It seems that the world is on a quest to find the newest and most exciting gin brand to stock their cupboard; the one with the most unique flavour, the one with the coolest bottle, the one from the farthest corner of the planet…
They say first impressions are everything and we knew Twin River would be different when we first saw it. For a start, the gin is cloudy, rather like a victorian lemonade. This is explained by the gin’s main alcohol component, the grain neutral spirit made from malted barley that all gins use, being made on-site. For those of you who haven’t been on multiple gin tours (like us!), you may not realise that more often than not the alcohol that makes up gin is normally bought in from somewhere else and made unique by adding in a careful combination of botanicals and flavourings. Yes, that does means you can make your own gin from strong vodka, but that sounds like too much like hard work!
On the nose, you are immediately hit with a burst of fresh lemon scents. Think: old fashioned lemon sherbet sweets. Yummy! Initially, on sampling the gin neat, we thought the first taste was quite strong - almost overpowering - but after a few more sips the sweet tastes come through, quickly followed by an spicier after taste. I think it's certainly a contender as a go-to-drink for those who like their drinks strong. It could also be argued that it's reminiscent of a Limoncello - although much more palatable!
The flavours are certainly complex and quite earthy and by simply adding a few drops of tonic, a whole new world of flavours were opened up! Unlike a lot of gins that can be drowned out by tonic, Twin River Naked Gin holds its own against the tonic and so can be added to personal preference. We tried with Light Tonic, Aromatic Tonic and Herbal Tonic. Each tonic provided a slightly different flavour but complimented the intricate flavours of the gin. The recommended serve is Pink Grapefruit or Lime, but I (Steph) think I much prefer the Pink Grapefruit. Sitting here sipping it, I am dreaming of sunnier days and enjoying the gin in the garden. The gin would make a tasty and refreshing long drink in the summer… all we need is that sun!
Twin River is based in Royal Deeside in Banchory. Banchory is a quaint wee village along the road from Balmoral, the Queen’s summer home. The name Twin River comes from the fact that the River Feugh meets the River Dee here. The distillery was founded in 2017 and already has a whole range of gins available including the Rhubarb Old Tom, Navy Strength, a Spiced Plum Special Edition Gin and the headline grabbing Uncut gin - which is being billed as the World’s Strongest Gin at a whopping 77% ABV. We are undecided on whether we fancy this one!
We knew that being joint Gin Bloggers that we may not always agree on the Gin of the Month and this seems to be the first one that has completely divided us. I loved the gin, I found it extremely moreish and loved the Bitter Lemon taste. Michael on the other hand did not enjoy it - he felt it was over sweet and the flavour was a little overpowering. If you like bitter lemon and citrus flavour we definitely recommend the Naked Gin, otherwise maybe try one of the many other gins Twin River have to offer... they all sound fantastic! Now, where's my shopping list...?!
This month’s gin is a pretty new contender: Granite North, from the North East of Scotland.
We first encountered this gin at The Gin Fayre St. Andrews Christmas Special which was their first major event. Head Distiller and Founder, Sandy Matheson, treated us to a taster and it was love at first taste. We discovered the gin’s origins in the Granite City - Aberdeen and how he took inspiration from the rugged highland landscape and local tales of Highlanders distilling their own spirits using botanicals found in the surrounding hills.
Recently, on our own journey into gin exploration, we have found that there are a lot of good gins - but not necessarily ones that are unique enough to be memorable. Granite North, however, is definitely impressive and distinguished. Alongside traditional gin botanicals including the humble juniper berry, the prominent botanicals featured are grapefruit, lemon, bay leaf and the unusual addition of Grand Fir needles.
On the nose, the gin is very fresh and zesty. You are immediately hit by the natural aromas from the fir needles alongside the juniper. There’s a smooth hit of citrus from the grapefruit and a bang from the lemon: it must be the bay leaf and fir needles that give the balance to all the citrus-goodness with that depth and slight savoury note. Basically, it’s like if you’ve been walking through the forest or up a hill and you take a smug Instagram photo, feeling accomplished and proud, but you’re not quite ready to walk back yet. As former residents of Aberdeenshire and novice hill-climbers, it’s what we would’ve wanted!
