Scottish Gin Trail

With roughly 70% of the UK’s gin produced in Scotland, it’s no surprise, a gin trail has popped up to coincide with tonight’s celebration of Burns Night.

The spirit is worth £1.76bn to the UK economy and it’s evident that Scotland’s craft gin industry is flourishing.

The map showcases 12 of Scotland’s best craft distilleries, bars and landmarks encouraging visitors to swap a dram for a nip of gin. It’s the brainchild of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) with the support of DEFRA and joins The London Gin Trail.

Here are some of the Scottish gin distillers I know, some are on the trail, others not.

FIFE

Two of the biggest gin brands in the world come from Scotland, and I didn’t believe it either. Gordon’s and Tanqueray are only London dry gins in name. Both are owned by Diageo and are made at Cameron Bridge, near Leven in Fife. Apparently only 12 people know the recipe for Gordon’s Gin.

Take a trip to the Firth of Forth and Wemyss Castle is home to the gin distillery of Darnley’s View. Their award-winning spiced gin has all the familiar ingredients of any great gin with added cardamom and nutmeg.

In St Andrew’s the ‘home of golf’ you’ll find Eden Mill gin . They produce five core gins including Original Gin and Love gin, a sweet floral gin with a blush of pink. Botanicals for this include red rose petals, marshmallow root, goji berries and whole hibiscus flowers – perfect for Valentine’s Day.

AYRSHIRE

In Girvan, Hendrick’s have made their home, and their popular cucumber and rose infused gin is made in small batches, using two rare and unusual stills.

SHETLAND

Shetland Reel Gin is at the tip of the British Isles in the most northerly inhabited island of Unst. It began life, as many businesses do, by four people sharing a passion for producing top quality products, locally. It’s the Island’s only distillery their original gin uses locally-harvested apple mint and their latest batch, Ocean Sent features native Shetland seaweed. They also make a blended malt here too.

ARGYLL & THE ISLES

One of my favourite Islands is Islay and while it’s famous for its malt whisky, The Bruichladdich Distillery has had a rather successful time bottling The Botanist. I love this floral gin that uses nine classic botanicals and a further 22 harvested from the Island.

DUNDEE & ANGUS

Arbikie Gin hails from a family-run distillery in Arbroath, their award-winning ‘Kirsty’s Gin’ is named after Master Distiller, Kirsty Black. All its botanicals are locally foraged.

THE HIGHLANDS

Speyside is another area known for it’s malt rather than it’s gin but Caorunn Gin infuses five locally foraged botanicals. Small batch, and crafted by their master gin maker Simon Buley, like their whisky they use only pure grain spirit, natural Scottish Water and 11 botanical gin ingredients. Tonic and red apple slices are how you take Caorunn.

Gordon Castle Gin is another small-batch gin packed with Highland herbs from the Castle’s walled garden. Subtle notes of lavender and garden mint makes this award-winning gin perfect for a dry martini.

It’s the only native bird found in Scotland’s ancient Caledonian pine forest and it’s the name of this distillery near Aviemore in the Highlands . Crossbill uses Scottish ingredients which include Speyside’s free water supply, Juniper and the hedgerow fruit Rosehip. They’ve also cultivated their own sustainable wild juniper supply. Each year small batches are released, pretty much in harmony with the juniper growth. Sustainable and delicious.

In Dunnet Bay, you’ll find the Rock Rose gin distillery, the most northerly distillery in mainland Britain. While they’re relative newcomers (they began life in 2014), they’re already picking up Awards. Their gin made with locally harvested botanicals of Rhodiola Rosea, sea buckthorn and rowan berries is zesty and fruity and bottled in ceramic. They also make Holy Grass Vodka.

EDINBURGH & THE LOTHIANS

Edinburgh Gin is made within stumbling distance of the Castle, right in the heart of the City and it’s here you can see how they make their spirit. It’s also the site of the Heads and Tales Bar where you can take a tour, a guided tasting, or make your own gin. In the evening, the distillery is transformed into a gin bar.

Pickering’s is handcrafted at the Summerhall Distillery, the first gin distillery in Edinburgh, established over 150 years ago. Their award-winning gin is made with nine botanicals and added to the grain spirit in a 500-litre copper still who goes by the name of ‘Gert’.

The Jolly Botanist is a gin bar in Edinburgh’s Haymarket area where over 72 Gins are on offer.

In the coastal town of Dunbar, Firkin Gin is a relative newcomer. Launched on 24 April 2015 they produce just 250 bottles in each batch. Each is individually filled, corked, sealed, labelled and waxed by hand. This classic London-dry gin recipe has a twist; it’s aged in American Oak casks.

