So a while back (the start of the year… A veeeeeeery long time ago to be fair) I messaged a few folk on Twitter hunting for opinions on a couple of subjects… One question I posed to these lucky people was “What makes a Scottish Gin?”… I then realised that some folk forgot and RE-MESSAGED them because I have absolutely zero shame… Also there are some lads and lady lads that are in the industry that I have a relationship with now that I didn’t have at the start of the year who, very kindly, contributed a bit more last minute.
I want to make it perfectly clear that this article is an “opinion piece” and will not be filled with sales stats or any actual facts. Having trawled the internet at the time and having been an active participant in the “gin community” this last year or so I have seen several of those articles and they are interesting to read for those of us that like to nerd out over that kind of thing but I want this post to appeal to non-nerds as well. Facts and statistics can be quite a dry read so I wanted to do something a bit more fun and, hopefully, engaging… And the cold hard reality is that there isn’t actually anything set in stone for what a Scottish Gin is or has to be… It is all opinion and I’ve done you all a turn and collated the opinions and fired them all in there… You’re welcome.
Ok so I realise that literally 30 seconds ago I said I wouldn’t be putting any actual facts/stats in here…. I do, however, think that some stats are important in order to lay some ground work before we get going here…
Firstly it’s clear that the Scottish Gin industry is booming. It is thought that 70-80% of all gin produced in the UK is, in fact, produced in Scotland.
There are about 110 Scottish gins and over 60 distilleries producing gin in Scotland.
Three of the world’s best selling gins are produced in Scotland – Hendricks, Tanqueray and Gordon’s… It’s interesting with these three actually because they are pretty much staples where ever you go. I’m just back from Italy and those three gins were, pretty much, on every shelf in any bar that sold gin.
So… Anyway… Essentially I sent out a good few messages to folk I followed and who also followed me and who I interact with at least semi-regularly (I’m not really about pestering folk that haven’t invited it to be honest… And yes if you’ve followed me you may be fair game for future blogs!) and in the message I was digging about for opinions on what people felt made a gin Scottish… Like everything else the general chit chat online gave varying thoughts on this topic and it’s something alot of people have thoughts about… To some its quite personal and, hopefully, you’ll be able to see the passion that surrounds this subject. I asked distillers, bloggers and people I would class to be experts… All to dig about their brains in time for International Scottish Gin Day 2019… And with about two weeks to go now seems as good a time as any so… Heeeeeeeeeeeeere we go…
The questions I posed were:
- What do you think makes a Scottish gin a Scottish gin?
- Why has it become so popular?
- Do you think there should be regulations around it similarly to whisky?
- If so what do you feel those regulations/stipulations should be for it to be able to be called a Scottish gin?
I’ll give my personal thoughts at the end of the post but lets look at the contributions I received… I wanted to thank the following people for taking the time to sit down and send their thoughts my way…
Natalie and Martin Reid (The Gin Cooperative)
Aly Higgins (Scottish Gin Society)
Katie Hughes (What’s Katie Doing?)
Adam McDowall (Quaffed the Raven)
Euan (From The Gin Shelf)
Raven Spirits (Hrafn Gin)
Lynne Duthie (Esker Spirits)
Jim Mackintosh (Mackintosh Gin)
Bruce Midgley (Brentingby Gin)
Stuart McVicar (Biggar Gin)
Colin McLean (McLean’s Gin)
Emma And Joseph (Springmount Gin)
Paul Jackson (The Gin Guide)
Due to the quantity of contributors and the associated volume of links I’ve popped them all at the very end of this post… It looked too messy having them all mid-post!
So… Why don’t we get started then?
WHAT DO YOU THINK MAKES A SCOTTISH GIN A SCOTTISH GIN?
“We’ve always based what we believe a Scottish Gin to be on the principle of if it’s distilled, rectified or cold compounded in Scotland. It’s about the geographical location where the creative process happens” say the guys from the Gin Cooperative.
Agreeing with them the gents at Hrafn told me – “When the neutral grain spirit (NGS) is re-distilled with the botanicals gin is made and for this reason it is where this process takes place that defines where the gin is made. If the gin is made with Scottish NGS and botanicals then, of course, the provenance of the ingredients would be Scottish. But if the re-distilling took place outside Scotland then the gin would not be technically ‘Made in Scotland’”
“For me it’s simply that the distillery is in Scotland, and aside from that I personally don’t see any reason to distinguish it from ‘gin’ in general” Adam McDowall said.
Similarly to Adam, Bruce kept it simple saying that, for him, a Scottish Gin is – “Being made and bottled in Scotland”.
Colin McLean agreed with Bruce and Adam – “In our opinion, as long as the gin is made in Scotland, it’s a Scottish Gin”.
