perfect On a Visit to Tarbert
The distillery is located by the shore of East Loch Tarbert (to the left of the picture). In the summer you can take a tour and you can also visit their fantastic canteen and distillery shop as well. They have all sorts of wonderful things to buy, not just something fabulous to drink. The Gin itself is the embraces island life. Even the amazing design of the bottle evokes a feeling of the sea and the amazing beaches for which Harris is so famous. You can also buy some fantastic glasses with the same design as the bottle. We have some at home and I just love them.
Infused with Kelp – A Taste of the Sea
Isle of Harris Gin tastes just like the sea, which is thanks to the inclusion of local Sugar kelp. This is hand harvested by local diver Lewis Mackenzie from the deep underwater forests of the Outer Hebrides. It is combined with eight other carefully chosen botanicals ensuring a perfect balance between the bitter juniper and pine with sweet fruit flavours of mango, grapefruit and orange. This gives the Isle of Harris Gin a wonderful fruity flavour coupled with a dry, flinty taste. The five distillers are all local men, from crofters to former joiners. They definitely produce a spirit worthy of representing the island and it’s fabulously resourceful people.
If you can’t get to the distillery in person, you can buy their gin through their online shop here. They even have a click and collect service that enables you to pick up their gin from various locations across Scotland. Each location is hand-picked as representatives of the island and the wonderful Gin it produces. I also recommend signing up for their email updates so that you can read the stories they tell behind the locals who work at the distillery and ensure that your heart stays firmly embedded in their community.
2 – Shetland Reel Gin
Most Northerly Gin in the British Isles
Next we feature Shetland Reel gin from the UK’s most northerly inhabited island of Unst in the Shetland Islands. The distillery has its home in a place called Saxa Vord which until 2006 hosted an RAF radar station that formed a key part of the defence of the UK. At the heart of the story behind Shetland Reel is a group of four Unst islanders trying to ensure that their fragile community could survive the closure of the RAF Station and the loss of the jobs that went with it. Frank and Debbie Strang have spent recent years regenerating the former RAF radar site into an award winning tourist resort. Stuart and Wilma Nickerson own and run the Malt Whisky Company which sells a range of independently bottled single malt Scotch whiskies. Stuart has over 30 years experience of managing distilleries and also works as a consultant in the industry. Meanwhile, their daughter Jennifer (aka the Mistress of Malt) is making waves in Ireland with the Tipperary Boutique Whisky Distillery.
Small Batches and an Impressive Range
At Shetland Reel the size of their still makes them one of the smallest commercial Gin distilleries in the UK. They produce small batches and have a very impressive range, especially for a distillery of their size. Their standard Gin is made with 9 different botanicals that has a wonderfully subtle mix of spices and citrus. which leaves it with a clean and fresh finish. They also have their Ocean Scent Gin, made with specially harvested bladderwrack seaweed. This adds a great depth of flavour that makes it great for using in cocktails. Their Simmer Gin has a wonderful orange flavour whilst their Holly Days special for Christmas 2016 has a bit more juniper, spice and citrus to give it an unforgettable flavour. Their graduate distiller Marc Watson was the mastermind behind their our limited edition cask-aged Up Helly Aa Gin. This adds notes of wood and spices to give an extra spark and is a perfect match for the famous Shetland Festival that it is named after.
You can find out where to lay your hands on some Shetland Reel using their website’s interactive map. They also have an online shop as well, at the link here! Like the other Gins in this journey around Scotland, the lovely folk at Shetland Reel are helping to ensure the long term sustainability of the most northerly island in the UK. Add their Gin to your shopping list and you’ll not only be getting an amazing Gin but you’ll be playing a part in supporting their community and its’ economy.
3 – Dunnet Bay Distillers – Rock Rose Gin
A Husband and Wife Distillery
For the next gin we head back to the mainland and the wonderful Rock Rose gin that comes from the spectacular Dunnet Bay distillery. It’s the most northerly distillery in mainland Britain that lies mid-way between John O’Groats and Thurso. It’s rural location in the very North of Scotland and another place where it’s as much about the community as the Gin itself.
Rock Rose is the brainchild of husband and wife team Martin (the brains) and Claire Murray (the common sense). From the inception of their first idea for a distillery they were ably supported by their dog George. He kept watch as Martin and Claire experimented in their garage. He also monitored them as they first used their bottling and labelling equipment. Sadly George is no longer with them but his memory lives on in the amazing Gin distilled in Dunnet Bay.
