Enjoy breathtaking scenery across Scotland as you sample some of the country’s finest gin offerings.
One of the most popular tourist attractions in Scotland’s capital city has always been the Scotch Whisky Experience, which operates in front of the entrance to Edinburgh Castle, the country’s most visited paid-for attraction.
These days, though, there’s another spirit in town – gin. Over the last few years, there’s been a huge boom in Scottish gin production, and there are now about 70 gin distilleries around the country, with roughly one-third of those opening in 2018 alone.
Scottish gin expert Fiona Laing in her book “The Gin Clan” says that there are several reasons for this. Regulations relaxed to allow distilling in smaller stills, resulting in a boom in craft distilling. Traditional whisky distillers began to successfully diversify into gins, including Balmenach with Caorunn in 2009 and Bruichladdich with The Botanist in 2011 and others soon followed suit.
In addition, the world economic slump meant that farmers and others began to diversify, using their potatoes to make, first, vodka, and then gin. Family-owned working farm Arbikie Estate turned to making gin as a way of using the 25 percent of their potatoes which were being rejected by the major supermarkets for being misshapen.
Many of the distilleries below offer specialist gin tours and some provide gin tastings and gin-making classes too. No matter where you go in Scotland, from its far-flung islands to major cities like Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen, there’s sure to be someone making gin keen to show you around their distillery.
One of the quirkiest and most fun gin distillery tours is at Pickering’s Gin in Edinburgh, barely a mile from Edinburgh Castle. Pickering’s tiny distillery is at the rear of a 1916 building which housed the city’s veterinary school up until 2011 when it was converted into a contemporary arts center. The tour doesn’t take long but it’s a lot of fun and offers the chance to see their hand-built labeling machine, which looks like it was created by a mad scientist.
The Edinburgh Gin Distillery
The Edinburgh Gin Distillery already has two distilleries in Edinburgh, with a third on the way. The original distillery is in Edinburgh’s historic West End and offers a range of tours where you can see their two graceful copper stills and sample their range of gins.
The best tour, though, also includes a gin-making class where you have the opportunity to create your own gin recipe and make the gin in beautiful miniature copper stills, which are so cute you’ll want to take one home.
An hour away in Scotland’s second city, Glasgow, visitors can explore one of the best-known names in Scottish gin, Crossbill, winner of numerous awards. Originally made in the Scottish Highlands – and still using botanicals from there – the company moved to Glasgow in 2017. This enabled the company not only to increase production but to set up their Gin School.
If you take their Masterclass, you can learn all about botanicals, especially juniper. Juniper used to be plentiful in Scotland but is now in short supply and Crossbill’s founder and distiller Jonathan Engles, has been instrumental in reintroducing it. In the class, you not only get to make your own gin, but you also get to bottle it, label it, and put a wax seal on for the fully professional look.
A Scottish gin to rival Crossbill and now sold worldwide is Caorunn. Pronounced “ka-roon”, the word is Gaelic for the rowanberry bush, one of the gin’s botanicals. Other botanicals used in the gin and foraged locally include heather, bog myrtle, as well as the humble dandelion.
You can learn how they’re all put together on a behind-the-scenes tour, followed by some tastings including Caorunn’s recommended serve, which is with tonic and a slice of red apple. Don’t forget to eat the apple when you’ve finished as it absorbs the gin and is totally delicious. So where is Caorunn based? In the heart of Speyside, which has the biggest concentration of whisky distilleries in the world.
In the coastal city of Aberdeen is another unique Scottish gin experience- the Orchid cocktail bar. The owners were so wild about Scottish gin they decided to make their own and built a micro-distillery in their basement.
Here they make their Porter’s Gin and though they don’t do tours (the place is too small) you can enjoy a gin tasting class alongside their mixology and whisky tasting sessions.
Saxa Vord Distillery
If you’d prefer to visit some of Scotland’s 790 offshore islands, then most of the island groups these days boast at least one gin distillery. On the island of Unst in the Shetlands, you’ll find the UK’s most northerly distillery, the Saxa Vord Distillery, makers of Shetland Reel.
In 2014, this became the first gin ever to be made (legally, at least) in the Shetlands, which are roughly on the same latitude as places like Oslo and Stockholm. Saxa Vord Distillery don’t, as yet, do tours but you can book a tutored tasting of their several different gin expressions.
Almost 200 miles southwest of the Shetlands is another island group, Orkney. And yes, of course, there’s an Orkney Distillery. It began producing gin in 2016 and evolved to creating four different gins, making it a rival to Orkney’s better-known whisky distilleries: Scapa and Highland Park. The Orkney Distillery offers tours twice a day from Monday to Saturday.
The Isle of Harris Distillery
Off Scotland’s stunning west coast are more island groups, the most remote being the ruggedly beautiful Outer Hebrides. Here in the village of Tarbert on the Isle of Harris is the Isle of Harris Distillery, voted Scottish Gin Distillery of the Year in the 2018 Scottish Gin Awards.
If you can drag yourself away from the peat fire that burns in the hearth, take a tour and taste this unique gin, which uses sugar kelp harvested from deep beneath the waves in its recipe.
Also using local botanicals in their Botanist Gin is Bruichladdich on Islay. In fact, so important are the botanicals that go into this multi-award-winning gin that the distillery employs a full-time botanist who spends several months gathering botanicals from all over Islay.
Gin tours are available, introducing you to their still, Ugly Betty, and the chance to create your own cocktails using The Botanist. You’ll also learn a fact that shows just how big gin is in Scotland today. Bruichladdich, which has been making whisky on Islay since 1881, now makes more gin than whisky.