A Recipe for Gin

Freya Gin, Kinrara Distillery.

Published: 3rd June 2021

In ‘A Recipe for Gin’, we meet the people responsible for creating Scottish Gin recipes, providing a fascinating insight into the gin making process and the inspiration and challenges of bringing an idea for a gin to life.

Working from their distillery on the Kinrara Estate, on the outskirts of the Highland town of Aviemore in the Scottish Highlands, the team at Kinrara Distillery are surrounded by inspiration. From the landscape, wildlife, plants and botanicals on the estate, it would be almost impossible for these elements to not have an influence over the the distillery, the gins and the people.

We caught up with head distiller David Wilson to learn more the inspiration, the botanicals and process that went into creating the recipe for the Kinrara Freya Gin, part of the distillery’s on-going Artist Edition of Scottish Gins.

What inspired you to create this gin?

Freya the Fox is the third gin in our Artist Edition series. Like the previous gins in the series, (Ginny the Coo and Struan the Stag,) we commissioned the fabulous Scottish artist Kat Baxter to design the bottle incorporating some of the botanicals from the gin’s recipe into its design. As with the other editions, members of the distillery team spent a while discussing which animal to feature on the bottle’s design, again wanting to showcase an animal you might be able to spot in the beautiful landscape around the distillery. Of course, having a really special liquid to put into our beautiful bottle is vital. We were again inspired by our location in the heart of the Cairngorm National Park, utilising as a botanical the purple heather that makes the hills so breathtakingly vibrant in the summer months. In terms of a flavour profile, we wanted to make a summery gin with a fresh and floral palate, a direct counterpoint to the previous Artist Edition ‘Struan,’ which was launched as a winter gin using ginger root and grains of paradise to provide a subtle warming spiciness. 

What are some of the key botanicals in Freya?

Purple heather is the key botanical in Freya and we really built the rest of the gin around it. Like with some of our other gins, we began by distilling just our key botanical and then applying sensory assessment to the resulting distillate and formulating what other ingredients would work well to complement it. We found the flavour from the heather to be quite subtle but adjectives like sweet, floral, herbal and woody were all noted. We sought out ingredients that shared the same general descriptions and although we have a fairly extensive botanical library at the distillery, there were a couple of more unusual botanicals that we had to order in so we could try them out in combination. In addition to what us gin distillers call the ‘holy trinity’ botanicals of juniper, coriander and angelica root, some of the other main ingredients present in Freya are blaeberries, lemon thyme and Spanish orange peel. Blaeberries are again ubiquitous on the hills surrounding the distillery and make a really interesting addition to this gin, they definitely help bump up the perceived sweetness on Freya and work really well with the fruity notes from the Macedonian juniper, that we use in the majority of our gins. Lemon thyme provides both herbal character that complements the purple heather and a delicate citrus flavour that emphasises that part of the flavour profile from our juniper.

What’s the distillation process?

Distillation takes place in our two 100L direct fire cooper Hoga stills. We don’t macerate our botanicals and prefer to add them, enclosed in a muslin bag, to the still just after charging with water and neutral spirit. The whole distillation process takes around four and half hours and requires constant attention to ensure the correct flow rate throughout and to manually make the cut points. In terms of a heads cut, we start collecting spirit when we can make out a bright citrus flavour in the spirit. The flavour profile changes over the course of the distillation but as soon as we start to perceive earthy, musty notes in the distillate, we make our second cut and run to tails. Each distillation produces around 150 bottles of gin so you can definitely say that it’s a craft process. Post-distillation, we let the spirit rest in tank for about a week to allow an even diffusion of flavour before cutting down to bottle strength, which in the case of Freya is 43% ABV. 

From start to finish how much time went into the creation of your gin recipe?

A fair amount of time went into the development of Freya. The process began in earnest when we as a team had to decide on the bottle artwork and our animal’s first name, which like previous editions had to be alliterative. The decision to make a bright summery gin was much more straightforward, as was the decision to use purple heather as the key botanical. Kat Baxter includes a lot of the gin botanicals into the bottle design and so the next stage was actually the recipe development. This took place on ‘Wee Alice’, our 2.5L development still, where I think we produced around 10 different prototypes. After finding the botanicals that we thought had potential, it was just a case of refining the recipe by getting feedback on each different iteration and adjusting the amounts. We then sent the ingredients list to Kat who magically worked them into her design. Getting the design transferred onto our distinctive white Artist Edition bottles was the next step and the good people down at Imagine on Glass in Crieff did a great job. It was then just a case of scaling up the recipe for use on our 100L stills, which has got easier the more times we’ve done it, however using new ingredients can sometimes be challenging in this respect. The whole process from start to finish took about 4 months.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when creating your gin?

One of the biggest challenges we found when creating Freya was developing a recipe that didn’t overpower the heather character that we wanted to celebrate. As mentioned, the influence of heather is fairly subtle and in our first formulation we used a similar amount of juniper as the recipe for our Highland Dry gin, which led to something that was felt was too piney and resinous. By cutting back the juniper and experimenting with other botanicals, which shared some of the aspects that we liked from the heather, we managed to create a gin that has the best of both worlds, blending an unmistakable juniper flavour with soft herbal and floral notes.

Can you describe the flavour profile?

Freya presents you with an alluring juniper nose, which opens up into something more complex with addition of tonic to reveal bright aromas of heather flowers and sweet mandarin. The palate is light and fragrant balancing citrus and floral notes with a more gentle juniper character than you otherwise might expect from a London Dry style gin. The finish is medium-long, incorporating delicate herbal flavours with just a hint of blueberry sweetness.

Learn more about Kinrara Distillery here.

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