Scottish distilleries are responsible for some amazing gins, and whilst there is no unifying Scottish gin style, there are common themes and botanicals.
Of late, Scottish distilleries have been creating gins that are the liquid embodiment of the local terroir; the flavour of the area. Taking more than just inspiration from their surroundings; they have taken note of what grows locally, foraged and experimented, harvested and grown, and made gins that breathe with the very character of the land.
The use of local botanicals as key ingredients is a practise used throughout contemporary gin, yet Scottish distillers seem to take this a step further, with local botanicals being the norm rather than an unusual feature.
The typically Scottish botanicals that are used can be split into several distinct categories: thistles, seaweed, heathers, wetland plants, and Rosales (an order of flowering plants). These plants are not unique to Scotland but they do grow abundantly in the country. The use of similar botanicals or ingredients from the same plant family does not make gins taste the same. However, it can generate similar tones, flavours, and mouthfeel.
Here’s a basic breakdown of common Scottish botanicals and what they can add to a gin.
Plants such as marsh marigold, sea pinks, rose root, bog myrtle and meadowsweet are found in many gins, including Blackwoods, Rock Rose and The Botanist. They grow in wetlands like marshes and wet meadows, both of which are abundant in Scotland. Distillers tend to take the blooms of these plants to use in their gins. The overarching flavour of these plants is subtly sweet and floral, with a minor touch of citrus.
Many hardy trees and shrubs grow in Scotland, clinging on to cliffs and scattered across moorland. Their fruits are often considered to be unappetising when eaten raw but have an abundance of flavour when processed, through distillation or bletting*. Making the most of local fauna, many distilleries use botanicals like rowan berries (key to Caorunn), haws and seabuckthorn. These berries add bright, almost citric notes and rounded, ripe flavours to gin.
*Bletting is a process of softening that certain fleshy fruits undergo, beyond ripening.
Heather is not quite as iconic as the thistle when it comes to Scotland but it is a close second. So it comes as no surprise that distillers choose it when trying to represent the land that they create in. What it brings to gins such as Strathearn Heather Rose, Caorunn and Edinburgh Gin) are mildly floral, grassy flavours with a touch of earth.
Seaweed has recently become a very popular ingredient in gin and, with many distilleries being based on islands or remote, coastal areas of the country, it is an obvious choice for truly local, Scottish gins. Whilst we believe that it was first executed in Wales with Da Mhile Seaweed, seaweed is being seen more and more in Scottish gins, and is used in gins such as Shetland Reel, Edinburgh Gin, and Kirsty’s Arbikie Gin. Yet, seaweed is such a wide term, specifically, it is different forms of brown algae, both kelp and fucales. As a botanical, they are responsible for very delicate flavouring, slightly salted and with a hint of smoke.
The very emblem of Scotland, the thistle, is not often thought of as consumable. It might not be commonly eaten but it is possible to do so. Thistles add a prominently grassy tone, with a delicate earthiness, to the gins that use it, as well encompassing the heritage of Scotland in a single botanical.
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