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The complete guide to Scottish Gin (what to pop in your tonic)

Have you tried Scottish Gin? Scotland may be most famous for whisky but we’ve also had a very long love affair with gin.  Fancy trying Scottish gin on your trip? Here is my complete guide to which gins to try, and the best distilleries to visit. Here is my guide to the Gins of Scotland. 

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Ok, so firstly, what is Scottish gin?

Gin is an alcoholic spirit which originally takes its name from a dutch drink flavoured with juniper – Genever. Whilst Gordon’s, Tanqueray and Hendrick’s Gin might now be famous world wide, there are lots of small batch gin distilleries right across Scotland using locally foraged ingredients to make very special gins with a fabulous sense of place – just like whisky. Fancy trying some Scottish Gin? Let’s dive in. 

How is Scottish gin made?

Did you know that in the 1700s there were over 400 illegal gin stills in Edinburgh? Thankfully Scottish gin making is no longer illegal, and with over 200 gins to try, over 70% of the UK’s gin is now made in Scotland. 

Scottish gin is made with a neutral grain spirit, usually distilled from pure wheat, although other spirits such as potato vodka can be used as well. Once the pure spirit has been distilled, this is mixed with water, and then flavoured with botanicals – firstly with juniper, coriander seeds and angelica – before other flavours such as citrus, cardamon, cinnamon, or orris root are layered over the top. 

How does gin get its flavour?

There are various methods of flavouring Scottish gin – from steeping, where the botanicals are mixed with the spirit in a pot still and heated for around 48 hours, to vapour infusion where the spirit is infused with the botanics, to cold distillation which is said to impact more flavour without heat. 

How to drink Scottish gin 

However you like – the most popular way to drink Scottish gin is with tonic – either Indian or flavoured, but gin also makes a fabulous base for cocktails such as the aviation or the bramble. 

A few of my favourite Scottish gin brands and the best Scottish Gins

In no particular order, a few of my favourite Scottish gins to try, including a few of the best Scottish gins.

  • Caorunn – one of the most popular gins in Scotland, Caorunn is made with apple, rowan  berries, heather, and bog myrtle.
  • Hills and Harbour Gin – currently Scotland’s most southerly gin, Hills and Harbour is made in Newton Stewart, Dumfries and Galloway with noble fir and seaweed – a more unusual gin choice.
  • NB Gin – a juniper led London Dry gin made in North Berwick, NB Gin is one for those who love  classic gins. 
  • Old Curiosity – made in a small herb garden outside of Edinburgh, The Secret Garden Distillery’s gin is produced from their own juniper bushes and 600 herbs! 
  • Arbikie – unusually Arbikie’s Kirsty’s Gin is made with potato vodka – and is flavoured with kelp and blaeberries. 
  • Dunnet Bay Rock Rose – one of Scotland’s most northerly gins (at least on the mainland), Dunnet Bay is made with rhodiola rosea, sea buckthorn, and rowan and has a beautiful bottle. 
Scottish gin

Island Gins

  • The Botanist – made with foraged ingredients on Islay, The Botanist has 22 hand-foraged local botanicals including bog myrtle, gorse flowers and meadowsweet.
  • Wild Island Gin, Colonsay – made with six native plants found on Colonsay, Wild Island Gin is made with lemon balm, wild water mint, meadowsweet, sea buckthorn, heather flowers and bog myrtle – and British wheat. 
  • Isle of Raasay Gin – made with juniper grown on the island, Isle of Raasay gin is full of citrusy flavours.
  • Lussa Gin – made by an all female team on the Isle of Jura, Lussa Gin has flavours of lemon and rose. 
  • Misty Isle Gin – made on the isle of Skye with water from the Storr Lochs and 11 botanicals including grains of paradise, orris root, liquorice root Misty Isle Gin also contains a secret ingredient that only comes from Skye! 
  • Kirkjuvagr Orkney Gin – Made up of a blend of very local Orkney Botanicals including angelica, ramanas rose, burnet rose, borage, Kirkjuvagr Gin is made with barley grown on, rather than imported to, Orkney.
  • Isle of Harris – probably Scotland’s most famous gin, not least for the amazing bottle, Harris Gin is seaweedy in flavour alongside sugar kelp, liquorice and bitter orange.

Classic Scottish gins

  • Tanqueray – a London Dry Gin with citrusy lemon, orange and grapefruit flavours My favourite is Tanqueray 10
  • Hendrick’s – a very floral gin made with cucumber and rose – one for those who don’t like juniper. Hendrick’s is often served with cucumber.