Jim Mackintosh told me that “For us we would term a Scottish Gin as a gin that has been distilled, bottled and packaged in Scotland. For myself as a consumer the most important thing is that the gin is a good quality gin”… Which in itself is a very valid point.
Euan reckons that “Scottish Gin is one that is distilled in Scotland”… Quite simple but he further said ” The base spirit can come from elsewhere, but the final product should be made in this country (Scotland)”.
Stuart put it quite clearly and concisely… “So, Scottish Gin, what makes it Scottish? I guess I can sum up my opinion in one sentence – A Scottish gin should be produced in Scotland, using Scottish water and preferably with a Grain Neutral Spirit produced in Scotland with grain grown in Scotland”
Lynne informed me of some information regarding the Scottish Distillers Association and their definition of Scottish Gin – “As a starter for 10, Scottish Gin – for me, it’s about having a product that has been distilled in some way in Scotland. There are all sorts of definitions and loopholes in those definitions that brands use to their advantage – largely I’m in favour of the definition put forward by the Scottish Distillers’ Association shown in this extract from the constitution:
- The manufacturing members of the Association shall:
- Own and operate a still in Scotland
- Distill and bottle spirits in Scotland
- Make reasonable claims in the place naming of spirits”
This was an opinion that Aly shared almost exactly – “What makes a Scottish Gin, or a gin Scottish is a question that has been going around the houses for some time now. The Scottish Distillers Association (SDA) are quite clear that to be a Scottish gin, it should be distilled and bottled in Scotland, and we agree with that.”
Touching a little more on Stuart and Euan’s comments on GNS Aly continued – “Then there is the debate around Grain Neutral Spirit (GNS), only a handful of gin producers make their own, and currently Arbikie in Arbroath are the only makers who grow their own crops, to make the GNS – they are truly field to bottle producers. The other makers either use traditional means to make their GNS, but as I say there are a handful.”
Stuart understands the difficulty in creating your own GNS – “It would be great to be able to produce our own spirit from scratch using local grain, but as a self-funded company, we don’t have the funds to invest in the space and equipment that would be needed. It’s also not our area of expertise – why compromise the end product with an inferior base spirit?”
Is it important that the GNS is made in Scotland for a Scottish Gin to be Scottish?
Katie gave a slightly different opinion – “I think some representation of the local land is required to make a gin that is location specific. A few gins are made over the border as they are contract distilled, but still have a story that links them to Scotland and a botanical recipe inspired by Scotland, so these count as Scottish to me. However I fully agree that for transparency the ‘distilled in XX’ should specify where the distillation actually occurs.”
Emma and Joseph took a different approach again and focussed a little more on the produce side – “Scotland is rather famous for its drinks industry and this obviously includes gin. For us though the term Scottish Gin also reflects the quality of the ingredients used within the gin since these are typically Scottish ingredients. We use Scottish Strawberries and Raspberries in one of our gins and this is completely due to the superior quality of the local produce grown in Scotland!”
Transparency was something that was unanimously agreed upon…
“Transparency is key though, the consumer will for the most past accept/forgive a gin that doesn’t meet these requirements if they are open and honest about it” Jim told me.
Aly also touched on it stating – “The key thing when looking at any regulation or guidelines should be transparency and makers need to be utterly transparent about where and how the gin is made. There should be no ambiguity for the consumer, if a gin has a Scottish place name, or is said to be using Scottish botanicals, but made elsewhere, this needs to be highlighted to the consumer.”
Euan mentioned gins that use a Scottish location in their names – “I also feel, naming a gin after a place in Scotland should only happen if:
– it is distilled there, or
– there are plans to move production there.”
“Transparency is important and labels should clearly state where the gin is made. Customers ultimately buy a gin based on its taste, but they do want and need to know the truthful facts. This is especially true where gins have a brand name that refers to a geographical place and customers will naturally assume that this place is also where the gin was made. This is not always the case and so the waters of transparency are muddied” Hrafn said.
Transparency seemed to be something that Lynne felt very passionately about. She told me – “Key for me is that people are upfront about what they do and how they do it – if you have a distillery, great – shout about it. If you are getting someone else to distill your product, let consumers know.”
WHY HAS IT BECOME SO POPULAR?
” I’m not sure what makes it so popular, either in the sense of it being popular to produce, or to consume, other than to say that my impression is they’re doing it extremely well up there so the gins coming out of Scotland are of exceptional quality, which you would expect to lead to good sales”… It is a tough question so it’s unsurprising Adam wasn’t quite sure how to answer but knows the quality is there.
Aly feels that “Gin is so popular for a lot of reasons, some are: the versatility of the white spirit, it can be enjoyed any way you choose from – neat, to a traditional G&T, as the basis for a cocktail and so on; Scotland has a rich distilling heritage, so our distillers know how to make a great spirit; and the emergence of so many producers means there is a gin for every palate, be it traditional London Dry, or spicy, or floral, or fruity.”
