JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR SEAN MURPHY GIVES US HIS TAKE ON WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THE WORLD OF GIN.
It’s fair to say that it has been a tough few years for the hospitality trade, and when I was asked to write a second book on Scottish gin, I had real fears about how some of the smaller producers I had previously written about might have gotten on, during the pandemic.
Thankfully, I needn’t have worried. Though the explosion in new producers we were seeing in 2019 and early 2020 has slowed down somewhat, the scene is still going from strength to strength – and long may it continue.
If anything, the two lockdowns we endured may even have inspired people to finally create their dream gins, something I’ve seen a lot over the past year as even more new gins begin to enter the scene.
When I wrote my first book Gin Galore back in 2018 I was struggling to reach 50 gin producers from Scotland, however, this time around, I easily made it to 100 and could even have added more.
Scotland’s gin scene is built upon a heritage of distilling, passion, a deep sense of place and a talent for storytelling – and it’s been amazing to once again be able to tell the stories of not only these gins but also the people who produce them with the Scottish Gin Bible, which has just been released.
From the Borders to the Shetland Isles, you’ll find people who are producing gin in everything from bothies to their garden sheds and it now means we have a thriving gin scene that challenges whisky for the sheer number of producers in Scotland.
There have been some really intriguing stories of late, including the revival of gin distilling on islands such as Raasay, Cumbrae, Bute, Mull and Colonsay.
A perfect example of how successful this resurgence of island distilling has been, can be seen on Harris, where a serendipitous decision to make a gin for people visiting the community whisky distillery, led to Isle of Harris Gin becoming one of the most successful brands around.
A beautiful bottle, designed to represent the sea around the island, both as the irregular shape of sea glass and the blue tint and elegant curves of the waves, and a recipe that included hand foraged seaweed from the island helped remind people of their visit to this stunning island.
From being a gift for tourists to an international best seller, it really shows what can happen when you create a special product with a wonderful story.
A short skip across the water to Barra, and further onto Tiree, you’ll find two newer distilleries – both of which were originally distilled off-island – with plans to continue to create jobs for their communities and even produce new whiskies. Exciting times. And it’s not just whisky, a further sign of this success is Tiree’s expansion its gin range, with the recent launch of its vibrant pink gin.
Capturing the recent trend for colourful and delicious fruit forward gins , Hebridean Pink Gin is made using raspberries and sweet peels.
Even in the bigger cities such as Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh, you’ll find thrilling stories of new gins, with the capital recently becoming home to the new Lind and Lime Gin Distillery and the launch of the innovative new Height of Arrows Gin from Holyrood – which uses only Juniper, sea salt and beeswax for its recipe.
While Scotland’s biggest city has the playful Glaswegin, which comes in one of my favourite recent bottle designs (and tastes great too), and the uber-cool Illicit Spirits, which makes its gins in an archway under the rail tracks running from Glasgow Central.
Not to be outdone, the Granite City is also celebrating the arrival of its very own city centre gin brand with the creation of the City of Aberdeen Distillery and Gin School which not only produces amazing gins but teaches people how to make their own too.
One of the main reasons smaller craft gins have had such a huge impact on the drinking public was their strong connection to their customer base.
This has not only led to community tasting sessions to help create the gins themselves but also seen the creation of strong followings on social media.
Throughout the pandemic, gin brands such as Ellis and Mackintosh have continued to create weekly cocktail videos and hangouts for their fans, while Eden Mill even took this a step further, creating special tasting packs to help reconnect with visitors who couldn’t visit the distillery during lockdown.
These virtual Zoom tastings were such a big hit that it wasn’t long before they were reaching the kind of numbers Eden Mill would have expected in visitors at their distillery.
However, with the world beginning to return to normal, it’s the connections with the on-trade where Scottish gins will have to step up to continue to make their mark against the bigger brands.
Brands such as Electric Spirit Co. in Edinburgh, who have just rolled out new 5L kegs for on trade in partnership with Royal Mile Whiskies, which are designed to be used in bars save six bottles, the energy that would be needed to recycle them and their packaging, each time they are used.
Designed to be reusable and refillable, each keg is roughly equivalent to a case of gin, saves wastage and allows for ESC founder James Porteus to pass the savings from the reduction in packaging onto each bar too.
After trialling the idea at The Palmerston, Popular capital bars such as Panda and Sons, Heron, Brauhaus, Uno Mas and Bross Bagels have all now benefitted from the scheme and used the kegs.
Even newer brands are getting in on the act. Founder of Glasgow-based Shoogle Gin, which launched during the lockdown, Chris Payne has teamed up with Satty Singh of the famous Mr Singh’s restaurant to create a gin based on the ingredients of their signature Ambala curry.
The result explained Chris, is a delicately balanced, warming gin that fantastically complements the spicy curries on offer within Mr Singh’s restaurant.
They aren’t the only ones taking this approach, the company behind Jindea Single Estate Tea Gin, which is based in Aberdeen, are currently working on a food-pairing initiative, due to being listed in modern Indian-style venues like Chakoo, Darjeeling Express, Brigadiers and Gymkhana, with long-term support from esteemed chef Asma Khan of Darjeeling Express and Netflix’s ‘Chefs Table’.
It’s refreshing to see our gin producers work with and help their local bars and restaurants, particularly when bar staff are easily the best ambassadors you can have for your product. If you share your passion for your gin with them, they’ll pass it on to their customers and that can only be good for everyone.
Gin has many strengths, not only is it versatile in how it can be drunk and mixed, but it’s also not bogged down with rules on how it should be drunk making it easier for younger people, women especially, to embrace without the fear of being told off for not “drinking it right”.
It says a lot about that accessibility of the spirit (not only to drink but also to produce) that we now have such a thriving scene in Scotland, and I for one am looking forward to seeing how it grows and evolves in this post-pandemic era.