By the sea in North Berwick, you’ll find NB Gin, another late starter which doesn’t seem to have hindered it’s rise through the ranks. This distillery was born in 2013 and has garnered a clutch of awards including The World’s Best London Dry Gin at The World Drinks Awards. Just eight quality botanicals go into this gin and no more than 100 litres is distilled at a time, keeping an ever watchful eye on perfection.

LOCH LOMOND

GILT gin is Loch Lomond’s first gin offering and is produced by Strathleven Distillers – the result of a Scotsman and a Spaniard realising a dream. This super-dry gin is made from malted barley with punches of juniper and cardamom.

GREATER GLASGOW & THE CLYDE VALLEY

In Glasgow Makar Gin is distilled at the Glasgow Distillery Company, and is made in their copper pot still, called Annie. They use seven botanicals, including juniper, angelica root, liquorice, coriander seed, lemon peel, rosemary, black peppercorns and cassia bark. They also make a single malt called Prometheus.

If you’re not in the travelling mood, visit Gin71, Glasgow’s first dedicated gin bar. They stock thousands of varieties and if you can’t choose, take a gin flight served with their homemade tonics.

At the Strathearn Distillery near the village of Methven, they have Zak Shenfield overseeing the production of their oaked Highland gin. At 22, he’s Scotland’s Young Distiller of the Year at what is probably Scotland’s smallest whisky and a gin distillery.

Here’s the new map.

Langley’s No 8 Gin

The first of a few gin round-ups in the run up to Christmas …

Langley’s No 8 is a small batch, hand-crafted English grain gin from a single distillation copper pot.  Nothing new there.   Marketed as the ultimate gin for a Martini or a G&T, from the few measures I’ve had from the bottle, I have to say they’ve got it spot on.

imageThe juniper and coriander come through immediately, followed by a punchy citrus kick; it’s followed quickly by licorice, and fresh green grass and is smooth in the finish.  It tastes nothing like a lot of the gins I’ve tasted, currently on the market.

It’s a gin for men who like theirs more ‘substantial’.  Us flowers of women prefer something delicate (according to their taste tests).  I disagree.  I love a gin that tastes like gin and not a packet of Parma Violets, so I loved Langley’s.  This old style classic English gin is perfect with tonic and a big fat wedge of red grapefruit or their Classic Serve.

image

I use Fever Tree Mediterranean Tonic, so that affects the taste too.

Langleys No 8 Gin

The Langley Distillery had, up until the release of No 8, made gin for Martin Miller’s and Broker’s, but didn’t make a gin with its label.

Visit their website for more details, in the meantime here’s an easy recipe for their 008 Cocktail.

Langley’s 008

50ml Langley’s No 8 Gin
12.5ml St Germain Elderflower Liqueur
37.5ml Apple juice
12.5ml fresh lemon
4 basil leaves

Shake hard with basil & fine strained.

Serve in a coupette and garnish with basil leaf.

Whisky, Wool and Wildlife – A Long Weekend on Islay

There’s something magical about Islay (pronounced I-la). It has some of the best beaches in Britain, whisky by the barrel-load and fish so fresh you practically have to slap it. For a whisky lover, particularly those with a penchant for peat, the mere mention of the name makes the heart beat faster. Even if whisky isn’t your thing, Islay is full of riches and a long weekend here will lift your spirits and make your heart sing.

Beach, Islay

Beach, Islay

IMG_2371

Stormy Islay

Getting there: You can get to Islay by Air from Glasgow with FlyBe or by Ferry from Kennacraig on the Kintyre peninsula to Port Askaig and Port Ellen.

Flying to Islay

Islay Airport

Stay: Glenegedale House is opposite Islay Airport and it’s a very warm welcome with plates of freshly baked cake and pots of piping hot coffee.  You’ll be guaranteed a first-class stay with a peaceful night’s sleep, followed by a hearty breakfast. This luxury guest house is a family-run affair with Emma and Graeme at the helm. I loved the whisky-fuelled porridge, full fruit buffet, cooked breakfast and banana cake.

Glenegedale Guest House

Banana Cake

Travel: Buses are intermittent but there are taxis which you’ll need to book ahead of time. To do the island justice, it’s best to hire a car to explore, grab yourself a Landranger map and plan your route and try not to rely too heavily on a sat nav.  Islay Cycles hire bikes for the family.

