If you aren’t used to drinking scotch just yet, here’s some ideas on how to drink in Scotland without feeling you’re missing out. There’s no better place to learn about whisky than the motherland of the great drink, so you might want to consider a few beginners’ scotches to ease you into it while you are there, such as Bunnahabhain 12yr old (it’s known as ladies dram due to its gentle taste).
Gin – obviously!
Did you know around 70% of the gin produced in the UK is made in Scotland? It’s a great way to keep the distillers busy whilst they are waiting for the whisky to mature, and Scottish botanicals do add to make great gins!
But don’t be fooled by the labels, craft gin doesn’t always mean it is handcrafted or made in small batches. There are also some brands that are not that Scottish, even if the label may make you believe so. But how do we tell the difference? Very soon there will be new labels added on most of the handcrafted, small-batch Scottish gins through a new accreditation scheme to indicate which brands are distilled and bottled in Scotland.
There’s no way I can mention all the gins here as the list is so loooong… But below you can find some of my favourites:
The Botanist – I have been a big fan of the Islay gin for a long time now. It includes 31 botanicals of which 21 are from the island itself.
Makar – Makar Glasgow gin comes from the first gin distillery in Glasgow for over 100 years. Slightly spicy due to black peppercorns, it’s perfect served with some green chillies or jalapeno peppers.
Crossbill – This handcrafted gin is made from 100% Scottish juniper and rosehip. They also make Crossbill 200, which is 59.8% ABV yet still perfectly balanced – the juniper is incredible! The micro-distillery is a cute remote shed located in the Cairngorms National Park.
Caorunn – This gin from Speyside uses some unusual botanicals: rowanberries, apple, heather, bog myrtle and dandelion. Caorunn is Gaelic for rowanberries. The five-sided bottle represents the five Celtic botanicals.
Arbikie Kirsty’s Gin – Arbikie Distillery is run by fourth-generation farmers who grow all the ingredients used in their products. Kirsty’s gin is made from potatoes and botanicals grown at the estate. Kirsty is the name of the master distiller.
Heather Rose – This gin comes from Strathearn distillery, the smallest whisky distillery in Scotland. When you add tonic or prosecco the drink not only changes colour to rose pink but also releases subtle rose notes.
Isle of Harris – This gin comes in a beautiful bottle. Sugar kelp (seaweed) is hand-harvested by a local diver from the deep underwater forests of the Outer Hebrides.
During recent years Scotland has seen a massive growth in craft vodka production. Scotland has a wide range of barley and potatoes that can be distilled into vodka.
Arbikie Distillery is a great example, not only do they grow all the ingredients themselves they also distil and bottle everything at the estate. I really like their chilli vodka, it is smoky and fairly hot – perfect for Bloody Marys!
Scotland’s first and only rum distillery makes a great spiced rum called Dark Matter. Every step of the process has been carried out at the distillery – everything from storing the molasses to fermentation, distillation and spice preparation as well as bottling, labelling and packaging. The sugar cane molasses are also manufactured in the UK. The outcome is very aromatic and dark, almost black, in colour.
The Dark Matter differs from most spiced rums by having focus on the spiciness rather than the more usual vanilla flavour. The spices used are ginger, allspice berries, long pepper seeds and fresh green peppercorns. Other notes you can expect are plum, raisin and a hint of chilli.
Last year Scottish cider producer Thistly Cross Cider and Strathearn Distillery joined forces to produce the first ever Scottish cider brandy! The cider is matured in small single casks, either virgin French oak or American oak.
Originally just an experiment with leftover apple cider, it has now turned out to be a success. There’s one problem still to be solved – the product name. Under EU labelling laws, ‘cider brandy’ is not an approved product name; according to them, such thing does not exist. It was accidentally left out from the official list. The closest name would be ‘cider spirit’, which doesn’t describe the product properly. The makers of Scottish cider brandy are working hard to get the issue resolved.
Glayva and Drambuie are probably the two most well-known liqueurs produced in Scotland. Both are fairly popular with the Scots, but only because they truly know how to appreciate them properly. The rest of us need more time to develop the appropriate taste buds or muster enough courage to actually order one…
Drambuie goes back as far as the 18th century, when it was Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s favourite tipple. The base of Drambuie is a combination of grain and malt whiskies from Speyside and the Highlands, some aged up to 15 years. This base is then carefully mixed with secret spices, herbs and Scottish heather honey.
You might be familiar with a classic cocktail called Rusty Nail – one part Drambuie, two parts scotch whisky, garnished with a lemon twist and served on the rocks.
The recipe for Glayva was invented in 1947 when a local whisky merchant wanted to create a nice warming drink for his customers to enjoy. As he was based in a busy dock it was easy to access unusual spices and other ingredients. He used malt whisky as the base for the spirit and added tangerines, honey and spices.
Glayva is often served on its own, either ice cold or from a heated glass to keep you nice and warm.
One of the new additions in the Scottish liqueur market is Fraser, a strawberry whisky liqueur. I know it sounds pretty odd, but it has turned out to be a popular drink, especially during whisky festivals. It also has subtle notes of vanilla, almond and cinnamon.
The drink is very versatile and can be used in cocktails. You can muddle it with strawberries and top up with prosecco, and it also goes well with bourbon in an Old Fashioned.
If everything else fails, there’s always a pint of Heavy! The Scottish style of ales breaks down into Light, Heavy and Export, according to the strength of the ale. It is still common to hear someone ordering a pint of Heavy instead of a specific ale, although not many younger-generation bartenders understand the meaning.
There’s much more to Scotland than just scotch whisky, and we can expect more new spirits in the future. The country has an incredible nature which allows the distillers to use local grains, potatoes and botanicals to produce more gins, vodkas and other craft spirits.
When we think of Scottish spirits we often think great quality and premium drinks! The distillers never fail to surprise us with new handcrafted products and exciting natural ingredients.
What is your favourite Scottish drink?
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