“Our vision is to distil on our island home but we will only ever release a product made entirely on the island when we can guarantee that the quality we are achieving today is met in future.”
The Botanist, the first gin from Islay, takes a similar approach – buying in neutral grain spirit but using 22 island botanicals (alongside nine more classical ones) to get across a sense of provenance.
The brand is owned by Rémy Cointreau, so, perhaps alongside Caorunn, has fast become one of the most famous Scottish gins, despite their size.
The local botanicals angle, though, is not for everyone: “I tried using Scottish botanicals such as thistles, heather and gorse, but I found these gins were too floral and heavy,” says Daffy’s distiller Chris Molyneaux. “So I went back to the drawing board.” Molyneaux ended up creating a London Dry, based on a spirit bought from Normandy, France, flavoured with botanicals from around the world. So what’s his USP? “I created a ‘pre-ageing’ distillation process. We pay a lot of attention to base spirit and storage of botanicals – we store for five years – and distil at a low steam pressure for more than 12 hours in an old Scottish whisky still.”
Over at Pickering’s, authenticity and provenance come from its distillery and recipe. “Summerhall Distillery is the first exclusive gin distillery to be established in Edinburgh for more than 150 years,” says Leah Shaw Hawkins, Pickering’s brand manager. The recipe is an “original Bombay recipe, handwritten on a fragment of paper from 1947”. Hawkins says: “Kept as a family secret for more than 66 years, it only resurfaced in 2013 when we began distilling at Summerhall.”
For Derek Mair at Firkin Gin it is not the distillation or even the rectification that excites – it’s the blending and ageing. “We get a distiller to supply us the components in liquid form then we blend it and disgorge into casks. We have whisky casks – ex-Glen Garioch, Laphroaig, a Glenmorangie port cask. Moving forward we have gin resting in octaves of PX and oloroso. Our gin is a crossover spirit – a ginsky.”
There are many approaches in this burgeoning category. But does it need more regulation? Perhaps, and the Scottish Craft Distilling Association is attempting to achieve that. To receive accreditation its 17 members have had to prove their “products have been craft distilled in Scotland”, use “quality raw materials and processes” and have “product traceability”.
Many Scottish gins don’t fit this definition and, for now, consumers probably won’t mind. With or without ‘Scottish craft’ accreditation, Scottish gin will likely prosper. That’s because when it comes to spirits, Scotland has pedigree. By association with scotch, Scottish gin is just an easy sell. “Scotland is synonymous with quality premium spirits and this forms a key part of our message to consumers,” says Arbikie’s Hunter.
Whether there is a tradition of Scottish gin or not, Scotland will play a large part in the category’s future.