These days, Scotch, the nation’s water of life, has some stiff competition to rival its claim.
Seventy percent of the U.K’s gin is produced in Scotland—including such big names as Tanqueray, Hendrick’s and Gordon’s—and over the past five years, the trend for hand-crafted small-batch gin has exploded.
Scottish producers are making the most of the country’s pure water and native botanicals, and artisanal gin distilleries are popping up across the country. Last year, Glasgow’s first gin distillery began producing Makar, St. Andrews Eden Mill released its first hand-crafted gin, and on the Shetland Islands the first legal distillery opened on Unst to produce Shetland Reel Gin.
Most recently, Rock Rose Gin launched in the Highlands, where local botanicals are hand-foraged from the cliffs and forests. The gin—which takes its name from one of those botanicals, the Viking-harvested Rhodiola Rosea—quickly became one of the fastest selling craft gins in the U.K., and the founders are beginning distillery tours this month.
But where can you actually try these Scottish gins? Edinburgh’s 56 North lays claim to the country’s biggest haul of bottles (currently more than 200). Here are five more suggestions for enjoying a taste of Scotland’s second spirit:
Edinburgh’s newest gin palace, Jolly Botanist, opened at the beginning of February near Haymarket station and currently offers around 60 gins. Stylish bartenders mix signature and classic cocktails in this Victorian-themed café/bar, which, in the near future, hopes to launch a "ginstitute” offering gin tastings and food pairings.
Heads and Tales:
Edinburgh Gin, which uses distinctly Scottish botanicals such as heather and milk thistle, arrived on the scene in 2013. Last summer the Heads and Tales bar opened at the distillery underneath the Rutland Hotel, with two custom-made stills so you can watch the gin production process on a distillery tour, or try your hand at making your own. Aside from its own product, Heads and Tales offers a menu that features a large collection of Scottish gins, including Caorunn, made with Celtic botanicals hand-foraged from the Highlands, and the Botanist from the traditionally whisky producing island of Islay.
The Royal Dick:
At The Royal Dick, in Edinburgh’s Summerhall arts center, instruments left over from the building’s former life as a veterinary school mingle with contemporary art exhibits. The bar is next door to Pickering’s Gin distillery, which, when it opened in 2013, was Edinburgh’s first gin distillery in 150 years. Made with nine botanicals—juniper, coriander, cardamom, angelica, fennel, anise, lemon, lime and cloves—Pickering’s Gin is based on an original Bombay recipe, which the distillers claim was handwritten on a fragment of paper dated 1947 and kept a family secret until it resurfaced in 2013. The distillery pumps their gin next door so that the Royal Dick can offer Pickering’s on tap.
Glasgow’s first dedicated gin bar opened last spring and is housed in a late 19th-century building, which operates as a tea lounge during the day. In keeping with its name, the bar holds 71 different gins—whittled down from a list of thousands, which must have been a painstaking, though not unpleasant, task for the owners. Their gin flights are served with specially selected garnishes, tonic-infused ice cubes and the bar’s own homemade tonic syrups, with which you create your own tonic waters by 'skooshing' with a personal soda siphon.
Alston Bar & Beef:
Just weeks after Gin71’s opening, Alston Bar & Beef appeared on the Glasgow scene with almost 60 gins. The bar takes its inspiration from Alston Street, once the main street in the forgotten village of Gramnston, which vanished under Glasgow Central railway station over a century ago. Book a Gin Masterclass to learn about gin’s history and distillation process—and, of course, sip a few samples.