In honour of Burns’ Night we’re raising a glass and saying ‘slàinte’ to Scotland’s distilling culture, looking at craft distilleries producing both gin and whisky.
Scotland has long been (and likely forever will be) one of the most important places on the planet when it comes to distilling quality spirits, and is the obvious country that comes to mind when the word ‘whisky’ finds its way into conversation.
The relationship between Scotland and whisky has garnered a far more romantic reputation than England’s (and especially London’s) dark and bleak history with gin. Even the words ‘Scotch Whisky’ conjure up visions of mountains, coastline, remote islands, lochs, moors, tales by the fire and the pride and poems of Robert Burns. On the other side, images of Mother’s Ruin and Hogarth’s Gin Lane paint a somewhat drearier picture of our historical entanglement with gin.
Like gin, whisky had a tough time in the 18th century in regards to production and quality. The English Malt Tax of 1725 caused many of Scotland’s distilleries to close or go into underground production due the newly imposed high duty. While most home gin production in England was legal (by 1726 there were over 1,500 residential stills being used in London), at a similar time in Scotland, it was estimated that over half of it’s whisky output was illegal.
When ‘The Wash Act’ of 1784 was introduced it considerably reduced the level of duty, simplified regulations and helped things change for the better. Now most whisky in Scotland has been made by long surviving family distilleries in specific whisky regions who have continued to supply and influence the world with their historical names and spirit. Combined, these producers make more whisky than any other country in the world. You may be surprised to know that as well as this feat, Scotland has also claimed the title of being the second biggest gin producer in the world (after the Phillipines). This is mainly due to the Tanqueray and Gordon’s distilleries being based in Cameron Bridge in Fife.
However in recent times a number of craft distilleries have begun to pop up all over modern day Caledonia. While it’s unlikely these new players in the world of spirits will ever compete with Scotland’s long established big guns, they are creating a wonderful variety of high quality and innovative spirits for us to enjoy. And luckily for us, it just so happens that one of them is gin.
Some of these distilleries started with their Scottish roots in mind and wanted to create their own Scotch Whisky, however, to be given the status of Scotch whisky requires the spirit to be matured for a minimum of 3 years and a day in oak casks (and quite a lot longer for a real quality dram). Only then may it be given it’s amber nectar status.
So, while you’re waiting for your whisky to come alive, what do you do? When you have an entire country made famous for its highland scenery and the wonderful varieties of plants and botanicals that call this landscape home there is only one option - make gin! And after whisky, this is something the Scots do fantastically well, with more and more Scottish gins appearing on the market and making their way into our glasses.
Let’s take a look at some Scottish craft distillers who are in both the gin and whisky game:
Stating that they are “probably Scotland’s smallest distillery”, Strathearn started with whisky in mind but, while waiting, developed a huge passion and enthusiasm for all things gin.
Strathearn started out in 2013 and their first Scotch whisky became official in August of 2016, although this won’t be bottled for some time. They do however have some lesser matured teasers through their Uisge Beathas or “Water of Life” range for those who need to take a peek at what is to come. They have stated their Scotch will have a traditional and distinctive flavour and each barrel will be completely unique. They achieve this by using either peated or non-peated malt and varying the type of cask, such as sherry, rum or bourbon.
While it matures their founder Tony Reeman-Clark (known fondly as the Malt Maverick) decided to look into something that could help tide the distillery over until their whisky soaks up it’s flavours. He jumped into to the world of gin and hasn’t looked back. Strathearn now have four different gin releases under their belt; their classically styled Juniper Gin, Heather Rose Gin, Oaked Highland Gin and Citrus Gin. Bottled in small batches full of pride, each batch produces 280 bottles.
Their Oaked Highland Gin is a prime example of merging their love for both whisky and gin. Along with traditional botanicals, they add vanilla and staves from American oak barrels to find the missing link between the two spirits. A wonderful light oakiness with vanilla, smoky hints and a soft golden colour gives this aged gin it’s whisky like quality, with juniper and citrus notes coming through to remind you that what you’re drinking is most definitely gin!
A gin to be served as you would some whiskies, with one ice cube, a twist of orange and sipped after a hearty meal.
Arbikie is the combined passion of three brothers John, Iain and David Stirling. Their family has farmed on the Arbikie farm for 4 generations (and been farming for 7 generations) which means they know their lands and their crops down to every minute detail.
All the ingredients that go into Arbikie’s spirits are sown, grown and harvested within an arm's-length of their distillery. This includes the barley for their whisky, along with the wheat and potatoes used to make the base spirits for their vodka and gin.
Sadly, the world will have to wait for their whisky as, at the moment, it’s still a few years away. Like most good single malt whiskies, you’re looking at a 10 year period spent in barrels before it has reached a sufficient quality, growing in complexity and taking on all the flavours present in the barrel. So we’re looking at around 2025 before the liquid is released from its wooden prison, ready for us to enjoy. Just to tease you though, their whisky is being matured in a variety of casks such as bourbon, sherry and red wine, which will give it a rich, deep flavour with honeyed tones and complex salty notes due to it’s location on the Scottish Coast. Sounds very appealing!
Luckily they do currently produce two excellent gins that you can get your hands on.
The first is Kirsty’s Gin named after their Master Distiller, Kirsty Black. A small amount of local botanicals are used to make this this gin including kelp, carline thistle & blaeberry. These are taken from both the land and sea in the harsh landscape that surrounds their home of Angus.
The second is their AK’s Gin with honey, thistle and juniper at its forefront. The base spirit is made from wheat grown on the farm giving it a slight buttery aspect with a subtle sweetness from the honey and notes of liquorice creeping through.
