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.
Note: This post contains affiliate links, marked by (Ad) which means if you click that to buy your bottle of gin I will receive some pennies.
One of the top tourist attractions in Edinburgh is the Edinburgh Gin distillery; launched in 2010, they take inspiration from the city’s boozy history – Leith was a key port in the 1700s, importing genever from The Netherlands. Despite the long history, they are very forward thinking. They teamed up with Heriot-Watt University to access the students of the Brewing and Distilling MSc which was a world first. Since launch, they’ve built up quite the repertoire under head distiller David Watkinson. Their flagship gin features fourteen botanicals, including some slightly more unusual ingredients like pine buds, cobnuts and lemongrass, and is juniper forward with hints of citrus. There is also a large range of flavoured gins – both real gins and properly labelled liqueurs. Today though we are trying their Seaside edition. This was the first collaboration with the students on Heriot-Watt’s MSc course and features coastal botanicals scurvy grass, ground ivy and bladderwrack. They balance the salinity with spice, using coriander, grains of paradise and cardamom. They recommend this as a bright G&T, or in a martini where they ramp up the saltiness to garnish with olive and anchovy.
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.
Note: The Garden Shed Distillery team sent me a bottle to try, but as always I’ll let you know what I really think
Who are The Garden Shed Drinks Company?
Based in Glasgow, the team have a strong ethical baseline. They donate a portion of their profits to environmental charities and they aim to raise awareness about some of the issues that exist due to climate change. With the classic tale of four friends that got together and after a few drinks decided to make a gin, they started this in their garden shed. They are inspired by the botanicals that grow around them – blackberries from their garden, dandelions that are usually disposed of and some bee friendly lavender. They bottle their gin at 45% and say it is filled with floral and spiced notes. So, how does it taste?
Note: Jim at Mackintosh Gin kindly sent me bottle to try, as always I’ll let you know what I think.
The team at Mackintosh Gin come from Angus, the area just north of Dundee on the east coast of Scotland – affectionately known as “the birthplace of Scotland”. James and Deborah met and fell in love at a young age, after travelling aroujnd they settled in Angus and like all gin lovers, started attending gin festivals and building their gin collection. Around bottle 50, they joked that they should make their own gin – a joke that became reality two years later. They use nine botanicals in their gin – juniper, angelica, coriander and elderflower, which is picked a few minutes from their door. Each morning when they start a distillation, they go and buy fresh grapefruits from their local shop. They import their base spirit from the West Midlands, before the gin is distilled and bottled in Arbroath. Once off the still, it is combined with pure local water from Glen Isla.
Note: I contacted the Beinn an Tuirc distillery team and they kindly sent me some to try. As always, I’ll let you know what I really think.
I think I speak for all of us when I say “what the hell does Beinn an Tuirc mean?” Well it’s the highest point in Kintyre that the Beinn an Tuirc distillery team sources their water from; it translates from gaelic as “the hill of the wild boar”. Kintyre gin features a (presumably) wild boar on top of a hill on their bottle and uses 12 botanicals – all of which are sustainably sourced. They combine macerating botanicals with vapor infusion and mix common botanicals orris root, lemon peel, liquorice, juniper and cubeb amongst others, with more unique ingredients Icelandic moss (which, confusingly, grows in Scotland and isn’t actually moss) and sheep sorrel (not made of sheep, adds a hint of floral notes). They power their 230 litre still with their own hydro-electric scheme and each batch is named, rather than numbers, using the Gaelic alphabet. They recommend serving this with Mediterranean Fever Tree and garnished with basil, or light tonic with mint.