Wine: Micro gin distilleries on the rise

Caorunn gin from Speyside. Picture: Contributed
Caorunn gin from Speyside. Picture: Contributed
Share this article
0
Have your say

MOVE OVER whisky, gin is back, with micro gin distilleries, and craft gin brands popping up everywhere from Edinburgh and North Berwick to the Yorkshire moors and central London.

It is not just new craft family enterprises at work, but whisky distillers are getting in on the act too. Since Grants’ Hendricks brand led the way over a decade ago, several whisky companies have joined in. It’s not really surprising as it is quicker to turn around a batch of gin, with whisky distillers from Islay (The Botanist), Speyside (Caorunn), Fife (Darnley’s View) to Loch Lomond (Gilt) now crafting their own botanical white spirits with mixed results.

Crossbill gin. Picture: Contributed

Crossbill gin. Picture: Contributed

Botanicals may vary from locally foraged rosehip or bog myrtle to Rhodiola rosea from the cliffs of the Pentland Firth with Scottish juniper as a core ingredient in many, but for me the key is the overall balance and taste – not just the fancy botanics, the number of them or the glossy packaging. Our tasters were told to score on how they perceived the aroma, taste and finish. We had one clear winner – with a few very close behind.

EAST LOTHIAN, SCOTLAND: NB GIN

(£28.50 for 70cl, Lockett Bros, North Berwick; Gullane Deli; Haddington Wines; The Food Hamper, Dunbar; Linton Wines, East Linton; Fine Wine, Musselburgh; The Beerhive; Cork & Cask; Drinkmonger; Henderson Wines; Provenance Wines; Royal Mile Whiskies; Bon Vivant; Valvona & Crolla; Vinos, Edinburgh)

This 100 per cent pure British grain spirit complemented by its eight botanicals, including grains of paradise and cassia bark, really stole the show at our tasting. Lovingly made in a custom-built still, which was created in London and then installed in Viv and Steve Muir’s new micro distillery in North Berwick, this is an old school style with juniper and orange notes. The nose is subtle, but the secret is in the taste, with pure focused citric fresh notes, and a smooth, rounded palate with a fabulous long poised finish. A ‘proper’ gin, our tasters said (42 per cent alc). 9/10

Pickering's Gin. Picture: Contributed

Pickering's Gin. Picture: Contributed

ARGYLL, SCOTLAND: CROSSBILL GIN

(£38 for 70cl, Drinkmonger; Royal Mile Whiskies; Good Spirits Co, Glasgow; www.crossbillgin.com)

This bottle states it is the only gin to use 100 per cent Scottish juniper and rosehip distilled in Scotland in a copper pot still by Jonathan Engels – using the waters of Inshriach, in the Spey valley near Aviemore. The name derives from the native Scottish bird which can only be found in ancient Caledonian forests, like their juniper supply. We loved the distinctive fruity rosehip aromas and melony palate, but found the length a touch short. Engels tells me the ambient temperature is important when he distills his hand-crafted batches. (43.8 per cent alc). 8/10

SPEYSIDE, SCOTLAND: CAORUNN GIN

Rock Rose Gin. Picture: Rose Murray Brown

Rock Rose Gin. Picture: Rose Murray Brown

(£27.95 for 70cl, reduced to £23.95 currently at Royal Mile Whiskies)

Another popular gin at our tasting, this one has been made in small batches (aren’t they all?) at Balmenach distillery in Speyside since 2009 by a whisky maker. With 11 botanicals (five Celtic and six traditional gin botanicals) from Coul Blush apple to bog myrtle, this does have a very appley autumnal tone to it; crisp and dry with a distinctive finish. (41.8 per cent alc). 7.8/10

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND: EDINBURGH GIN

(£27.95 for 70 cl, Royal Mile Whiskies; www.edinburghgindistillery.co.uk)