Granite North is smooth enough to drink on the rocks - bear this in mind when adding tonic. At 41.9% ABV, some may think that it would be difficult to fully appreciate all the flavours of the gin neat, without it being too harsh. Granite North contradicts this by providing a smooth and intense drink, perfect with just ice and a slice. Similarly you could enjoy it with equal parts gin to a light tonic. Something a little different would be a Fentimans Herbal Tonic which brings out more of the forest notes. Pink grapefruit is a complimentary garnish, or if you’re trying the Herbal tonic, maybe experiment with a sprig of rosemary!
Overall, it’s a new contender for our favourite gin. The unique fresh and zesty taste, versatility and the story that it had eighty test distillations to get it perfect have all the essentials of a great gin that “captures the essence of the Highlands”. This is apparent from first glance of the bottle, it’s simple, elegant and straightforward. The label brings in the rugged outdoors aspect with the contour lines and coordinates - some could argue the perfect gin for any geographers!
We struggle to find fault with the gin and only expect bigger and better things from Granite North... hey Sandy, no pressure!
Robert Burns – Rabbie Burns, the Bard of Ayrshire, the Ploughman Poet – is widely regarded as one of the UK’s – indeed, Scotland’s – finest poets. Before I get too lost in my well-thumbed edition of ‘The Complete Works of Robbie Burns’ (note: this blog is about gin, I promise!), I thought we’d quickly just take a minute to remember the man himself.
Yes, this strapping chap is the man behind ‘Auld Lang Syne’ – a poem that we, as a nation, have chosen to bring in the new year – despite not relaly knowing all the words. What actually comes after ‘Should old acquaintance be forgot’? Your guess is as good as mine.
Anyway, it turns out that ol' Rabbie enjoyed a drink as much as the rest of us. According to his works, he was certainly partial to a good ale and enjoyed his fair share of wine - and we think that if he was here now, he'd be enjoying this gin boom we're living in!
And so, on the 25th of January, the night of his birth - we'll be enjoying a couple of fantastic Scottish gins on his behalf - Here's to you Robbie!
1. Makar ORIGINAL DRY Gin
A bold, vibrant and juniper-led gin - the first to be distilled in the City of Glasgow.
2. Darnley's Spiced Gin
Packed with exotic botanicals found as far afield as Morocco, China and Africa, this is a perfect tipple for those cold January evenings!
3. Arbikie's Kirsty's Gin
A true single estate operation, Arbikie's award-winning gin goes down a treat with a small handful of blueberries.
4. Esker Gin
Clean and crisp, exactly what you want from a gin. Try it neat - or with a tonic of your choice and a twist of orange peel.
5. Lilliard Gin
Named after a local heroine, this Borders gin is light, elegant and refined.
6. Persie's Herby & Aromatic Gin
Close your eyes and think of Italy. Packed with bay, basil and rosemary, this gin will immediately whisky you away to somewhere less cold...!
7. Gin Bothy's Gunshot
Notes of cinnamon, cloves and mixed spices are used to create a warming feel. Try on the rocks, or with ginger ale.
8. Edinburgh Gin
Pick any one of the Edinburgh Gin range - our personal favourite is the Rhubarb & Ginger Liqueur. Perfect with prosecco.
9. Rock Rose GIN
An exquisite gin with a smooth finish. Try with a sprig of rosemary to really enhance the flavours
10. Isle of Harris Gin
Distilled using Sugar Kelp from the surrounding isles, Harris Gin is unique in every aspect of it's process. Try with a wedge of grapefruit and keep the bottle - it's a work of art.
"O gude ale comes and gude ale goes,
Gude ale gars me sell my hose,
Sell my hose, and pawn my shoon,
Gude ale keeps my heart aboon.
I had sax owsen in a pleugh,
They drew a' weel eneugh,
I sald them a', ane by ane,
Gude ale keeps my heart aboon.
Gude ale hauds me bare and busy,
Gars me moop wi' the servant hizzie,
Stand i' the stool when I hae done,
Gude ale keeps my heart aboon.
O gude ale comes and gude ale goes,
Gude ale gars me sell my hose,
Sell my hose, and pawn my shoon,
Gude ale keeps my heart aboon.