5 People and 5 Ways to Seal the Wax
There are five key members of the Rock Rose production team some of whom have their own signature method of sealing the wax on the top of each bottle of Gin. Claire’s mum Margaret seals her bottles at an angle while Martin’s dad Rab puts his wax seals bang on straight. Right at the start of the process Dr Hanna is the one who can be found growing weird and wonderful things in the Geodome she built at the distillery. There is also Laura, whose main role is to spread the word about how awesome Rock Rose is, she also provides a great tour of the distillery. With the other members of the team, Carol, Libby and Sarah, it really is both a family and a community based business.
A Perfect Blend of 18 Botanicals
Rock Rose is distilled in Margaret, their copper still. The gin is named after “Rhodiola rosea”, one of the 18 different botanicals that makes Rock Rose such a special Gin. The Rock Rose is famed for its health benefits and was once sought after by the Vikings for its strength and vitality. Together the various ingredients combine beautifully to create a really amazing gin with great citrus notes. As well as the standard Rock Rose, they also produce a number of different specials including some amazing seasonal variations. You can buy Rock Rose Gin in shops all over the world.
When you are faced with a wall of Gin and don’t know what to choose, going for an independent brand like Rock Rose means that you are also supporting a family and a community at the same time. If you can’t find their gin in a shop near you, it is also available through their online shop. If you enjoy Vodka, they also have the delicate and fresh Holy Grass Vodka.
4 – Crossbill Gin – Inshriach Distillery Aviemore
Gin from the Cairngorms
For the next Gin we travel to Aviemore, a town within the Cairngorms National Park in the Highlands. Crossbill is the result of the efforts of Walter Micklethwait, his girlfriend Lizzy Westman and their business partner Jonathan Engels. They have transformed a run-down hen house at Inshriach House into an amazing project that was named Shed of the Year 2015. The shed houses not just the distillery, but also features a farm shop selling vintage clothing, food, postcards and hand-carved items, a ‘ladies’ waiting room’ complete with piano and comfy armchairs and a Wild West-themed saloon bar.
A Community Project
Inshriach House was built in 1906 as a shooting lodge for a Glasgow publishing family. Today, the Crossbill distillery is just one of the initiatives that has helped to create a community project that helps ensure that both the house and the 200 acre estate contribute in a sustainable way to the local community and beyond. In the woods, there is Tom’s wood shop that houses Woodentom and his green woodworking and carving operation. The squash court hosts Jon Panniers’ guitar workshop. There are also a fantastic range of interesting and novel camping options for the adventurous tourists amongst you seeking something a little bit different. You can find out more about the House and Estate here.
A Twist of Rosehip
Crossbill Gin uses a selection of simple botanicals that combines local Scottish juniper berries and rosehip. Walter and Lizzy take a very simple approach to their distilling to create a really tasty Gin that is full of pine notes and is balanced perfectly with sweeter, slightly fruity touches of rosehip. Crossbill is named after a small bird which has an unusually shaped beak to help it get at the seeds of conifer cones. Their Gin is made in small batches, which sells quickly but keep an eye on their webshop and snap one up when they come on sale.
5 – Gin Bothy – Angus
Kim and Peel Farm
Heading south from Aviemore towards Dundee the Gin Bothy is a distillery located at Peel Farm in Angus. Gin Bothy is a one-woman led by the fantastic Kim (in the photo below). She describes herself as the “Accidental Gin Maker.” Originally it started out as The Jam Bothy, which even won a World Jampionship competition for some good old fashioned tasty jam! During the process of jam-making with local berries there was an excess of fresh berry juice. After some time experimenting with the infusion process using gin. The Gin Bothy was born.
And Environmentally Friendly As Well
A few years ago, Kim began sampling her creations 3 years ago at Peel Farm’s gift shop and various local shows. From that point, she hasn’t looked back. She creates a standard Gin, but her main speciality involves using whole fresh local fruits to create a range of very special flavoured Gins. The process involves a great deal of manual labour to hand turn the fruit, taking an awful lot of time and effort. The result is something very special indeed. Kim is passionate about recycling, so if you bring your empty bottle back to the Bothy you’ll get money off your next purchase.