The Glasgow Distilling Company are aiming to expand on Scotland’s main whisky distilling regions and re-establish metropolitan Scotch Malt Whisky, bringing Glaswegian malt whisky back to life. The original Glasgow Distilling company was founded in 1770 and remained active until the early 20th Century.
They commenced their whisky distilling in 2015 and a lucky few can reserve a cask of their 2016 production which will be stored for a minimum of 3 years and day until it reaches it’s Scotch whisky status. The choice is left to you, as to whether you choose to open it there and then, or leave it to mature for as long as you’d like. If you’re not sure when might be best the distillery will send you annual samples so you can see for yourself how it’s maturing and whether you’re ready for the first single malt whisky to be distilled in Glasgow for over 100 years.
The Glasgow Distilling company are the also the first distillery to make gin in Glasgow with their Makar Glasgow Gin.
The name Makar itself is the Scottish word for Bard or Poet which makes it a most appropriate gin for a Burns’ Night celebration. Makar is juniper led from the nose to the palate to the finish. Classic coriander also joins, followed by an aromatic rosemary finish, to create a hearty but smooth gin that will suit classic gin lovers.
They also have a further two limited edition barrel aged varieties (both spending 10 weeks in the barrel) that bridge the gap between gin and whisky. First up is their Oak Aged Gin which is complex and lively on the tongue, with a peppery finish. We then have their Mulberry Aged Gin with hints of lemon, thyme and vanilla to delight your tastebuds.
Based on the remote Isle of Unst in Shetland, the Shetland Distillery is the most northern distillery in the UK, and situated in the most northerly inhabited place in the whole of Britain.
The brainchild of 2 enthusiastic couples, Debbie and Frank Strang, owners of Saxa Vord holiday resort on the island, partnered with Stuart and Wilma Nickerson, owners of independent bottler The Malt Whisky Company. The distillery is situated on the regenerated site of a former RAF radar station attached to the award winning tourist resort.
Shetland Reel are the first distillery ever to produce whisky in Shetland in the hundreds of years of Scotch Whisky production. Their first edition Shetland Reel Blended Malt Scotch was released in 2015 and a second batch in 2016.
They launched their Shetland Reel Single Malt Scotch in August 2015 in a very limited run of 172, which sold out within 5 days. So unless you are one of the lucky ones who managed to grab one of those, we’ll all have to wait a bit longer to get our hands on a bottle of Shetland history.
Before it found it’s way into the drinks cabinet of those lucky 172 people though, it had quite a way to travel. Made and casked on the mainland, it was then shipped on a 12 hour overnight ferry crossing from Aberdeen to Lerwick, transported north to the island of Yell via a second ferry, around Yell to a third ferry crossing before finally reaching Unst where it was rested and then bottled at the Saxa Vord distillery. Of the four produced, two whiskies were settled in refill Scotch casks and two from virgin German oak casks.
The first batch of gin ever distilled in Shetland was made in September 2014. Shetland Reel Gin is a fantastic example of a traditional style gin with a modern Scottish twist. As well as classic botanicals such as juniper berries, coriander seeds and cassia bark, Shetland Reel Gin includes apple mint locally grown by the Unst Market Growers. A crisp gin on the palate, the juniper works refreshingly with the apple mint and balances with a subtle fruitiness.
They have also now released their Ocean Shetland Reel Ocean Sent Gin which uses native bladderwrack seaweed from the Shetland coastline. This creates a wonderfully deep and unique flavour, with a classic spiciness combined with fresh coastal notes.
The small yet dedicated team at Eden Mill are a very talented bunch and have succeeded in creating several forms of booze for us all to enjoy.
Based in Fife, Eden Mill started with beer as the Eden Brewery and then in 2014 became Scotland’s first combined brewery and distillery, venturing into the world of gin and Scotch whisky production. Using their passion and knowledge for these three liquids, they have been able to take influence from each to help make and develop the other. They have made beer aged in whisky barrels and Gin made from hops to create some wonderfully special products.
Eden Mill have not yet produced their own Single Malt Scotch, but instead have concentrated on perfecting the technique of blending Scotch. As a result of their team wanting to share their whisky knowledge and insight, they developed their “Art of the Blend” range, consisting of 3 blended Scotch whiskies.
All 3 of these whiskies are taken from the same initial blend. It is then ‘finished’ in different barrel types and sizes: bourbon cask, European Virgin Oak 1/4 casks and Islay Single Cask. These are left for around a year, resulting in a fine spirit, built out of true passion and love for whisky.
Never fear, their passion for gin is equal to their love of whisky, if not moreso! Eden Mill are not a brand that have committed to a bellwether gin. They have quite a variety and most of their gins are limited or seasonal, reflected in the botanicals they use to make them. All their gins are presented in lovely stoneware bottles.
Originally starting as a brewery, it makes perfect sense that their first ever gin produced was their Hop Gin. This was also one of the first gins in the UK to use hops in the distillation process. Their Oak Gin also marries their gin, whisky and beer background and is aged in aged-oak beer barrels for a warm and rich oaky spiced gin with notes of caramel, vanilla, and a touch of fudge. They have also released their exotically flavoured ‘Love Gin’ with rose petals, elderberry, rhubarb root, marshmallow root, goji berry, raspberry leaf and whole hibiscus flowers to create a more fruity, floral concoction. Their Golf Gin is the perfect summer gin with sweet and sherbet-y lemongrass notes, mild pepperiness and hints of lime, coriander and aromatic spice.
If all that reading has got your thirsty then why not have a meander through our collection of Scottish gins. With such a rich distilling history, Scotland is a nation that’s leading the craft gin movement.
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