“I think this is due to people becoming better educated about gin in all honesty. There is so much information about now that simply wasn’t easy to find 10 years ago. People are seeking out gins not only for their taste but also for the prestige where it is distilled. Brand Scotland is hugely reconized worldwide and I think gins distilled in Scotland benefit from this recognition” Emma and Joseph give credit to Brand Scotland and a better educated public for the rise in Scottish Gin’s popularity.
Colin takes a similar but different take on it – “In typical Scottish fashion, we’ve shown huge amounts of innovation in the field. Brands like Hendricks probably kickstarted the Scottish gin revolution by introducing interesting botanicals like rose and cucumber, showing consumers that gin can be something a little more exciting than what was previously available. Others like Caorunn and Isle of Harris started experimenting with interesting botanicals grown on their doorstep, whilst McQueen started playing around with interesting flavours (chocolate and coffee spring to mind)”.
The Gin Guide’s Paul reckons that – “Two of the key factors that have made Scottish Gin so popular stand out. One is the boom in the popularity and consumption of gin that Scottish distillers and consumers have been part of, have embraced and have leveraged both in Scotland and internationally. A second is the Scottish pedigree for making and selling quality spirits, with a large number of pre-existing distilleries and trade networks, as well as a national market that is more familiar and educated than many in selecting and consuming quality spirits.
“A number of other factors have been highly important also, including the wonderful wealth of native botanicals in Scotland, the establishment of an active and collaborative community of distillers and industry organisations, the sense of pride from consumers and producers towards Scottish products, and the foresight in the industry to begin to develop ‘Scottish Gin’ as a brand, as well as events such as International Scottish Gin Day.”
“I think there is a great bond in Scotland. The heritage and the unique ability to support all that is Scottish works well. The fact whisky has protection and there is a long history of great distillers from Scotland plays a part in the development of Scottish Gin… Plus Scottish Gin has come a long way in a very short period, from what I can see” said Bruce… Which leads me rather nicely to the next question….
DO YOU THINK THERE SHOULD BE REGULATIONS/PROTECTION AROUND IT SIMILARLY TO WHISKY?
Bruce seemed to feel that there should be better sub categories within gin in general… He told me – “there is something to be said [for protecting categories in general] and there are massive differences between distilled gin, London dry gin and flavoured gin/liqueurs, however they are all put up against each other as if they are the same, there should be clear rules or sub categories and labelling”
When I dipped into this topic with Natalie and Martin Reid they told me that – “Scottish Gin as a category should be protected. Not only is protecting needed for the gin makers it’s needed to protect the consumer.”
Adam had a totally different opinion on the subject – ” I think we’re far from needing to protect it and the only reason I would ever see that becoming necessary is if it became a product in its own right, which you could argue would require a deviation significant enough for it to no longer be called ‘gin’. If anything I’d argue for London to be granted such protection before anywhere else as it is ingrained in the history of gin.”
“Yes. Gin distillers shouldn’t be allowed to trade on a name that embodies quality for their own promotional purposes without feeding something back into the area that make it in”.. Quite simple really from Emma and Joseph.
Natalie and Martin feel that it should be its own category – “Scottish Gin as a category must also represent a quality, premium spirit. We want to see Scottish Gin sitting alongside Scotland’s other food and drink products – whisky, salmon, beef, seafood, lamb and more. As a country we have some amazing people and businesses producing world class food and drink that’s in high demand around the world, there’s no reason why, with the right protection and support, that Scottish Gin can’t sit comfortable in Scotland’s amazing portfolio of food and drink”.
“In my opinion, improved transparency is most important and it is hard to envisage Scottish Gin having the formalities of Scotch Whisky or developing the same status in the global industry. The gin industry has for many years been attempting to define ‘gin’ more clearly, but too much subjectivity and disparity of views exists for agreement or potential regulation to be on the horizon, and this is a crucial factor in the definition and regulation of ‘Scottish Gin’.” Paul told me.
“We don’t see any reason that there shouldn’t be geographical protection like Scotch Whisky; it is a little duplicitous that a gin made outside of Scotland can be called “Scottish”… A valid point from Colin who went on to say, “Carefully considered regulation could help to protect the category, but there’s a very real danger that it could also stifle innovation”… Which is a rather impressive segue if I do say so myself…
WHAT DO YOU FEEL THOSE REGULATIONS/STIPULATIONS SHOULD BE?
So Colin continued – “If the category had been heavily regulated over the past few years, we definitely wouldn’t have seen the explosion that we have” and went on to say “To an extent, the industry is self-regulating, and it doesn’t take long for newcomers not following this mantra to be discovered. Personally, we don’t think regulation at this time would be helpful to the industry”… Which in my experience is correct… Every few days you see brands being called out for mis-representation or similar.