Small Batches – Big Selection
The Gin Bothy’s original Gin is handmade in small batches. It infuses the finest botanicals, including heather, milk thistle, Scottish pine needles, hawthorn root and rosemary. Together they combine to create a beautifully refreshing gin. Some of Kim’s other special Gin varieties include Gunshot Gin that’s infused with cinnamon, cloves and mixed spices. It tastes especially good with ginger ale or even heated straight on a cold day. You can buy Kim’s Gin Bothy creations in person at the Farm or via the webshop here.
6 – Strathearn Distillery – Perth
Strathearn Scottish Gin – From Whisky to Gin
We start the 2nd part of our Scottish Gin tour in the village of Methven, which sits in beautiful countryside on the A85 west of Perth. Here we find what is probably one of the smallest Gin distillers in the whole of Scotland. The Distillery was founded in 2013 by Tony Reeman-Clark. Initially, he started out adding to the growing number of Whisky makers in Scotland.
In common with many other new Distilleries, the need to age Whisky for quite a long time left a cash flow gap that needed to be filled with something else. It was at this point that Tony turned his hand to Gin and having tasted most of their varied range I am very glad he did. So will you, if you try some of his amazing Gin flavours. You can read more about Tony and the other members of the Strathearn Distillery team on their website here. It’s great to feature another local business that sits at the heart of their small village community.
Learn the Art of Gin Making at Gin School
The wide range of Gin that Tony and the team make is a huge passion for all of them. They share this passion through a number of different tasting experiences. If you have ever fancied the idea of being a distiller yourself, they are even happy to share a few of their secrets at their Distillers Experience where you can spend up to 5 days with them learning all about the art of distilling.
Four Different Types of Gin
Their different varieties of Gin start with their famous Juniper Gin. As the name suggests this has wonderful Juniper flavours at its heart. It has a light peppery taste and a gentle sherbet finish as the citrus develops later on in the mouth.
There is also the Heather Rose Gin, which is an amazing Whisky colour in the bottle. When you add tonic to it there is a transformation to a delicate pink colour. It is made by compounding a base gin with additional delicate botanicals such as rose petals and purple heather flowers. This add both extra flavour and colour to it.
Next is the Oaked Highland Gin, where Whisky and Gin meet in a smooth oaky flavour. With notes of juniper, citrus and vanilla it is finished off with a subtle smokiness.
Finally, there is Citrus Gin that is designed for use in cocktails and long-drinks. This is made with elements of zest, herbs and spices that includes a hint of Italian lemons and Spanish grapefruit with kaffir lime leaves and star anise. At Strathearn they have an amazing selection of Gin made by a dedicated and passionate group of people.
7 – Eden Mill Gin – Guardbridge
Gin Right Next to RAF Leuchars
The Eden Mill Distillery holds a very special place in my heart. I spent a memorable couple of years stationed at RAF Leuchars, which is right next to their distillery in the village of Guardbridge near St Andrews. This was about 15 years ago and back then the distillery was a working paper mill. Sadly, the mill closed in 2008 with the loss of 180 jobs. It was a terrible blow to a small village like Guardbridge, so it is fantastic that the site is back in action. The location of the distillery at the site brings history back full circle. Originally, the site was first used in 1810 by the Haig family for their Seggie Whisky Distillery. It was turned into a Mill in 1874 in an attempt by the family to find a most profitable business.
From An Idea to A Great Distillery
The Eden Mill Brewery and Distillery began in 2012. It was founded by Paul Miller, who has an enviable reputation in the brewing industry. He previously worked for the huge brewery company Molson Coors as well as Diageo and Glenmorangie. Back in 2006 after a day looking after the former company’s CEO, Pete Coors, on a golfing trip to St Andrews he was asked to arrange a tour of the nearest brewery or distillery later that day. Being unable to think of any distilleries or breweries in the St Andrews area, the idea for Eden Mill was conceived.
Having discovered that the a Guardbridge Paper Mill might be available, the company was formed with some private investors. The goal was to establish a sustainable business at the heart of it’s local community. In just a few years, Eden Mill has gone from strength to strength. Today it employs around 40 people making not just Gin, but also Whisky and some wonderful Beer as well.
