As a birthday treat, I decided I would like some fancy martini glasses. So I instantly turned to the Isle of Harris distillery. And because I was already spending money on postage and I have zero restraint, I also treated myself to a bottle of their gin. Even if you don’t know much about the gin, I’m sure you recognise the beautiful glass bottle designed to reflect the ripples of the ocean. I met the team when I went to Edinburgh for International Scottish Gin Day in 2019 and they explained the irregularities in the curves are designed to fit perfectly in your hand. The Isle of Harris is in the Outer Hebrides, and the distillery is based in the small village of Tarbert. They are famous for their use of sugar kelp as their key botanical which is collected by hand from local sea lochs to ensure sustainability. The way they ensure this is by only picking the kelp if there is an ‘r’ in the name of the month – if not, then it is left to grow and recover. Alongside the sugar kelp are some more usual botanicals: juniper, cassia bark, coriander seed, angelica bark, cubeb pepper, liquorice root, orris root, and rounded off with bitter orange peel. These are distilled in a traditional copper pot before being bottled and labelled on site. They are unusual in that they don’t recycle the heads or tails of their gin – whilst a lot of distillers redistill this, the Isle of Harris team get rid of it completely. It is more expensive for them, but for them it means they are only bottling the best of their product. They also use all cardboard packaging, covered in information about the brand which makes it extra special to open. So, how does it taste?
Note: The tasting pack was gifted to me by Shetland Reel, but I will let you know what I really think.
Shetland Reel gin comes from Saxa Vord Distillery, the most northern distillery in the UK on Unst, which is the mort northern inhabited island. This is a remote distillery, accessible from the Shetland mainland by not one, but two ferry journeys – not including the ferry to get to Shetland in the first place! Fun fact – it’s actually closer to Norway than it is to most of Scotland. It is here that Frank and Debbie Strang regenerated the former RAF site into a tourist resort, and teamed up with Stuart and Wilma Nickerson who own The Malt Whisky Company. Their unique surrounding inspired them to make the most of their local botanicals used in their core range. Recently they have created tasting packs of their three main gins – the Original, Simmer, and Ocean Sent. If you’ve paid attention to my social media, you’ll see I’ve also recorded these tastings with Debbie, which was an absolute blast, and you can watch them here.
Debbie from Shetland Reel gin kindly sent me one of their tasting packs to try, and we decided it would be fun to do some virtual tastings together. I’ve collated the videos below for your viewing pleasure…
I was introduced to Shetland Reel by The Gin Cooperative as part of my support for International Scottish Gin Day, make sure you check them out and pour yourself a Scottish gin on 24 October to celebrate! Let me know your favourite Scottish gin on Twitter and Instagram.
As we lead up to International Scottish Gin Day, I’ve teamed up with Roehill Springs gin to find out a bit more about them. They kindly sent me a bottle of their Gin No.5 to try, and I chatted to Shirley, one half of the founding team, about their background, inspirations and future plans.
Note: The team at Roehill Springs kindly sent me a bottle of their gin to try, but as always I’ll let you know what I honestly think
Roehill Springs Distillery is one of the newer distilleries emerging in the Scottish gin scene. Established in 2019, they’re based near Keith – sort of between Aberdeen and Inverness – on their third-generation farm. They are also one of the few distilleries that actually make their own gin – all of their gin is distilled, bottled and labelled on site, nothing is contracted to established distilleries (FYI – there’s nothing wrong with doing that, but lots of people don’t admit it and that’s misleading). So, why is this called Gin No.5? Where are numbers 1-4? After plucking up the courage to have a go at making his own gin, Duncan experimented with different batches and recipes and after many tasting sessions at home with friends and family, they settled on the fifth recipe, and in turn the name. Duncan, alongside wife Shirley, distil their gin in a traditional 30l copper pot still using botanicals foraged from the local area before blending it with spring water from Roehill (an area named after the abundance of Roe deer), which, as you can probably guess, also helped them name their distillery. Using a mixture of the copper pot still, a column still and a vapour basket, they add juniper, coriander, angelica root, cassia bark, pink peppercorns, and then some secret ingredients which they won’t disclose.
