Saddle up, gin guzzlers – the 2018 Scot Gin Fest will be sweeping across this fair nation in a few months’ time, with stops in Glasgow on April 21 and Edinburgh on May 12. And so, in preparation for this glorious day, you’d best start acquainting yourself with some of the finest botanicals around. Check out our guide to the key gin locales in Edinburgh, from the most innovative distilleries to the best watering holes north of the border.
Let’s start our tour in the beating heart of Scotland’s capital. Located a literal stone’s throw from the castle, Edinburgh Gin is an award-winning, small-batch distillery that seeks to encapsulate the city’s position as a beacon of science, art and innovation. Their portfolio boasts a staggering range of gins, from their punchy Navy Strength Cannonball Gin, bursting with juniper and lemon, to the perfumed Christmas Gin, infused with warming frankincense, cinnamon and nutmeg. Their beautifully aromatic gin liqueurs are also a bouquet of delight, ranging from the zesty Rhubarb and Ginger to sweet Pomegranate and Rose.
Travel northwards towards the dynamic portside neighbourhood of Leith, where Firkin Gin are bringing together the best of both worlds. Every bottle of their London Dry gins are finished in whisky oak casks, infusing the gin with a gorgeous golden hue and sweet notes of vanilla, caramel and toffee. The Islay line will really make you stand to attention, with silky hints of lime and black pepper. But if the idea of whisky-infused gin is making you balk, fear not: they also sell a ‘naked’ line of their non-aged gin for the traditionalists among you.
Now dip south of the Royal Mile to the famous multi-arts complex Summerhall, which is also home to Pickering’s Gin. Legend goes that their signature blend originates from a recipe scrawled on a scrap of paper, which travelled all the way from India and remained a secret in the Pickering family for over 66 years. Fresh and light, their signature gin is spectacularly smooth, with warming tones of cardamom and clove. For those looking to kick it Bombay-style, try their Original 1947 – spicier and sweeter, with a hot splash of cinnamon – with a generous mix of ginger ale.
Just outside city limits is the Old Curiosity Distillery, whose gin is imbued with ingredients from their Secret Herb Garden, a specialist nursery which grows 600 different varieties of herbs. All their botanicals are hand-grown, picked and infused with care, and change colour before your disbelieving eyes when combined with tonic. Their flavour combinations are truly enchanting too: the romantic Apothecary Rose is a fragrant pink dream, while the Lavender and Echinacea serves as the perfect excuse for a drink when you’re feeling poorly.
Edinburgh is also home to a skyrocketing number of specialty gin bars, whose mixology maestros create masterpiece concoctions to be sipped and savoured. First up has got to be 56 North, which just nabbed the award for Gin Bar of the Year at the 2017 Scottish Gin Awards. And too right – boasting one of the largest gin collections in the world, the proprietors of 56 North have scoured every corner of the globe to bring back some of the best and most unique botanicals for you to imbibe. Their range and eye for detail is truly stunning, with reels of lists categorising gins by flavour and origin, and an entire page dedicated to mixers and garnishes. Though each gin comes with a recommendation on how to enjoy it, guests are encouraged to embrace the adventure and strike out on their own.
For a more upscale tempo and perfectly crafted cocktails, Juniper is the answer. The grand doyenne of gin establishments, this Princes Street establishment use the freshest ingredients and juices in their heady mixes, showcased best in their signature Juniper2, made from fresh kiwi purée, apple and lemon foam. Their Aviator’s Tipple will also have you flying high with a pleasing combination of crème de violette, elderflower cordial and Moët Ice. But if it’s a dramatic entrance you’re looking for, their Tokonoma combines Ki No Bi gin and Umeshu sake, with a supplement of dry ice for theatrics only.
A welcome new addition to the scene is The Jolly Botanist, a pub-style gin bar near Edinburgh’s lively Haymarket neighbourhood. Don’t be fooled by their intimate and cosy interior: these guys still take their tipples very seriously, with an impressive range of gins and mixes. Their eponymous cocktail is a beautiful combination of Botanist gin, poppy liqueur, cranberries and egg white, while their New Fashioned – a twist on the classic – gives you a choice of gin and bitters for that perfectly balanced libation.