When it comes to booze, Scotland is most commonly associated with its namesake brown spirit, Scotch — specifically single malt Scotch, which is defined as a spirit made at one distillery using only malted barley. But, perhaps surprising to some, gin has been made alongside whisky in Scotland for centuries, and the country is known for producing some excellent expressions.
Historically, many whisky producers have relied on gin, an unaged spirit, to turn a quick profit and subsidise a distillery’s brown spirit business; dark booze, like whisky, often spends years in barrels before it’s ready to be released. This practice continues to hold true in Scotland, and elsewhere around the world.
Over the past few years — thanks in part of the worldwide proliferation of craft cocktail culture, and a general interest in old liquors made in new ways — micro gin distilleries have sprung up in Scotland, offering an alternative to venerated English gin giants like Beefeater and Plymouth. Brands like these long ago popularised the juniper-forward London dry style of gin, but recently Scottish upstarts distilleries have begun to experiment with botanicals, both indigenous and exotic, to create more complex, floral spirits.
Scottish Gin on the Rise
Hendrick’s is one of the largest brands that specifically identifies as being a Scottish gin, and from inception, the company has set out to differentiate itself through its flavor profile. "[It] was … a radical creation when it was developed, as the post-distillation addition of its distinctive cucumber and Bulgarian rose could not survive the standard distilling process," says master distiller Gracie. "So this was a gin deliberately launched as a gin, but without the worldwide style brand ‘London Dry.’"
Now though, plenty of smaller distilleries are making gins that use locally sourced botanicals to add a distinctive Scottish flavor. "It is one of the beautiful things about the category," Gracie explains. "There is no limit on the number and type of botanicals that can be used in the production of gin, as long as the predominant flavor is juniper."
The Botanist, a gin produced by the Bruichladdich whisky distillery, is overseen by head distiller Adam Hannett, who strongly believes in the concept of terroir, specifically that of the Islay region where the gin is produced. The Botanist "is totally rooted in its sense of place," he says, "but that ‘place’ is primarily the Hebridean island of Islay, and the environmental implication that identity carries." To that end, The Botanist is distilled from 22 locally foraged Islay botanicals, berries, and barks, including creeping thistle, downy birch, heather flowers, and wood sage, giving it an invigoratingly floral character.
With a rich history of distilling, and indeed a national identity that celebrates this, it’s no surprise that Scotland is the leader in the resurgent interest in one of the world’s oldest spirits.