Glasgow Gins

  • Glaswegin – made with eight gin botanicals including Milk Thistle, Chamomile and Pink Peppercorns, all packed up in the unique Glaswegin bottle.

Edinburgh Gins and gin made in Edinburgh

  • Pickerings 1947 – made in Edinburgh with cardamon, coriander clove and cinnamon spice, Pickerings 1947 is made from an original recipe first noted down in Mount Mary, Bombay
  • Darnley’s – Edinburgh based, Darnley’s Gin is a natural spicy gin made with Lebanese mint, coriander seeds and lemon. 
  • Edinburgh Gin – a complex gin with 13 botanicals, Edinburgh Gin is made with lavender and mulberries. They also make some lovely flavoured gin liqueurs and even a seaweed gin.

How to visit a Scottish gin distillery

My favourite gin distilleries to visit:

The Secret Garden Distillery is located just outside of Edinburgh in a garden which grows over 600 different varieties of herbs and plants, creating gins from seed to sip. The Secret Garden Distillery produces traditional London Dry styles and more contemporary compounded gins. Book online.

Arbikie is a modern distillery at Lunan in Angus, Arbikie produces gin (including Nàdar, the world’s first climate positive gin) from home grown potatoes, rye,and peas. Take a tour of the distillery to try Arbikies’ 5 vodkas, and 3 gins. Book online.

Pickering’s Gin is distilled in Edinburgh University’s old Vet School, now the multi-use arts venue Summerhall, located in Edinburgh’s southside. The distillery is actually tiny, fitting into the Old Animal Hospital dog kennels, hidden behind cages of gin. Book online. Try a P&T in the adjoining Royal Dick bar.

Edinburgh Gin Distillery is located underneath the Rutland Hotel at the West End and is joined in the evening by popular bar Heads & Tails (distillery in the day, gin bar at night). The distillery tells the story of gin in Edinburgh, from the 1700s to the present day. Why not become a gin distiller by making and bottling your own one off custom gin in a baby still? Book online.

The Botanist is produced on the Isle of Islay at Bruichladdich Distillery, one of the island’s most famous spots for tasting whisky. They also produce the fabulous Botanist Gin and you can do a tour of both distillery operations. Book online. 

Orkney Distillery is located within Kirkwall harbour where you will find the home of Kirkjuvagr Gin. Orkney Gin has a great visitor centre where you can learn how the gin is made (and marvel at how small gin stills actually are) and try the gin in their stylish bar. Gin tours start at £8.

Gin Bars in Scotland

Fancy trying a Scottish gin bar? Here are my favourites:

Edinburgh Gin Bars

More gin is drunk in Edinburgh than anywhere else in the UK. With three home-grown Scottish gins made in the city and a plethora of specialist bars serving gin from across Scotland, Edinburgh is your perfect destination if you love Scottish gin. Here are my favourite gin bars in Edinburgh

  • Heads & Tales. Located under the Rutland Hotel is a warren of a gin bar. Heads & Tales is also Home of Edinburgh Gin distillery, so you can’t not try their signature blend. The cocktails are pretty good too, Thyme for a Bru, made with Portobello Road gin is served in an Irn Bru can!
  • The Jolly Botanist. With over 70 gins to try and with a name like The Jolly Botanist, this a quintessential Edinburgh gin bar. Located handily close to Haymarket Station, they also serve up good food and a lively atmosphere, it gets especially busy on the weekends!
  • Bramble. Named after the most famous of all the gin cocktails, Bramble is a great place to hide away with a cocktail. With a speakeasy vibe, beds to lie on, DJs on the weekend, and knowledgeable bar staff, this is one of my favourite places to enjoy a gin in Edinburgh.
  • 56 North. The prize for the biggest gin selection in Edinburgh must go to 56 North on Edinburgh’s Southside with over 180(!) gins.

Finally, whilst not specialising in Scottish gin, my favourite bars which do a great G&T are the very cool Devil’s Advocate (Old Town), the quirky Roseleaf (Leith) and the cosy Bon Vivant (New Town & Stockbridge).

More Gins Bars in Scotland

  • Glasgow – try Gin71, heaven for those who prefer their drinks with tonic. They also have two bars in the city – and a gin spa – or The Spiritualist, a cool cocktail bar in the city centre,
  • Aberdeen – I like Orchid, a cocktail bar in Aberdeen City Centre, or the Tippling House.
  • Inverness – try The Wee Bar on Ness Walk

Read more: my guide to whisky in Scotland