We all think of Scotland as home to whisky, but it is also responsible for producing the majority of UK gin. Two of the world’s most famous London dry gins, Gordon’s and Tanqueray, emerge from Diageo’s Cameronbridge Distillery, home to Haig Club whisky (‘London dry’ is a style, not a designation of origin). Smaller whisky distillers are also creating fascinating native Scottish gins right alongside some of the single malt whiskies we love so much. Why are dyed-in-the-wool whisky distillers embracing the challenge of gin?
Unlike Scotch whisky, which requires maturation in barrels, gin is traditionally an unaged spirit and derives its signature taste from a proprietary recipe of botanical flavorings, with juniper berries at the top of the list. In Scotland, gin is the yang to whisky’s yin—light in color, perfect for mixing, and ready to drink almost immediately, generally with a splash of Indian tonic water.
Islay’s Bruichladdich is a leader in Scottish gin with The Botanist. In fact, this year they’ll sell more bottles of gin than whisky. The Botanist is built upon Scotch whisky making know-how and equipment, including a manual Lomond still. “The Lomond was originally designed and built to make malt whisky back in the 1950s; a copper pot still that could be reconfigured to generate different styles of new make spirit,” says head distiller Adam Hannett. We have heavily modified it, slowing distillation down to a trickle, maximizing reflux and ensuring that only the lightest vapors reach the casket in the lyne arm holding the all-important island botanicals.”
Simon Buley, who crafts Caorunn gin using foraged botanicals at Inver House’s Balmenach Distillery, takes joy in the relatively instant gratification offered by gin. “I started in the whisky industry eighteen years ago and have yet to see any [of that whisky] poured out into a glass and people enjoying it!” he says. For Buley, the process of making gin may be different than whisky, but it’s no less demanding. “I pay attention to every single step when I forage the botanicals and layer them on the perforated trays of our unique copper berry chamber, and the very slow infusion process requires all my senses and judgement.”
6 Gins Made at Scotch Whisky Distilleries
The Botanist—46% ABV, $40
Made at Bruichladdich Distillery
Islay’s only dry gin, made with 22 hand-foraged island botanicals, including lady’s bedstraw and creeping thistle, made in a historic Lomond still.
Taste: Complex, subtle, and charming, with floral notes.
Caorunn—41.8% ABV, $40
Made at Balmenach Distillery
A true small batch product, distinguished by Scotland’s only known berry chamber, a device that directs the spirit vapor to trays containing botanicals like apples, dandelion, and bog myrtle.
Taste: Modern in style, soft and sweet, with subtle juniper.
Edinburgh Seaside—43% ABV, $38
Made by Spencerfield Spirits
From the same stable as Sheep Dip and Pig’s Nose whiskies, Edinburgh Gin offers a selection of innovative gins, including this version with its foraged seaside botanicals like scurvy grass.
Taste: Aromatic spices meet mineral and salty notes.
Hendrick’s—44% ABV, $28
Made at Girvan Distillery
An originator of the modern gin revolution, this widely adored gin is made in two separate stills and the spirit is blended with essence of Bulgarian rose petals and cucumber.
Taste: Elegant, obvious rose petal, light juniper.
Makar—43% ABV, $40
Made at Glasgow Distillery Company
While we wait for their whisky, the first new distillery in Glasgow in over 100 years offers this gin, made in a pot still with seven globally-sourced botanicals.
Taste: Bold, assertive, old-school gin with forceful juniper.
Tanqueray No. Ten—47.3% ABV, $37
Made at Cameronbridge Distillery
A premium Tanqueray prepared in a two-stage process: the more delicate fresh oranges, limes, and grapefruits distilled separately and then redistilled in a larger pot still with added juniper and chamomile.
Taste: Fresh, vibrant, and full-bodied, with a citrus heart.