Eden Mill Gin – 3 Different Varieties
Eden Mill make 3 different types of gin. The Original Gin is a classic London Dry that is made using local Fife seabuckthorn berries. It’s tart berry flavour is balanced with citrus elements drawn from other botanicals such as lemon balm and citrus peel. Next up, they have Love Gin which is a light blush Pink Gin that perfectly combines local botanicals and exotic fruits. Finally, in homage to St Andrews “The home of Golf”, there is Golf Gin that is inspired by the many different botanicals that grow around the gold courses in the local area. You can read more about their different gins (and the whisky and beer as well) on their website here.
Read All About the Eden Mill Team
On the From Real People blog, I love telling the stories of independent businesses like Eden Mill. Hopefully I can inspire more people to make different choices when they shop. One of the things I particularly love about Eden Mill is that their website’s contact page tells the story behind all the members of the brewery/ distillery team. Take a look and remind yourself that buying a bottle of Eden Mill gin helps all these people feed their families and keep a roof over their heads. You can also take a range of different tours of their Eden Mill. It’s a perfect idea for a great day out if you are ever in St Andrews.
8 – NB Gin – North Berwick
From a Pressure Cooker to Perfection
For the 3rd Gin in this tour of Central Scotland, we head East from Edinburgh to North Berwick. This is where the lovely folk who make NB Gin are located. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the NB name comes from the seaside town in East Lothian where husband and wife team Vivienne and Steve Muir create 2 varieties of Gin as well as some amazing Vodka. Their Gin journey started by experimenting in their kitchen at with a pressure cooker and some old central heating pipes. They used their makeshift ‘still’ to create the perfect blend of botanicals worthy of putting their name to. Armed with an awesome London Gin recipe they invested in a custom-built still and the distillery was formed.
London Dry Gin Perfection
NB Gin make 2 different varieties of Gin. First up is their classic London Dry Gin, which is a clean and crisp perfect grain spirit with 42% ABV. In 2015, just two years after starting the distillery, Vivienne and Steve’s Gin was voted the Best London Dry Gin in the world. Their other Gin is a 57% ABV ‘Navy Strength’ Gin. This higher ABV is the proof at which gunpowder would still ignite, should gin be spilt on it. It was the established way Navy officers would test the strength of their gin supplies, ensuring that they were not diluted by unscrupulous suppliers or fellow sailors.
Tours Coming Soon…..
In the coming months, Vivenne and Steve will start doing tours of their distillery at Halfland Barns, near Tantallon Castle. The tours will aim to establish an experience of learning and luxury like no other distillery tour experienced before. As a small distillery they will be welcoming you to their home and sharing their continual search for perfection. You can find out more about NB Gin on their website here.
9 – Edinburgh Gin
A Long History of Gin in Edinburgh – Who’d Have Thought
As we head towards the end of our Gin Tour of Scotland, our penultimate stop is in Scotland’s capital. In the West End at the foot of the famous Castle is the Edinburgh Gin Distillery. You might be surprised to learn that there is a long history of Gin making in Edinburgh. There are records of countless distilleries that go back to the 1700s. By 1777 there were eight Gin Distilleries in the city, When unregistered stills are taken into account the number was almost 400! Most of these were centred around the Leith docks. With very close trading links with the Netherlands, the gin makers had easy access to a wide range of spices. The closure of the Melrose Drover Distillery in 1974 saw Edinburgh’s long association with Gin draw to an end.
The Nichol Family and the Spencerfield Spirit Company
The company behind Edinburgh Gin is the Spencerfield Spirit Company, who have a long tradition as a great business with community and family values at their core. The company was first established in 1970 as a Whisky distillery by husband and wife team Alex and Jane Nichol. As far back as 1970 Alex put his experience working for Glenmorangie to good use with the wonderful Sheep Dip and Pig’s Nose Whiskys. In 2010 they branched out into Gin and launched the first batch of Edinburgh Gin.
Bringing Gin Back to Edinburgh
The distillery brought Gin making back to Edinburgh in 2014 with the opening of their current site in the West End of the city. Their two stills called Flora and Caledonia create the magic under the watchful eye of David who is their lead distiller. The Distillery also has an amazing partnership with nearby Heriot-Watt University, which sees the Distilling done by students as part of a knowledge transfer programme with their brewing and distilling course. More recently, the Nichol family have partnered with Ian Macloed Distillers who are another independent family business with a long heritage in the drinks business. You can read more about the Nichols and the Spencerfield Spirit Company on their website here.
