Scottish gin is booming! Over the last couple of years there have been around 50 distilleries that have entered production. These distilleries have launched around a hundred new gin brands to the marketplace. One of our personal favourites is relative newcomer Sutors, made in the Royal Burgh of Tain, in the Northern Highlands. We have to admit to a slight bias here, as this excellent gin is distilled by a family member and as a family company, we like to support family efforts.
History of Gin in Scotland
Gin has extensive roots in Scottish history. We have a long tradition of trade with nations around the North Sea and Jenever, the juniper spirit from the Netherlands, would have arrived aboard ships docking in ports such as Leith, Dundee and Aberdeen. Records show that 2.5 million gallons of jenever was being imported into Scotland every year in the late 1700s. This trade was not all one way though. Juniper berries grew so abundantly throughout the Highlands of Scotland that huge quantities were being sent to the Netherlands for use by the Dutch distillers. There was also likely to have been a Scottish version of jenever and this would have been flavoured using ingredients foraged locally in Scotland.
During the late 1700s, there was a record of eight licenced distilleries in Edinburgh’s port of Leith alone. As well as these licenced distilleries, there were probably hundreds of illicit stills that would have been hidden from the excise men.
At the height of the Gin Craze, Scottish production accounted for around a quarter of all sales in the British market. However, England imposed extra duties on Scottish spirits and sales collapsed. The industry slowly recovered and now, three of the world’s best-selling gins – Tanqueray, Hendricks and Gordons – are all made in Scotland. It is thought that at present, around 80% of all gin produced in the UK comes from Scotland.
During the 20th century gin went out of fashion but, as the new century arrived, so did a renewed craving for this old favourite. Legislation was changed to allow smaller stills, and the craft and artisan gin makers stepped up.
Links to the Military and the Empire
Scots were often mercenary soldiers for hire who would have fought with the Dutch. Jenever was often drunk before battle and this is where we get the phrase “Dutch Courage”. Ships would carry spirits for their sailors to drink. Gin on navy ships had to be at least 57% ABV. This was so that if the gin was spilt on the gunpowder for the cannons, then it would still ignite.
Gin was drunk around the British empire, especially in areas with high malaria rates. Quinine was mixed with water to create a tonic water which as we know, is very enjoyable when mixed with gin. This tradition is still very popular up until this day. There seem to be almost as many artisan tonic waters hitting the market as there are new gins!
Links to Whisky Production
Many people associate Scotland’s distilleries with whisky (Scotland exported 1.28 billion bottles of whisky in 2018 alone), but gin shares many of the same processes and technology. Consequently it was established whisky makers who were among the first to produce new gin brands such as The Botanist, Darnley’s, Edinburgh Gin and Caorunn.
Today, there are some makers who solely focus on gin, while there are a few whisky distilleries who make gin whilst waiting for their whisky to mature.
Scotland’s gin boom owes a lot to whisky. Distilling is a huge industry, but there are many tight rules around making Scottish malt whisky. Scotch Whisky distillers must use a copper still using yeast, water and barley. The spirit must be distilled twice and then matured in an oak cask for at least three years. There is a long-term investment before you see any profit. Gin, on the other hand, has far less regulation and can be created in a couple of days.
Types of Gin
Although the regulations are much less stringent than those for whisky, the European Union states that there are three types of gin….
This is made by compounding ethyl alcohol with flavours, either natural or artificial. Gin can be coloured.
Production of distilled gin is usually in two parts. The first is the re-distillation of ethyl alcohol in the presence of natural flavours. After the distillation, further flavours are added and they can be either natural or artificial. Distilled gin can be coloured.
This differs from the other gins in that all the flavouring must be part of the distillation process and the flavouring can only be natural flavourings After the distillation, only ethyl alcohol, water and a tiny amount of sugar can be added to the distillate (the amount of sugar added is so small that from an organoleptic standpoint it has no effect. It is added for brand protection reasons).
The EU also states that production of all gins must ensure that the taste is predominantly that of juniper berries (juniperus communis) and there is a common strength of at least 37.5% abv.
As gin producers become more adventurous in the choice of botanicals, the taste of juniper can start to disappear, and this leads to a drink that is no different from flavoured vodka. See above our picture of some flavoured gins on a local supermarket shelf. Very particular childhood flavours of Scotland – Sherbert Lemon, Pear Drop, Parma Violet and Rhubarb Custard.
Scottish water is pure and clear, filtered for thousands of years through timeworn rocks and emerging into unpolluted streams. The botanicals are the most important aspect of Scottish gin. We have so many different habitats that make our gin so unique. These plants can be foraged from the shoreline, lowland pastures, to the heather moors and forests of the Highlands.
Juniper still grows in Scotland, but there is far less of it than there used to be. The plant has been struggling for years as most plants are over a hundred years old and produce less seeds than a younger plant. To secure supplies a number of gin makers are planting juniper, but it takes several years to establish. Makers who have knowledge of wild juniper bushes are often keen to keep the location a secret!
Scotland’s abundance of botanicals inspire gin makers to find new flavours to entertain drinkers. As a result, many distilleries are open for gin tasting experiences, where they will offer established gins and also test out new flavours. These distilleries share their gin making techniques and some will even give you the opportunity to make your own gin.
Scotland has a busy gin scene and the calendar is full of events.
The first gin festival established was the Juniper Festival in Edinburgh. This is held at Summerhall, which is also the home of Pickerings Gin. Other festivals are the Big Gin Festival, Big Big Gin Festival, Gintyre and True OriGINs. These all spotlight Scottish gins and give consumers the opportunity to taste those that are not available in supermarkets or most bars.
The Scottish Gin Awards were launched in 2017 and have quickly become very popular with gin makers and consumers alike.
Scottish Gin Awards 2019
Distillery of the year: Dunnet Bay Distillers (Rock Rose Gin)
Gin of the year: Lenzie Gin
Gold medal gins: Rose Rock (Winter Edition) Pickerings Gin (Navy Strength), Makar Mulberry Aged Gin, El:Gin Moray Mocha Gin, Persy Herby & Aromatic Gin, Caorunn Scottish Raspberry Gin and Holyrood Old Tam Gin.
Exporter of the year: Isle of Harris Distillers
Best Newcomer: Glenwyvis Distillery
Scottish Gin Awards 2018
Distillery of the year: Isle of Harris Distillers
Gin of the year: Eden Mill Original Gin
Gold medal gins: Eden Mill Original Gin, Misty Isle Gin, Still River Uncut, Boe Scottish Bramble Gin Liqueur, Isle of Skye Distillers, Deeside Distillery, McQueen Mocha Gin and Makar Mulberry Aged Gin.
Exporter of the year: Eden Mill
Best Newcomer: Beinn an Tuire Distillery
If you would like any more information about Scottish gin, or are interested in visiting some our finest distilleries then send us a message… [email protected]