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.
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.
Note: Stuart from Biggar gin sent me a sample to try, but as always I’ll let you know what I think.
Back at the start of 2019 (do you remember that far back? You know, when we were allowed out and stuff), the team from Biggar gin sent me some of their gin to try and I LOVED it. I was just sad it wasn’t a BIGGAR bottle (see what I did there?). Sorry, I’ve been alone for eight weeks now, I’m finding bad jokes very amusing. Their new gin is bottled at 57% ABV (their original gin is 43% ABV) and made in small batches (hence my little Biggar sample), making their navy strength gin the third in the brand’s line up.
Alongside their original gin they have a Clyde Valley plum gin which is a limited edition gin infused with South Lanarkshire plums (FYI this is bottled in batches of 400 per harvest). As they are based in what is basically the centre of Scotland and far away from any oceans, they felt strange calling this new gin “navy strength” (hence, Biggar strength), and they didn’t just want to cut their original gin at a higher ABV. Instead, they took three of their original botanicals (rowan berry, rosehip and nettle) and added locally grown hawthorn berries, which when dried are similar to cranberries with a hint of apple. They wanted to make a gin that was recognisably Biggar, but with a twist and that also worked in classic cocktails.
If anyone follows me on social media, you’ll probably notice I have a little love affair with the Mackintosh gin family. I mean, I’m ginger and half-Scottish so I’m practically part of the family. I am a big fan of their London Dy gin which was launched last year, and so when they announced two new releases, I got very excited. The first is an Old Tom style gin with pineapple and grapefruit (the pineapple inclusion here worried me but I have been informed it is actually rather yummy), and the one we are trying today, the 59% ABV Mariner Strength gin. Made using the same botanicals as their London dry, but cut at the higher ABV (previously 42%), they say this is juniper led, with notes of elderflower, soft citrus and a hint of pepper. I’m a fan of Mackintosh gin, and I’m a fan of navy strength gins, so I have high hopes going into this one, so let’s see how it tastes.