Bus stop, Islay

Walk: Islay is perfect for walking and as you’d expect there are plenty of well-trodden routes. The Walk Highlands website is a great resource. In April next year you can take part in the Walk Islay festival which allows walkers of all ability to romp around the islands of Jura and Colonsay.  Kildalton Cross and Port Mor is a must, and in the ruins of the Kildalton Church you’ll find the magnificent carved Celtic Cross which dates from the late eighth century. Red Indians are said to have rubbed their spines against the sacred stone and it’s believed if you do the same you’ll find your inner peace.

Kildalton Cross, Islay

Kildalton Cross

There are plenty of hidden beaches and some of the best will be the ones you find, usually deserted, with the odd flock of birds or a dog walker.

Beach, Islay

The Islay Community Garden is something of a secret and is very close to Islay House, built in the 17th century.  It’s had a few reincarnations since its construction in 1677 and when I visit was undergoing a conversion into a country house hotel.  The garden is open all year round and is free to visit.   Walk among the fruit trees, vegetables and buy some flowers from the wonderful cutting garden.

Islay Community Garden

Sup: Take your pick from eight working whisky distilleries on Islay but learn to pronounce their names before you arrive. Islay is the island of peat, cut from source and used to smoke the barley.

Islay Peat

Peat cutter, Islay

Lagavulin, (pronounced lag-a-voolin) Caol Ila (pronounced cull-ee-la), Bunnahabhain (pronounced boona-hah-ven), Bruichladdich (pronounced brook-laddy), Laphroaig (pronounced laf-roig), Kilchoman (pronounced kill-coman), and Bowmore have a distillery here.  An organised tour will explain the full whisky-making process, but be sure to book in advance.

Lagavulin Distillery

Lagavulin whisky

Lagavulin is said to be one of the oldest producers on Islay and it operates at full tilt to keep up with demand. Visitors on their tour get the full experience and if you’re lucky, you’ll get to taste mature malts straight from the barrels.  Here’s me having done just that – I think the eyes say it all.

Tasting, Warehouse

If whisky’s not your drink, then try the real ale made on Islay: Black Rock’s one to start with.

Eat: The Islay Hotel does a great seafood platter and has a well-stocked whisky bar, the Distillery at Ardbeg has The Old Kiln Cafe and when we ate there our lunch was tasty. I’m told it’s not unusual during the summer months to queue for half an hour to get a table, but there are plenty of places to eat on the island, just ask the locals.

Islay Hotel, Bar

Wear: Islay has had a Mill since 1883 and after a period of closure it reopened in 1981 and is managed by husband and wife team, Gordon and Sheila Covell. The two Victorian looms have produced some memorable plaids. The Mill made the cloth for the film Braveheart as well as a clutch of other Hollywood blockbusters. Today, they weave for tailors in Europe, local distilleries and they sell the rugs, scarves, caps and tweed, weaved on the premises.

Islay Woollen Mill

Watch: Islay’s surrounded by 130 metres of coastline and that means plenty of sandy beaches. Take a swim at Laggan Bay, Loch Indaal or Loch Gruinart. Be sure to take binoculars, there are seal colonies and a few otters and the island is a birdwatchers paradise and home to tens of thousands of wintering bird populations.  You can expect to see large flocks of geese – the protected Greenland and white-fronted and Barnacle and the RSPB has sites at Loch Gruinart and Oa.

Deserted beach, Islay

History: In the former free church of Port Charlotte you’ll find the Museum of Islay Life a chance to explore the history of the island. It houses around 2,000 objects over a wide range of subject areas from farming tools to kitchen utensils.

When to visit: Each September the island hosts the Islay Jazz Festival, now in its 15th year and hosts musicians from the international arena and the cream of Scotland’s jazz scene. Tickets are sold on a small-scale which allows concert-goers a uniquely intimate experience. Check their website for dates in 2016.

Lagavullin Jazz Festival

For more information on Islay go to Visit Scotland‘s website.

Dalwhinnie Winter’s Gold: Review

When I say in the middle of nowhere, I mean it.  It’s almost as if the Dalwhinnie Distillery has been dropped from the sky.

Dalwhinnie Distillery

Nestled between the Monadhliath and Grampian mountain ranges, it’s one of the highest working distilleries in Scotland and there’s a very good reason it is where it is.  Like most, it’s usually because of the water source but the abundance of local peat is another reason for Dalwhinnie’s location.

Inverness-shire landscape

I’ve done my fair share of distillery tours and no, they’re not all the same.  For a start, as I’ve just said, their location plays a massive part in the final product usually by a burn or near water which is drawn to make the spirit, then there’s the distillation process and finally where the whisky will be stored.  Each house has its own Master Distiller who is responsible for the bottled whisky.