- Robbie Burns
Hailing from the small Island of Colonsay off the west coast of Scotland, Wild Island Gin is one of two types produced on the island. Pretty impressive for an island with a population of 124! The original Wild Island Gin was launched in December 2016 and this month’s Gin of the Month - Wild Island's Sacred Tree - followed in its footsteps a year later.
The Sacred Tree Gin is produced using hand foraged botanicals from the Island. The botanicals include Brambles, Redcurrants, Rosehip, Crab Apples, Elderberries and Rowan Berries. Overall, there are 22 botanicals listed, which make the flavours quite complex and deep. It's fruitiness is made quite apparent in the initial smelling of the gin.
Before I continue, a special mention must be made to the beautiful bottle; its simplicity combined with a few splashes of colour make it a great addition to any gin bar or shelf - anywhere on display, really. Top tip from us: once you've finished, try decorate the bottle with some fairy lights inside - I promise you it will look awesome!
The gin itself is 43.4% ABV - which is the average Fahrenheit temperature of Colonsay in the winter months. We liked this fact and it’s a great wee nugget of knowledge to share with friends to make you sound like you really know your gin! First off, we tried it neat, without a garnish and we felt it was rather strong and overpowering. However, try it neat with a slice of red apple and a frozen blackberry and you really start to open up the flavours with a little added sweetness to compliment the tart fruity flavours of the gin. It certainly goes to show how important garnishes really are!
In terms of the ‘Perfect Serve’, we think this gin is very versatile. It would work great in simple G&Ts but also be a fantastic base for cocktails. We tried just a light tonic with it: this complimented the subtle flavours of the gin and it wasn’t too overpowering. Remember: with any mixers, add to your own taste - just because you have a whole bottle of tonic doesn’t mean you need to use it all. There are so many different gins out there with different, delicate and intricate flavours, too much or indeed, the wrong tonic, can drown out the gin... and we wouldn't want that.
We also tried Elderflower tonic which gave the gin a smooth and refreshing taste. We can imagine - as we sit here in the strange period between Christmas and New Year in Edinburgh - this would be nice in a long glass with lots of ice in the summer... oh, if only! This sweeter tonic compliments the flavours of Sacred Tree perfectly. If you fancy an even sweeter drink, why not try it with a splash of apple juice? The beauty of the gin is it is so versatile that you can test out a whole host of mixers and garnishes to suit your own, individual tastes. There are similarities in the botanicals between Sacred Tree and the crab apple and rowan berries in Caorunn and the blackberries in Brockmans, so, if you like them then we suggest you try out this one!
Overall the Sacred Tree took a few tastes to really appreciate as we were maybe used to more citrus based gins. The complexity means for some it may take a few variations and trials with different mixers to know what really suits your taste. We recommend that if you are having an evening of Gin tasting, go with Sacred Tree first to fully appreciate the flavours.
We were back in our home town of St Andrews just a few weeks ago for The Gin Fayre: Christmas Special and we thought we'd give our new resident bloggers, Mike and Steph, the opportunity to get involved and try out a Gin Fayre for the very first time! So, they jumped on the train from Edinburgh for a GINdulgent day out by the sea... Here's what they thought!
Steph: We recently attended The Gin Fayre: Christmas Special in St Andrews and had such a great time testing out the gins and meeting the geniuses behind each bottle. This guide is for anyone who is planning on attending any future Gin Fayre and wants to know what to expect...
1. Be open minded
Sometimes the description in the programme or the description of the gin makes you think “hmm I don't think I'll like that gin”. We recommend you stay open minded, try a gin: after all, what's the worst that could happen? Generally, we are not whisky drinkers, but actually loved the smell and taste of Firkin Gin which is whisky based - so much so we bought a bottle! Some of the gins that were there at the event we had tried before and thought we didn't like but actually on second taste we loved! It just goes to show that it’s always worth another go!
2. Ask Questions
Don’t be scared or shy! The stall holders at the gin fayre were the nicest people. They are not just there to sell you a bottle of gin, they are there to provide you with an experience. Remember these guys know the gin inside out, ask them about recommended serves, the distilling process, the story behind the company. That’s why they are there, they also won’t be offended if you don’t like their gin. We met some really interesting people and learnt so much more about gin in general.
