As you might have seen from previous posts, I am a big fan of Scotland and last year supported International Scottish Gin Day in August. One of the new(ish) gins coming from Scotland is Hills & Harbour gin. Hailing from Galloway (down by the border, the area is home to Gretna Green), they have a simple premise – make a gin for everyone, not just the gin snobs. This promise means they won’t charge you a month’s salary to buy a bottle (although at £40 it is definitely not the cheapest), and they won’t use poncy jargon or trendy botanicals. Using local grains, they make their own wheat base spirit as they believe this is key to the best flavour. They use 11 botanicals including Noble Fir needles (the Hills) and Bladderwrack seaweed (the Harbour) from the local area, they say the gin is juniper forward with hints of tropical fruit, citrus and “a subtle scent of the shore”. So, how does it taste?
We’ve made it to the end of week one, hurrah! Just two and a bit left. Today’s gin is from Rock Rose, a Scottish brand with some beautiful bottles. I’ve tried their original gin a few times out and about, and their Winter gin was included in the 2017 calendar. Made in Dunnet Bay Distillery (who also do a lot of contract distilling) they have three key flavours, plus four seasonal editions. In their main range they have their original gin, a navy strength gin, and today’s drink: the pink grapefruit Old Tom gin. This excites me because I love pink grapefruit, and I love Old Tom gins. As you should know, an Old Tom style gin is traditionally sweeter than normal gin (legend has it that back in the illicit gin trade days, people would add turpentine and such to their mix so would throw in a load of sugar to hide the taste) and the Rock Rose team add muscovado sugar at the end of the process. Before this, they hand peel organic pink grapefruits which are hung in a basket and vapour infused during the distillation. This gin was originally a limited edition run in 2016 during a competition for artists to design them a new label. The demand for this was so high that they went on to tweak the recipe slightly and bring it back in the core offering in 2019. So, let’s give it a try!
Note: Darnley’s sent me a sample of their new gin to try, but as always, I’ll let you know what I really think.
For today’s tasting we are travelling back up north to Scotland, specifically the east coast of Fife to a town called Kingsbarn to try the newest in the Cottage Series released by Darnley’s. At the 13th-century Wemyss Castle, Mary Queen of Scots met her future husband Lord Darnley – an occasion that later inspired the Wemyss family (who already run an established whisky distillery) to renovate a cottage and try their hand at gin distilling. They plumped for a London Dry gin style, first steeping their botanicals in a four times distilled neutral grain spirit, before distilling it in their 300l pot still for a fifth time. Their core range of gins started with their Original gin, inspired by the wild elderflower growing on their estate, which creates a light, floral gin. They then went on to make their Spiced gin which brings flavours of pine needles, peppercorns, cloves, rosemary and cardamom. They then created a Navy Strength edition of their Spiced gin, bringing it up to 57% and adding in more juniper to allow the flavours to shine even at this higher ABV. Because having three spirits isn’t enough, Darnley’s are now creating limited edition gins, known as the Cottage Series. These releases are inspired by the botanicals growing on their estate and beyond. The first, launched in July 2018, featured sloe berries, rosehip and elderberry and was originally named the Very Berry edition. Today we try their second release, the Smoke and Zest. For this, their distiller Scott Gowans has taken the home grown barley that is used in their single malt whisky and smoked it in his family’s smoker with pine wood chips. They balance the smoke out with rowanberry and coriander (grown at the distillery) for a touch of sweetness and Turkish orange peel for that tang. The inspiration for this really comes from rowanberries, also known as Mountain Ash and it was this name that inspired Scott to look for something smokey to add to the citrus. The idea to smoke the barley over pine chips came from the production of Lapsang Souchong tea, to create what they call an unusual gin with juniper at its heart. So, how does it taste?
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: The team at the Ice & Fire Distillery sent me a sample to try, but as always I’ll let you know what I think.
You might have read my review of Caithness Highland gin, and today’s gin also comes from the Ice & Fire Distillery. Crofter’s Tears uses purple heather as the signature botanical, alongside fresh orange and lime peel. The (full size) bottle reflects the contents with purple heather flowers snaking around the bottom of the bottle and on the neck stands tall a Highland stag. They suggest serving this with Mediterranean tonic and a twist of lime.
Note: The team at the Ice & Fire Distillery kindly sent me a sample to try, but as always I’ll let you know what I think.
When you hear Ice and Fire, I don’t blame you for thinking about that little show Game of Thrones. But in this case, I’m referring to the Ice & Fire Distillery, a family of Crofters from the Scottish Highlands. Making the most of the beautiful land, they use local water and use purple heather as their signature ingredient in the Crofters Tears gin (review to come). The heather carries through to their branding, their bottles are surrounded by heather and embossed with a highland stag. The Caithness Highland gin that we try today uses rhubarb – a staple in a traditional crofting garden – along with salmonberries. No, not the fish, they are similar to raspberries and so called as traditionally they were eaten with salmon or salmon roe. They combine these with their other botanicals (lots of which are home grown) and put them in their pot stills in the shed, before hand bottling and labelling them.
Note: I contacted the team at Gael gin and they kindly sent me a bottle to try, but as always I’ll let you know what I think.
The Gael is an internationally acclaimed Scottish fiddle song that was originally composed for the Loch Ness visitor centre by Dougie MacLean, and since featured in the movie “The Last of the Mohicans”. When his son Jamie and his partner Tanya got together with gin lovers Nigel and Beverley, they wanted to find a way to combine their passions for gin and music. The Gael Gin team differ from the majority of gins as they distil their own base spirit (which in itself is fairly rare) with malted barley which gives the gin a deep, rich base note. Wanting to keep the Scottish connection strong, they use Scottish heather as one of their botanicals alongside juniper, lemon and orange peel, cardamom and coriander. Looking through the bottle shows you the sheet music for The Gael, and the yellow hue is instantly noticeable. So, how does it taste?
Note: The team at Orkney Distilling kindly sent me a bottle of Aurora gin to try, but as always I’ll let you know what I think.
Back in May 2017, I tried Kirkjuvagr gin (pronounced kirk-u-vaar) and since then, the Orkney Distilling team have grown their range with a navy strength gin and two seasonal editions. Today we are trying their winter Aurora gin. Named after the Aurora Borialis, a phenomenon that appears in the sky over Orkney as winter draws in, this gin is inspired by cosying up by the fire – cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves bring a warmth alongside pink and black peppercorns. They recommend pairing this with ginger ale to amp up the spice. So, how does it taste?