The cold weather plays a large part in the flavour profile of Dalwhinnie’s whisky which occurs primarily during the condensing stage, the colder the weather, the less contact the liquid has with the copper when it passes through the worm tubs.  Worm tubs are huge and are usually found outside, a lot of distilleries have done away with them because they take a lot to maintain and are hostage to the weather.  If the ‘worm’ pipes get warm, condensation becomes impossible.  

A whisky served from frozen is rare, although that said both Famous Grouse’s ‘Snow Grouse’ and Johnnie Walker Gold (both blends), are recommended to be drunk straight from the freezer.   When you freeze alcohol, cheap vodka for instance, it masks any harsh flavours as well as thickening the liquid. Freezing Winter’s Gold, a single malt, gives it a syrupy mouth feel which slips down rather well like a honeyed hug.  Then when the liquid warms up, it releases a wonderful heather note with hints of peat and spice, predominately cinnamon.  It gets better with every sip.  Think autumn fruit tart with notes of spiced gingerbread, finished off with a smoky peat.

Dalwhinnie Winter's Gold

Some single malts for me are way too strong but this is delicate and perfect for a cold winter’s night, not too difficult for the makers then to find a name for their new release, Winter’s Gold is perfect both in taste and on the pocket.

If you find yourself in Inverness-shire, Dalwhinnie is a great distillery to take a look around.

Yeni Raki UK Launch

If you visit Turkey you will no doubt have supped on sweet tea during the day and when the sunsets, their unofficial national drink – Raki.  It’s the clear spirit which tastes of aniseed, it’s made from raisins or grain and you’d know about it if you’d tried it.  If not. You just have to and now there’s simply no excuse because this drink is now on sale, here in the UK.
Tea in Istanbul
The London restaurant, Dabbous hosted the launch of Yeni Raki and I went along to find out more about the drink.
Ollie Dabbous & Galip Yorgancioglu
Galip Yorgancioglu, here on the right of chef Ollie Dabbous, is the MD of Diageo, Turkey and based in Istanbul and he attempts to tell me a little about the spirit among the buzz of the special menu he’s organised to compliment the drink. 
Yeni Raki
Yeni Raki is made using a double-distillation process, grapes and aniseed are mixed in copper vats.  The history of Raki spans six centuries and is more a dining ritual than a drink.  Raki it seems is as vital to the Turkish people as the blood that pumps through their veins and as this is passed on from generation to generation. 
 
Raki is as important as the food on the table, and I’m told it’s a drink that needs to be respected, along with the rituals.  The Raki bottle needs to sit at the end of the table and treated like a diner.  Raki is not gulped.  Absolutely not.  It is most definitely sipped.  And, after two drinks in short succession, it definitely has to be sipped. 
Table laid at Dabbous
 Dine Slow plate
Ollie conjured up a 5-course menu to compliment the drink.
Dabbous Yeni Raki launch
We began with Fennel Shavings With Lemon Balm & Pickled Rose Petals
Fennel Shavings With Lemon Balm & Pickled Rose Petals
Then we moved on to raw scallops with Eucalyptus
Raw scallops with Eucalyptus

And a succulent lamb dish

 Lamb dish
Poached quince with honey, chestnuts and lemon thyme and finish on 
Poached quince with honey, chestnuts and lemon thyme
Cigar leaf caramel chocolates
Cigar leaf caramel chocolates
Ollie and the desserts
Raki isn’t a drink to be supped alone, it’s to be shared – whether it’s at a wedding, a birthday, or to celebrate the birth of a family member or celebrate the life of another.  The other thing you must do before drinking Raki is say Serefe (sheh-rehf-ee) or cheers!
 
The way to drink Yeni Raki is entirely up to you but the traditionalist will add water and a lump of ice.  Because of the high alcohol content, 45% ABV, the colour changes when you add water.  It’s known as Lion’s Milk and a literal translation from the Turkish name for Raki aslan sütü.  Aslan is the Turkish word for lion and a metaphor for strength, whilst sutu is milk so milk of the lion.  There’s something that will certainly make the drinker roar after a few too many.   
A beautiful book Raki and Fish investigates the fish culture and cuisine of 11 Mediterranean ports.  Each city includes traditional recipes from renowned local chefs.
Raki and Fish 
Illustration
Tangier, Raki and Fish
If you fancy embracing the spirit of slow, Yeni Raki is on sale in Asda and Tesco stores as well as ethnic off licences.
 
All images courtesy of Story PR.