Did you know that 70% of the gin made in the UK is actually made in Scotland?
Scotland’s gin-producing areas can be separated into six different regions, and I thought I’d take a look to see if it is possible to identify what distinguishes each one. Between them they boast over 70 distilleries and hundreds of different gins, but whereas Scottish whisky regions often give you an indication of the style of whisky (fruity from Speyside, peaty from Islay etc.…), surprisingly the Gin regions don’t follow any identifiable pattern.
As the global market for gin is getting ever more innovative and competitive, you would expect Scotland to create some signature flavours of its own, by using its wonderfully diverse range of plants, berries, roots and herbs. Tasmania, for example, has established itself in the gin world by consistently using native botanicals, unique to Tasmania, in their gins. Tasmanian mountain pepper berry can be found in most Tasmanian gins. And South African fynbos botanicals, such as rooibos and honeybush, are typical ingredients in South African gins. Scotland, however, has such a diverse mix of gins available that it hasn’t yet developed a signature botanical or botanicals that permeate all Scottish gins or each region. Perhaps in being spoilt for choice it is missing a real opportunity…
What are the most common Scottish botanicals?
The array of botanicals available for Scottish gins is remarkable, and it’s no surprise that Scotland produces so many high-quality brands as a result. I have listed a few important ones below:
Heather, milk thistle, silver birch sap, fir or pine needles, kelp, carline thistle, blaeberries, hawthorn root and flowers, meadowsweet, bladderwrack seaweed, bog myrtle, sea buckthorn berries, rosehip, scots lovage, rowan berries, nettle, red clover, gorse blossom, elderflower, dandelion, green sweet cicely, lavender, gooseberry, sea lettuce, hogweed, carrageen, wild water mint, sea pink flowers, violet flowers, apple mint, mugwort leaves, burnet rose, borage, bere barley, lemon thyme, lady’s bedstraw, eyebright, sorrel and many many more.
There is a real pick & mix of gin botanicals used, as the overview of each region below reveals…
Scotland’s Gin Regions:
Edinburgh & the South East
The distilleries in the Borders use some locally harvested botanicals such as gorse flowers, whereas the distilleries found in Edinburgh (and nearby) are more likely to produce London Dry-style gins with botanicals sourced from various parts of the world. An exception to this is The Old Curiosity Distillery in Edinburgh, which creates floral gins using botanicals they grow in their own garden. In fact, they grow some 600 herbs. Some gins from the Lothian area also make the most of their local botanicals (meadowsweet, sea buckthorn, elderflower…).
Try these: Edinburgh Seaside Gin (seaweed, scurvy grass, ground ivy), Reiver’s Gin (whin flower), St Abbs Lifeboat Gin (local kelp), Old Curiosity Apothecary Rose Gin, Fidra Gin (from East Lothian)
Glasgow & the South West
Gins from the south west boast coastal flavours and local botanicals such as Noble fir, meadowsweet, nettle and rowan berries. But you also find gins with botanicals that are sourced from around the globe, such as Hendrick’s Gin.
Try these: Biggar Gin (rowan berries, rosehip, nettle…), Hills & Harbour Gin (bladderwrack seaweed, Noble fir), Arran Gin (sea lettuce, hogweed…), Crossbill (Scottish juniper, rosehip)
Highlands & Islands
Most Highland gins use locally hand-foraged botanicals, with the Island gins taking advantage of their unique sea botanicals. These distilleries often create gins with a lovely balance of traditional and local botanicals. Some even forage juniper and angelica locally. Hebridean botanicals include carrageen, kelp, water mint, angelica and lady’s bedstraw. The Highlands and Islands have several micro- or small-batch distilleries that create gins that are definitely worth a try.
Try these: Arcturus Gin (blueberries, seaweed, Scots lovage), Kirkjuvagr Orkney Gin (burnet rose, angelica, borage…), Badachro Gin (bog myrtle, gorse blossom, rosehip)
Loch Lomond, Argyll & Stirlingshire
Due to the islands and coastal regions, the variety of local botanicals found in this area contributes a lot to these gins. Commonly used local botanicals include wild water mint, lemon balm, meadowsweet, heather flowers, sea buckthorn and bog myrtle.
Try these: The Botanist (thistle flowers, hawthorn flowers, mugwort…), Lussa Gin (wild water mint, rose petals, rosehip…), Tyree Gin (water mint, eyebright, kelp), Wild Island Botanic Gin (sea buckthorn, wild water mint, lemon balm…)
Moray & Aberdeenshire
Gins from this region are more likely to be floral, although they also have their fair share of outsourced botanicals (lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, Ceylon tea, saffron…). Floral notes come from lavender, mint, heather and rose.
Try these: Eenoo Gin (rosehip, honey, raspberries…), Ginkhana (carrot, meadow hay, mint), Avva Gin (red clover, nettle, mint, rowan berries), El:Gin (Scottish oats)
Tayside & Fife
Several gins from the Tayside & Fife area are slightly spicy with citrus notes. Disappointingly, only a handful of the distilleries are using locally grown ingredients, and many Angus gins are contract distilled. Arbikie Distillery, however, has field-to-bottle production, using potatoes, wheat and other ingredients grown on their very own farm or nearby. Gin Bothy and Eden Mill have a wide range of gins using locally grown berries.
Try these: Arbikie AK’s Gin (honey, black pepper, cardamom), Verdant Dry Gin (grains of paradise, green cardamom, bitter orange…), Persie Zesty Citrus Gin (lime, blood orange), Gorse Gin (gorse, grapefruit, bitter orange, cinnamon…)
It took me quite some time to go through all the regions and to review so many gins to try to pinpoint discernible patterns within each area. Many of the botanicals can be found throughout Scotland, making it harder to indicate signature flavours, whilst some producers surprisingly ignore the wonderful botanicals on their doorstep completely and source much of the spirit elsewhere. The range of botanicals makes regional trends difficult to determine, but with product provenance being such an important buying factor for so many consumers, perhaps Scotland’s gin makers are missing a trick here?
Do you have a favourite gin region of Scotland?
Add to your diary: International Scottish Gin Day 3th August 2019