3. Take Note
On that note of speaking to people, be sure to either take photos of garnishes or serves. Or even better take notes either in the programme or on your phone. Sober you will thank you later, when you try and construct that perfect serve. You’ll be trying to remember whether it was orange or grapefruit that went with this gin and the name of that gin you thought your friend would really like.
4. What’s the Story?
Gins all have a story. They were made for a reason. Some of them perhaps started off as a get rich quick scheme, others were made to fill a gap in the market, others have love stories behind them. I love learning about why gins were made and where the inspiration came from. For example, a new gin we tried was Granite North which took 80 tests to get right and has really fresh grapefruit flavour, it’s a great gin to have straight.
5. Head to the bar
Has anyone ever said it was a bad idea to head to the bar? Yes, the samples are good but sometimes it's better to get a full G and T (other mixers are available) to really appreciate the drink. It’s also really hard to add the right amount of tonic to the wee sample cups without drowning it and then ending up just drinking a whole lotta tonic. If anything you can pick up some good cocktail tips and ideas!
6. Find out where it’s stocked
Although you can always buy a bottle or two on the day but sometimes it's not practical and so you think you’ll come back to it. Some gins aren't available in every shop like Harris Gin, who limit it’s stockists to make it more exclusive. Ask where you can get it if you want to buy it later. Although if you are stuck, you can buy a lot of the gins in The Gin Fayre shop!
7. Attend a master class
We attended the Minus 33 master class. It was a great way to find out the history of the gin by the creator himself and the story of his many experiments distilling in the lab and surveying to find out what people liked about gins, leading, eventually, to create the final product. Understanding what’s in the gin helps you know how best to drink it!
8. Don't pre-drink
Sadly we learnt this the hard way last time. We went for a cheeky G&T before an event once. There is a lot of gin on offer: if you drink too much of it you forget and it doesn't end well. So take it easy!
The food was amazing from County Hog Roasts. We tried the Hog Roast with Haggis roll. It's good to snack throughout for a good gin break, especially when it’s so tasty! Also on offer at the St Andrews Fayre was a whole selection of Gin based foods including Gin Loaf, Fudge and Cake. Just in case you hadn’t had enough gin!
10. Take your time!
Finally, this is the most important one. It's not a rush: take your time, sit down, catch up, take stock of your faves. Otherwise, you'll forget flavours and they’ll all be forgotten in a haze. The atmosphere is buzzing at the Gin Fayre and it’s a perfect place to people watch!
So, there it is. That's our top tips for how to successfully navigate a Gin Fayre, the main message is get a group of friends together, even the ones who say they don’t like gin (they are just drinking it wrong), go along and have FUN!
Our resident gin bloggers, Steph & Mike review a deliciously festive treat...
This month’s festive tipple comes from the Kent based Ableforth distillers, which originated back in 2011 – and that means in this day and age, they are veterans in the fast paced gin market. They’ve amassed a tasty selection over the past few years but since it’s Christmas, this month we’ve got their Bathtub Sloe Gin to review. Ableforth spirits have a distinctive packaging: all wrapped in brown paper, sealed with twine and wax at the neck, all done by hand. This quirky but stylish design gives a very prohibition, Boardwalk Empire feel. This aligns with the origins of the homemade amateur spirits movement in 1920s America when spirits were illegally made in people's bathtubs - to varying degrees of success - more on this later. Ableforth have six gins: an original, cask aged, navy strength, cask aged navy strength, Old Tom, and today’s taster: the sloe. The company have won a few awards recently and have a diverse range of spirits including rums, brandy, absinthe and fruit cups liqueurs. They all seem as unique and quirky, worth going on our “to try” list.
