Around Burns night we traditionally celebrate whisky (I like Talisker 10 YO with haggis and neaps). But Scotland’s reputation for a different spirit is newly on the up. I’m talking about gin. Scottish Gin has grown rapidly over the last few years and, if you haven’t already, it’s worth checking out because much of it is very good.
It was a Scottish Gin, Height of Arrows from Holyrood Distillery, that won The Whisky Exchange’s prestigious Gin of the Year award in 2021. Other excellent new(ish) Scottish gins that have made waves include Lind & Lime (made in Leith, it smells of pink peppercorns and lime) and Isle of Harris Gin (which comes in a beautifully designed bottle).
But there are plenty more out there. The Scottish Gin Society, which was founded in 2016, now lists 218 Scottish gins. Of these, 135 are distilled in their own Scottish distillery and a further 66 are distilled in contract distilleries. If you’re thinking that this doesn’t add up, there are also Scottish-owned gins distilled outside Scotland as well as gins that are ‘cuckoo distilled’ – meaning that the brand’s distiller oversees the distillation in someone else’s still.
Two of the forerunners of the trend are still two of my favourites: solid, nicely balanced gins with beautiful fragrance and detail. They are Caorunn, which in 2009 became the first gin made in a working malt distillery, the Balmenach distillery in Speyside, and The Botanist, first produced in 2011 by the Bruichladdich Distillery on Islay. Gin, it hardly needs pointing out, is a very useful product for a whisky distillery because it doesn’t require years of ageing so generates immediate cash flow.
Many Scottish gins speak of the plants that grow around the wild shorelines of the country’s windswept islands and inlets. There are several gins whose botanicals include salty seaweeds. For instance, Barra Atlantic Gin which is made using carrageen seaweed that has been hand-harvested from Barra while Isle of Harris gin is made with sugar kelp that is picked by divers from sea lochs around the Outer Hebrides. Heather is another popular botanical. Its sweet, honeyed scent is used in Strathearn Heather Rose Gin and Isle of Bute Heather Gin, as well as in the gin made by Great Glen, a tiny new distillery that launched last year on the Great Glen Faultline on the shores of Loch Ness.
But if foregoing whisky in this most Scottish of weeks feels like too much, then Caorunn suggests combining Scotch and Scottish gin in a “Burns Night Martini”. Their recipe mixes 20ml Caorunn, 5ml Old Pulteney 12 YO, 25ml Italicus and 30ml dry vermouth and is made by throwing – pouring and straining the ingredients from one tin into the other.