Botanically speaking

Edinburgh Gin bottle

Scotland may be famous for its whisky, but it could equally be as famous for its gin … as the bulk of the UK’s gin production is here. Gordon’s with more than 40% of the market is distilled at Leven as is Tanqueray, while Hendrick’s is made at Girvan. More lately however its Scottish craft premium gins that have been making bartenders and consumers throughout the country stand up and take notice.

Certainly Hendrick’s could be credited with starting the gin renaissance in the UK much in the same way Magners kicked off the cider revival, but today its craft gin distillers who are making great strides.

At the start of the the year drinks analysts CGA said that premium gins were among the drinks to watch in 2015, certainly craft gin sales are up 49% in the past two years with craft gins now claiming 28% of the UK gin market.

Gin is cool and more specifically premium craft gins are the coolest brands of all. The good news is that not only are many of the mainstream brands made in Scotland, but the Scotland’s premium craft gins are making their mark and not just in Scotland but throughout the UK – Atlas Bar in Manchester recently unveiled their top ten selling gins and half of them were Scottish (including Hendrick’s). They were Edinburgh Gin, Rock Rose, Darnley’s View and Caorunn while they also tweeted out their love of Boë gin, Eden.Love and Daffy’s for Valentine’s day.

North Berwick Gin, NB was sampled by the biggest names in pop at the recent Brit Awards after show party hosted by Sony. The brand managed to secure the opportunity to mix up gin cocktails and have a bottle of NB on every table at the party. The cocktails included Bees Knees, made with honey and rosemary.

NB Gin is produced by Vivienne and Steve Muir in a custom-made copper still at their micro-distillery in North Berwick, East Lothian and has a blend of eight botanicals.

Daffy’s with an ABV of 43.4% is the very latest gin to launch (mind you by the time we publish there could be another one…) its got a pretty cool bottle and is run by Chris Molyneaux. It hosted a launch party recently at the Devil’s Advocate and has on its bottle Daffy the Goddess of Gin. The company say their gin is unique because it is “created from the finest French grain spirit, distilled on an ancient copper pot whisky still with Lebanese mint and the finest botanicals”… and it can be enjoyed “straight over ice like the finest of malt whiskies.”

Eden Mill, the St.Andrews based distillery and brewery, released what they believe is the first ‘Dry Hopped Gin’ to be made in the UK last year. Hop.Gin, which has an ABV of 46%, is packed in ceramic bottles with a swingtop closure. Paul Miller, owner of Eden Mill said, “The real fun of being an authentic ‘small batch’ brewer and distiller is that we can be innovative and experimental with what we produce. The additional dry hopping on Dry Hopped Gin really sets it apart from other conventional gins.”

Since Hop.Gin have produced a further two gins in the ceramic bottles with swingtop closures – Oak.Gin and Love.Gin with the latter going down a storm at St Valentine’s day.

Claire Nicoll of The Keys in St Andrews, told DRAM, “We like to stock Scottish products for our customers and our gins go down very well. I particularly like the range of gins from Eden.”

Caorunn, which has been produced at at Balmenach Distillery in Speyside since 2009, also has a distinctive bottle, uses pure grain spirit, not molasses like most gins, and promotes its own unique serve… Caorunn Gin with a freshly cut red apple. Caorunn (Scottish Gaelic for rowanberry) boasts 11 botanicals (five Celtic) and was named one of the UK’s Cool Brands in 2013/14.

Darnley’s View Gin from Wemyss Malts was launched in 2010 and celebrates the meeting of Mary Queen of Scots and her husband Lord Darnley at the Wemyss family home, Wemyss Castle, in 1565. Darnley’s View sits alongside the Wemyss family’s spirits portfolio which includes Wemyss Malts. Darnley’s View is a classic gin with balanced juniper and citrus, and a surprising twist in the form of fruity and floral elderflower. The family launched the Kingsbarn Distillery and Visitor Centre at the end of last year.