Aly touched on the specifics of the Whisky regulations – “When you consider the Scotch Whisky Association guidelines, which have been in place and refined over the last 100 years or so, they are quite rigid and arguably we don’t want that. If there is too much stringent regulation, this could stifle creativity and innovation.”
Katie agreed with Aly in terms of how strict the Whisky regs are and that they wouldn’t suit the gin industry – “So perhaps the only way to regulate it as Scottish Gin is to specify that the gin must be distilled in Scotland, even if the ingredients come from elsewhere? I’m not sure that having something similar to the Scotch Whisky regulations would be flexible enough for a category that is still evolving and constantly changing though.“
Natalie and Martin agreed with Katie regarding the specifics – “For a gin to be marketed and promoted as a Scottish Gin it must be distilled, rectified or cold compounded in Scotland and must be marked or promoted as a Scottish Gin. This could be something on the label or the brand’s website to say it’s a Scottish Gin. Anything that doesn’t meet these criteria isn’t a Scottish Gin and can’t be promoted to the consumer as such”
Again Emma and Joseph continue the agreements in terms of the regulation of the term in that “the gin should have to be distilled and bottled in Scotland. There should be no work around such as it was once distilled in Scotland or that the recipe was created. It should be a legal requirement to be distilled and bottled in Scotland.”
“I love the idea Scotland could have a protected form of Gin, that would be great. However, when we start to talk rules the waters get murky. You have the pros and cons to every debate and who is right is subjective. I believe the ‘London dry’ category should be the standout and then the other categories branch off that.” Bruce said. He then went on to say – “Be clear, label your gin as distilled or London dry, sugar or no sugar and be honest. You cant have a gin made in London shipped to Scotland and classed as Scottish. It must be made and bottled in Scotland to be a ‘Scottish London Dry'”.
So that’s what everyone else thinks… What do I think? Do you care? Doesn’t matter because it’s my blog so I’m sticking my two cents worth in anyway.
To me a Scottish Gin should be defined by where it is distilled. I think it’s important it contributes to the Scottish economy to call itself a Scottish Gin. Scottish Gin has a good name about it and so, to benefit from that reputation, gin makers should give back in terms of jobs etc.
I do, however, agree with Euan in that if there are plans to bring production up here once the brand has a bit more cash to afford the equipment itself then that is fine… Provided the current location of production is clearly displayed on the bottle.
In terms of why it has become popular I think this is very simple… Scotland has a reputation for doing certain things very well… We are also excellent at self-promotion… Joking aside I think that with our clear, clean water and expertise in terms of distillation and alcohol sends out a reputation of the product and a level of expectation. For the most part this is something the Scottish Gins have lived up to which only goes to further its good name.
I do think Scottish Gin needs to be protected and have some regulations controlling what gins are allowed to be entered into the category. I feel that if we abide by the terms set out by the Scottish Distillers Association then we should be alright. Regulations would only serve to protect the brand, protect the people that actually ARE creating a Scottish Gin and to create transparency for the consumer so that they know if they pick up a bottle that says it’s a Scottish Gin then that’s EXACTLY what they’re getting.
I wanted to thank everyone who took the time to jot down some thoughts and fire them over to me. Some really went all in and I included as much as I could and hope that it reads well and that those of you who contributed are satisfied with how your words were used.
I genuinely think the gin community is an amazing place and one that I’m privileged and proud to be a part of and contribute to in my own little way. It’s a place that is very welcoming and full of knowledge and passionate opinions.
I collated these opinions in order to compile this post to commemorate International Scottish Gin Day and have some fun around it.
International Scottish Gin Day is born out of the passion I mentioned before and I’m very lucky to be able to produce content for it and be a part of it’s inaugural year.
There will be events and activities all over the world on 3rd August 2019 for International Scottish Gin Day… To find out more follow the links below to the ISGD website. I’ll be popping along to two in Edinburgh. The first one will be the Gin Fayre Festival in the Mansfield Traquair (afternoon session specifically if you want to come and say hello) and I’ll then be heading over to see my pals Mackintosh at the Balmoral Hotel where they’ve kicked out the regular staff and hijacked their bar and cocktail menu*.
One more time I’d like to thank everyone who contributed in-spite of busy schedules. I am genuinely, from the bottom of my little ginger heart, very grateful.
Links below are in no particular order. If you’re not already following each and every one of these people I suggest you fix that immediately. The links below all open in a new window so you can just get started.
*I think the regular staff and cocktail menu might still be available but it’s more fun to think they’ve waltzed in and kicked everyone out isn’t it?
Natalie and Martin Reid
AKA the couple that distill together… AKA the distillers that commemorate their wedding each year with a limited edition gin
AKA the risk takers for flavour… AKA folk that know the value of a Scottish Gin