On the nose, you can get cinnamon, clove, mulled wine, amaretto: it reminds us of walking through Edinburgh Christmas market - it’s very festive; like Christmas in a bottle. The sweet sloe berries also kick through - with over half a pound of them in each bottle - providing a very fruity smell and the distinctive dark red colour. As this is distilled as a liqueur (33.8% ABV) it can be enjoyed neat, with a cube of ice: it’s very smooth with no typical alcohol burn in the throat. Imagine sitting by a crackling fire (or the Fireplace video on Netflix…) when it’s dark, cold and windy outside and you’re sipping on your lovely warming drink, slowly getting merrier. Bliss! If you do want to add something and not get too merry too quick, it does work well with a good tonic water (we chose Fever Tree Original) but bear in mind, less is more. Don’t drown out the flavours with tonic. A slice of lemon in there balances all the sweet flavours; we did try the Fever Tree Sicilian Lemon Tonic but it was too overpowering and drowned out all the flavours. So we recommend sticking to an original or light tonic. Alternatively, if you’re not too keen on tonic, you could add a splash to your prosecco.
We really enjoyed Ableforth’s Bathtub Sloe Gin, which quite surprised us. After trying a few sloe gins before, we weren’t completely convinced. The versatility of this gin makes it an ideal addition to any festive get-together.
Our suggested serve: a hint of Michael Buble (other Christmas albums are available), neat or with a splash of tonic, or even in an alternative hot toddy for those cold winter nights.
A little extra from us:
We did also sample the Original Bathtub Gin which has all the same botanicals without the sloe berries, but with an extra little sweet vanilla smell coming through. Traditionally, it was seen to be a cheap and easy way to make gin, by throwing all the botanicals in your still or ‘bathtub’ whilst distilling. This is a less common practice today, but it is good to see some distilliers sticking to tried and tested methods. The one thing about this process is that it leaves the gin with a slightly cloudier appearance - it doesn’t affect the taste, just adds a further quirk to the gin. On tasting the Original, there is an initial burn in your mouth, as you may expect from a 43.3% ABV spirit, but as the flavours come through it smooths out nicely with a definite spiced orange vibe.
Stephanie and Michael Whyte entered our competition earlier this month to be our Resident Gin Bloggers, and we loved their entry so much we decided to feature it for our Gin of the Month: November! Here it is:
Just by looking at the Pickering’s Navy Strength Bottle you already know it’s going to be a gin full of character. The bottle comes with its own mini bearskin hat, complete with a tiny chain. This is to mark the collaboration with Pickering's and the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Pickering's is a quirky brand, based in Summerhall, Edinburgh. They are very innovative when it comes to their brand vision. Using distinctive red and white colouring, they have thought of everything including a motorbike converted into a gin bar! Launching in 2013, they were the first distillery in the Capital for over 150 years. In fact the gin is distilled in the former kennels of the former Royal Dick Vet School, we highly recommend the tour for the fascinating look at many unconventional but wonderful distilling, bottling and production processes.
The company is surprisingly small and it is nice to know that each bottle of gin’s distinct wax seal has been individually placed on your bottle: a delightful rustic and personal touch! A paper from a family relative dated July 1947 forms the basis of the gin’s secret recipe, kept for quite a few years before becoming what it is today. This Navy strength is one of three gins they have on offer: there’s the 1947 and Original gins but we personally love this one the most. You may argue it’s 57% alcohol levels may have something to do with this, but you really get the proper essence of the gin with all the flavours.
The gin has both sweet and spicy smells to it: think cinnamon, cardamon, oranges and lemons. It smells of autumn or marmalade on toast. Although very drinkable all year round. Some may be put off by the high percentage of alcohol in this and other Navy strength gins but it’s a really smooth, almost velvety drink. With the delicate balance of those sweet and spicy flavours it can easily be enjoyed neat. It’s a beautiful warming drink and wouldn’t taste out of place in a hot toddy. Pickering's say the smoothness of the gin comes from the custom designed still they have for making it - whatever it is, it worked!
In terms of the perfect serve, Pickering's recommend Light Tonic and a slice of Lime. We preferred to bring out more of the sweet and spicy flavours and so paired the gin with a slice of juicy orange and some pink peppercorns along with a light tonic. Having an aromatic tonic would also work well to bring out the juniper which is actually quite subtle in this gin. The slightly sweet and spicy peppercorns and citrusy orange flavours are complimentary to the gin and bring out the zesty warming flavours. The merits of a stronger gin like navy strength ones are that they can withstand a tonic and are not drowned out. For those of you who are not fans of tonic, try adding a splash of Apple Juice or Ginger Beer - remembering less is more!