Scottish twist of pine, citrus peel, coriander seeds and Scottish juniper berries are used for this well-made small batch gin. Made by another enterprising family business, the Nicols of Spencerfield Spirits company, you can now visit their two delightful stills: Flora and Caledonia in Rutland Place. I personally prefer their flavoured raspberry gin, but this had good spicy notes with interesting ‘pine’ undertones. (43 per cent alc). 7.7/10

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND: PICKERINGS GIN

(£29.50 for 70cl, Royal Mile Whiskies)

From Edinburgh’s first distillery for 150 years, the Pickerings people use nine botanicals giving their gin a nutty, liquorice flavour. This was soft, easy on the palate, and beautifully balanced with underlying orange notes, but it was not quite as distinctive as I had hoped. Good potential though – I look forward to trying

future batches. (42 per cent alc). 7.5/10

FIFE, SCOTLAND: DARNLEY’S VIEW SPICED GIN

(£28.95 for 70 cl, Royal Mile Whiskies)

Not surprisingly this unusual spiced gin really split the crowd with some tasters adoring its cinnamon and nutmeg notes – whilst others hated it. Made by the Wemyss family from Fife, the name celebrates the moment that Mary Queen of Scots first spied her husband-to-be Lord Darnley at Wemyss Castle in 1565. (42.7 per cent alc). 7/10

ISLAY, SCOTLAND: THE BOTANIST

(£33.95 for 70 cl, The Whisky Exchange; £34.95, Royal Mile Whiskies)

We really liked the packaging, but some found the taste of this new gin a bit dull, despite the fact that distiller Jim McEwan uses no less than 31 botanicals (of which 22 come from Islay, including gorse and wild mint) and slow simmer distills this artisanal gin in his Ugly Betty Lomond still. This is another surprise lower scorer as this comes from the great whisky distillery Bruichladdich on Islay (46 per cent alc). 6.7/10

CAITHNESS, SCOTLAND: ROCK ROSE GIN

(£33.95 for 70 cl, Royal Mile Whiskies; Luvians, Cupar/St Andrews; www.rockrosegin.co.uk)

This Caithness gin using locally foraged botanicals Rhodiola rosea (hence rose on the rocks), rowan berries and pure Highland water, is made at Dunnet Bay in Thurso by another enterprising husband and wife team, Martin and Claire. I was surprised this did not do better in our tasting. It was sampled from small 20cl bottles, but that should not have made any difference. Light floral notes, berry undertones, just not very distinctive. (41.5 per cent alc). 6.9/10

LONDON: LITTLE BIRD GIN

(£29.75, www.masterofmalt.com)

Cute label of ‘pin-up Ginger’. This London dry gin is also actually made in London too, but our tasters found the aroma and palate a bit too sickly sweet. There were lots of grapefruit and orange notes in this fruity boutique small batch gin which is made using 10 botanicals (but six are kept secret). One of these is Ivory Coast ginger which definitely comes through on the taste. They suggest serving with a slice of ruby grapefruit. (41.6 per cent alc). 6.4/10

HARROGATE, YORKSHIRE: MASONS GIN

(£40-£45 for 70cl or £13-£17 for 20cl bt, Harvey Nichols, Edinburgh/London)

This expensive new small batch craft gin made in the ‘London dry gin style’ in a traditional small copper alembic still near Bedale was another surprise disappointment in our tasting. Some noted it had few distinctive flavours, whilst others enjoyed the herbal fennel and citrus notes. (42 per cent alc). 6/10

LOCH LOMOND, SCOTLAND: GILT GIN

(£29.20 for 70cl bt, www.masterofmalt.com)

Testers said this gin had a poor name and poor packaging, which made it look more like a perfume bottle than a gin, and they weren’t keen on its non distinctive, disappointing taste. A single malt Scottish gin quintuple distilled in the Vale of Leven, Loch Lomond by Strathleven distillers, this offering uses 100 per cent malted barley and is made by the same Ricky Christie who also produces Valt vodka. Sorry, not a high scorer in our tasting (40 per cent alc). 5.8/10

Join Rose’s Beginners wine classes in Edinburgh starting 11 February from £36, www.rosemurraybrown.com