Stephen Jardine: World Gin Day

Edinburgh's first gin distillery in 150 years has recently opened. Picture: Jane Barlow
Edinburgh's first gin distillery in 150 years has recently opened. Picture: Jane Barlow
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IF THEY produced a food and drink version of Trivial Pursuit, this would make a great question, writes Stephen Jardine.

Which European city consumes the most gin per head of the population?

You might assume it would be cocktail-mad London or thirsty Barcelona but the answer is Edinburgh. That may seem surprising until you understand the city’s rich gin heritage.

Back in 1777 there were eight licensed distilleries and almost 400 illegal stills operating in Edinburgh and Leith. Edinburgh was a centre for gin excellence as well as consumption.

But it couldn’t compete with London which had gone gin crazy. Within a few years, the streets were awash with “mother’s ruin” and drinking was out of control. Reports from the time talk about women selling their babies for a bottle of gin and by the mid-18th century the city was consuming an incredible 14 gallons of spirit every year.

The government was forced to act by raising taxes and introducing the Gin Act to strictly limit sales. This draconian approach worked and gin fell out of fashion. Two hundred years on, gin had settled into a cosy niche behind the bar in the golf club as the drink of choice for the middle classes.

Then something interesting happened. Resistance to the big brands and mass produced alcohol-fuelled interest in craft brewing and that soon spilled over into the spirits market.

With clever marketing, brands like Sipsmiths and Hendricks started appealing to a new much younger demographic looking for something different. The gin revolution was under way but only now is it really taking off.

Today is World Gin Day, a celebration reflecting the renaissance the drink is experiencing. To mark it, Edinburgh is playing host to the Scottish Juniper Festival but the capital also has a significant new gin presence.

Edinburgh Gin this week opened a new distillery, visitor centre and bar in the capital where customers will be able to drink while watching the spirit being produced. The project is in partnership with Heriot-Watt University which is providing advice and support to turn the new venture into a centre of excellence for gin production.

The aim is to use this expertise to increase our understanding of Edinburgh’s gin past, to revive long lost varieties and to develop new products for the future. Edinburgh may have the heritage but with a great reputation for bars and having a good time, Glasgow is getting in on the act.

The word on the street is that a Glasgow Gin is in development and will be launched later this year.

With more bars increasing their gin offering and one city centre establishment serving more than 70 varieties, our enthusiasm for gin goes from strength to strength. Gin really lends itself to added flavours and with our enthusiasm for provenance and produce, all kinds of wonderful varieties lie ahead. On World Gin Day, I’ll drink to that.