For today’s blog we raid the shelves of the random bottles given to me by an old housemate, and with this head to the Netherlands with Sculte gin. Based in a former monastery near the German border, founder Gerard Velthuis set up his distillery and now makes whisky, gin and brandy capturing the spirit of the Twente region. Using barley as a base, they make their gin with juniper, herbs and onions. Now, that sounds a tad strange (and it is), but the town they are based in, Ootmarsum, is also called the Siepelstad (Onion town) which is their main tourist draw. I’m confused, hesitant and slightly curious about how this will taste – but having just learnt to make a Gibson martini, if it tastes of onions then at least I have a starting point…
Now, if you’ve ever been in a shop or a bar, you’ve probably seen and heard of Hendrick’s gin. The one that people think is fancy because it tastes of cucumber and has a nice bottle. Last March, they released a Midsummer Solstice gin which focused on the floral flavours of a summer bloom, and in June released the Orbium gin. Now, we all know the ‘history’ of gin and tonic, the quinine from a tree bark had anti-malarial properties, we mixed it with booze etc etc. Here, Hendrick’s have made a ‘quininated’ gin, as in they took their gin and added quinine, wormwood and blue lotus blossom. On their own website they say “it is almost certainly not for everybody” which intrigues me. It seems like a bold move for a major brand, even for one that builds itself around the unusual oddities of life. They’ve clashed together the flavours traditionally found in tonic and vermouth, which bring bitter boozy notes to mind. They say these are balanced by the blue lotus flowers, which takes the flavour from floral to bitter via a long slow finish. They suggest making it into a martini or a Martinez, or simply mixing it with soda. So, this should be an interesting taste test.
Anyone that follows me on social media might have seen that I basically stalk the Mackintosh gin family. I’m worming my way in to be an adopted daughter even though my hair isn’t nearly long enough or bright enough. They kindly sent me a bottle of their original gin back in May 2019, then I loved them so much I bought a bottle of their newly-launched navy strength gin in April. Due to lockdown my lack of commuting has given my bank balance a boost and I’ve been bored and FOMO kicked in so I just got myself a bottle of their Old Tom gin. Launched at the same time as the navy strength, I was unsure of the Old Tom – which is a style we all know I love – because it’s pineapple and grapefruit. I worry about pineapple in gin. It shouldn’t be on pizza and I don’t think it should be in my gin. Obviously Old Tom style gins are usually sweeter, and they add candy syrup between distillation and bottling along with the fresh pineapple. They say this is still juniper led with locally foraged elderflower, like their other gins, with a strong citrus burst.
Regular readers might have realised by now that I am a big fan of the Gower gin team. Not only are they lovely people, but they manage to smash out great gin after great gin (case in point: Gwyr gin, Pinwydd, Rhosili, Rhamanta and Bara Brith). Today’s gin is one that I have been looking forward to for a long time, their first foray into the world of navy strength gin which comes with layers and layers of wrapping. Based on their Rhosili gin which uses sea buckthorn, lime, gorse and linden flowers to commemorate Dylan Thomas, this gin isn’t just the minimum 57% ABV needed for navy strength gins. Nope, we are going all the way to 60% ABV. As well as the amped up ABV, they have also added grains of paradise and cubeb pepper for heat, and bringing in a smokiness from lapsang souchong tea. If you head to Rhossilli on the western end of Gower, you’ll find Worms Head, a tidal island shaped like a dragon drinking from the sea which inspired the name and botanicals for this gin.
I met the team from Bullards gin at Junipalooza and was able to give their range a try (I would like to give a shout out to their strawberry and black pepper gin which I thought I would hate but actually quite enjoyed). I’ve now got myself a bottle of their Old Tom gin – a style of gin you should all know I enjoy – which also won best Old Tom style gin at the 2019 Gin Guide Awards (as a distillery they won five awards plus Distillery of the Year). They use ten botanicals in their Old Tom gin including honey which is contrasted by mango and pink peppercorns. That’s a lot of flavour for a gin that is usually defined by it’s sweetness; by the sounds of it, the sweetness will be less synthetic than some sugary gins. Bullards were (that I’ve seen) one of the first brands to introduce refill packs, theirs fit through a normal letterbox and are 70cl so you can reuse your bottle then pop the empty pouch into a postbox and the distillery recycle them. This saves you money and is a much greener option – we all know bottles are recyclable but they also take a lot of energy to make and transport around.