When people think of Scotland and spirits they think whisky
, and they’d be right to do so, with over 125 whisky distilleries spread across the nation. However, Scotland also produces over 70% of the gin distilled in the United Kingdom, including Tanqueray and James Bond’s favourite, Gordon’s. This is a figure that is rising each year, as small craft distilleries continue to open and flourish, producing a remarkable revival in a spirit
that was once known as ‘Mother’s ruin’. Here are eight of Scotland’s most interesting gin distilleries.
It has been said that when Hendrick’s launched their gin in the late 1990s they kindled the modern Scottish gin revival. Run by William Grant and Sons, who are perhaps better known as whisky distillers, this gin began to receive excellent reviews as soon as it was launched. Flavoured with cucumber and Bulgarian rose, in an old-fashioned brown bottle designed to look like those used by apothecaries, Hendrick’s was deemed the ‘Best Gin in the World’ by the Wall Street Journal and has won many accolades at the San Francisco World Spirits competition. Although the botanics are known, the exact proportions are closely guarded by only three people.
Shetland Reel is based on the island of Unst, the most northerly inhabited island in Shetland, with a population of around 700. The distillery has a tasting room, open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 1130 to 1230, by appointment only. Their original gin — first distilled in 2015 — features botanics, including traditional flavours such as juniper berries and coriander seeds, but also utilises locally grown apple mint. Their Reel Ocean Sent Gin was awarded a silver medal at the San Fransisco World Spirit Competition, and features bladderwrack seaweed as a botanic.
Shetland Distillery Company, Anderbrae, Shetland, +44 1957 711 217
One of the most striking aspects to the recent gin revival is the breadth of fantastic and artistic bottles the spirit is sold in. Caorunn is a great example of this; it is housed in a five-sided bottle with their signature star on the base. The Balmenach distillery is nestled in the wild hills of the Cairngorm National Park, and is more famously known as one of the first licensed whisky distilleries. A modern London Dry gin, Caorunn is named after the Scottish Gaelic for rowan — a tree full of bright red berries, and an intrinsic part of the Highland landscape.
This is the most northerly distillery on the mainland UK, in Caithness, and it is difficult to actually get any further north. Launched in 2014, the distillery quickly went from strength to strength with their flagship gin, Rock Rose, proving a big hit. As well as traditional botanics, Rock Rose also features local ingredients such as rowan berries, blueberries, sea buckthorn and the plant that gave the gin its name, Rhodiolia rosea — rock rose. Sitting on the route of the North Coast 500, Dunnet Bay Distillery has seen its visitor numbers soar. As well as talking about their own roots and products, the new visitor centre will also discuss illicit distilling and the curious history of the local town, Wick, and the period of prohibition it experienced from 1922 to 1947.
Dunnet Bay Distillery, Dunnet, Thurso, Caithness, +44 1847 851 287
Glen Wyvis is 100% owned by the local community and their new distillery also aims to be 100% powered by green, renewable energy. Another distillery situated on the North Coast 500 route, Glen Wyvis is near Dingwall, just north of Inverness; they are also planning to open a High Street presence in the town. This new distillery is named after two others, now long-closed — Glenskiach and Ben Wyvis. Skiach means ‘hawthorn’ in Gaelic, and it is this berry that is added to the botanics in the gin, which also include angelica root, cinnamon, and almond.
Bar, Pub, British
Pickering’s Summerhall distillery opened in 2013 and was the first gin-exclusive distillery in Edinburgh in 150 years. The distillery is housed in an arts venue which includes a pub named the Royal Dick Bar. Perhaps uniquely, the distillery has pipes connected to the bar, allowing the drinker to experience gin on tap! The gin itself is based on a handwritten recipe dating from 1947 and distilled in two copper stills, Gert and Emily, named after the founders’ great grandmothers. With 3 tours available to book on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and even more availability coming with summer approaching, this distillery is a must-see.
Pickering’s Gin, Summerhall, Edinburgh, +44 131 290 2901
Bar, Pub Grub, British
The name is a bit of a give-away — this is another gin distilled in Scotland’s capital city. Located in the heart of the West End of Edinburgh, just off famous Princes Street, is the Edinburgh Gin distillery. They produce a wide range of drinks, including their navy strength Cannonball gin, a Seaside gin inspired by the local coastline, and a flourishing array of liqueurs. A visit to their Heads and Tales bar, beneath the Rutland Hotel, is not just a chance to sample Edinburgh Gin’s wares, but you can also see their two stills, Caledonia and Flora, in the bar itself. They also offer three different tours, and it is worth booking well in advance, especially if you plan to visit on a weekend.
Edinburgh Gin Distillery, Rutland Place, Edinburgh, +44 131 656 2810
Each batch of gin distilled at Strathearn, in Perthshire, is limited to 280 bottles, and each of the four gins produced here is substantially different to the others. From the familiar juniper gin and a citrus gin to the subtlety of their Heather Rose gin and an American-oaked gin, there is a flavour for all palates. Strathearn Heather Rose turns a delicate pink when mixed with tonic and, as the name suggests, two of the botanics are purple heather flowers and rose petals. Strathearn is a very small distillery, yet it still manages to provide different experiences that the visitor can partake in, and booking is essential.
Strathearn Distillery, Bachilton Farm Steading, Methven, +44 1738 840100