A Wonderful Range of Amazing Gin
The classic Edinburgh Gin is a perfect balance of locally sourced and grown Scottish botanicals that includes juniper berries, milk thistle, pine and heather. They also have the wonderful Cannonball, Navy Strength Gin as well. From there, the full selection is extremely wide and varied. There is Christmas Gin with rich spices and sweet orange that has almost a honey like quality that is amazing on a cold winter evening. For the summer, there the wonderful Seaside Gin that is made with seaweed, ground ivy and scurvy grass. It’s like a bottled version of the amazing coastal villages in Fife that I love so much. Add to that some amazing flavoured liqueurs including Raspberry (my wife’s favourite), Elderflower, Plum and Vanilla as well as Rhubarb and Ginger there is one for everyone.
Not only can you take a tour of the Edinburgh Distillery, but you can also enjoy their gin with some great food at their Heads and Tales Bar. Read more about both the Distillery and the Bar on their website here. I also found an amazing post from fellow blogger Victoria on her Bridges and Balloons site describing her trip gin tasting at the distillery, check it here.
10 – The Glasgow Distillery Company – Makar Gin
Final Stop – Glasgow
For the final stop on this tour of independent Scottish Gin makers we head to the wonderful city of Glasgow. My wife Trudy is originally from a town just outside Glasgow so I’ve spent a lot of time there so it’s the perfect place to finish. I meet a lot of people who haven’t been there but have misconceptions about it not being the kind of place you would visit on a holiday or city break. If you haven’t been, I really would recommend it. There are some fantastic galleries like the Kelvingrove Art Museum and the Burrell Collection. You can even visit the house of the amazing Charles Rennie Mackintosh. There’s the Riverside Museum of Transport and Travel, the Science museum, the River Clyde, parks and amazing shopping as well. For an evening out, there’s the wonderful cobbled Ashton Lane. It really is a fab place to visit.
Bringing Gin Making Back to Glasgow
Gin making in Glasgow can be traced as far back as the late 1700s. There are records of the Glasgow Distillery Company as far back as 1825, where it took over the operation of Glasgow’s first distillery in Dundashill. It closed it’s doors in 1903 and by the 1940s the Glasgow distillery scene had been completely obliterated. After the Second World War, the British Government supported the re-opening of mothballed distilleries and used Scotch Whisky to generate hard currency in a tough economic time. As the world rediscovered a love for Whisky, there were no distilleries established in Glasgow at all. This was mainly because of the cost of land. Thankfully, all this changed in 2013 when The Glasgow Distillery Company was reborn. Owned by Liam Hughes, a veteran of the drinks industry and accountant Ian McDougall the Makar Glasgow Gin was launched in October 2014.
Another Great Scottish Gin Collection
The name Makar is the Scottish word for a poet, bard or story teller. With their 4 different types of Gin, the Glasgow Distillery range combines different ingredients so that each Gin tells a story of it’s own. First there is the Original Gin
that is a vibrant yet traditional Juniper based Gin. Then there is the Maker Old Tom that is a sweeter style of gin that recreates the older style of Gin that complements the juniper with orange peel, almonds and a little honey. It’s a great Gin for cocktails like a Tom Collins. The name Old Tom comes of the 18th Century when taxes Gin were ridiculously high and sales were driven underground. Many pubs would have a cat (the Old Tom) on the wall in the street outside. Under the paw would be a slot for money and a lead tube. Customer would insert a coin in the slot and inside the pub a barman would dispense Gin through the tube.
The other 2 Gins include an Oak Aged Gin that has some amazing smoky notes from Oak casks. I love this Gin a lot and it’s fantastic in my favourite Negroni cocktail. Finally there is a Mullberry Aged Gin that is matured in virgin casks made of Mulberry Wood. This adds a hint of lemon, thyme, vanilla and a peppery finish that make for something a little bit different compared to a normal Dry Gin. What a great way to finish this Scottish Gin tour. If you want to read more about The Glasgow Distillery Company, check our their website here.
The End of the Gin Tour
So that’s it folks, the Scottish Gin Tour comes to an end. There’s been some fantastic Gins along the way, all coming from independent businesses of all types and sizes. Hopefully learning more about the different Gin’s will encourage you to seek out something exciting from an independent Gin Distiller the next time you are looking for a bottle. When you buy from the companies featured in this article you don’t make another faceless shareholder a but more money you feed families and support communities. Imagine how much sweeter you Gin and Tonic will taste knowing that.