Rock Rose is a Caithness distilled gin from Dunnet Bay Distillers – and it is distilled in a traditional copper still called Elizabeth. (Edinburgh Gin call theirs Jenny). It was recently the runner up at the Speciality Food Show in the best product award category and is owned by husband and wife team Martin and Claire Murray. The gin which launched last year is made using locally derived botanicals, including the rock rose, from which the brand takes its name, sea buckthorn, rowan berries and blaeberries.

Makar gin was released late last year – the Glasgow gin from the Glasgow Distillery Company at Hillington, is another premium handcrafted gin produced in small batches in it’s own copper pot still (called Annie). and has seven botanicals.

Look out for a new gin from Angus-based Arbikie Distillery – which has just launched a vodka. Gin is expected to be produced come the Spring.

It’s not just Scottish gins that have stand out on the back bar, Butler’s Gin is a new, British, artisan spirit produced in East London which is hand bottled and comes in a squarish bottle. Originally inspired by a Victorian recipe, the gin is placed in a 20-litre glass jar with infusion bags containing fresh lemongrass, cardamom, coriander, cloves, cinnamon, star anise, fennel, lemon and lime. Each bottle is then signed by The Butler personally to ensure the highest quality. The light green-meets-yellow tint is achieved by the Butler’s addition of lemongrass and cardamom – a unique blend that aromatherapists consider both refreshment and a relaxant. It’s award winning too having picked a Silver award at the International Spirits Challenge and a Silver at the International Wine & Spirit Competition.

Then there is Cadenhead’s Old Raj Gin it is distinctive in that it contains a measure of saffron, the rare and costly spice derived from the crocus flower. In addition to a slightly spicy flavour, this also imparts a pale yellow colour to Old Raj. The addition of saffron is undertaken personally by the Company master blender in order to ensure a consistency in flavour and colour each time Old Raj is bottled.

Says Iain Pert of Edinburgh’s newest gin bar the Jolly Botanist, “Edinburgh Gin has been selling really well. So has The Botanist, Caorunn as well as Hendrick’s. I think the latter sells well because everyone knows Hendricks.” He continues, “But all our gins are selling. I’ve had to totally restock three times since we opened – just over a week ago! We’ve also got through 70 cases of Fevertree an 40 cases of Fentimans. That’s because we actually recommend the serve to go with the gin. Some of more suited than others. I’m learning as we go along, but I find that consumers are really interested in gin. They ask lots of questions and then try them.”

He continues, “The great thing about gin is that distillers can really experiment with it by adding different botanicals. I think they find that quick good fun too. And you don’t have to wait years to taste it you can taste it two days later.”

There is a common thread running through most of the gin launches in that the owners also are planning to distill whisky or have whisky. Creating gin is a much quicker process – for instance it only takes eight hours to distill a small batch gin, and it could be on your shelves a week. The sames goes for vodka. However, with whisky is a much more long-drawn process. So by distilling gins and vodka’s new distilleries are able to generate revenue while their whisky matures. So technically our love of whisky is driving our passion for gin…

It also helps that for licensees, it is not prohibitive cost wise, to have a reasonable range of gins. And most bars do. Gin also crosses the spectrum of bars – independent traditional bars are just as likely to have a good a range of gin as independent style-orientated bars. The Ben Nevis in Glasgow stocks ten gins.

Elaine Scott licensees of the Ben Nevis says, ‘People tend to come in and ask about new gins. At the moment Makar is proving quite popular. Probably because it is a Glasgow gin.”

As well as a great range of craft gins Scottish consumers are also flocking to its gin bars. In Glasgow Gin71 and the Alston Bar and Grill, in Edinburgh – 56 North, Bramble, Heads and Tails, One Square, Mothers and now Jolly Botanist. But we have a way to go before we match Spains enthusiasm for Gin – says Iain Pert, “Spain leads the way when it comes to gin bars – they are everywhere.”