A Recipe for Gin

Something Clear, McLean's Gin.

Published: 26th November 2019

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

First in the series, we speak with Colin McLean, the founder and producer of McLean’s Gin to learn more about McLean’s Something Clear Gin. Originally said to be one of the smallest gin production facilities in Europe, working from a cupboard in a tenement flat in Glasgow, the McLeans have since moved to a new home in Strathaven, creating a dedicated production space for recipe development and gin production.

What inspired you to create this gin?

In 2018, we released Something Blue to celebrate our wedding, and with the success of the Limited Edition 1st release (it sold out in record time – 150 bottles in 5 days), we thought it would be nice to do something similar, but also very different. 

We’re best known for our quirky, colourful range of gins, but have always wanted to create something a little more dry and classic. Enter our first distilled gin: Something Clear.

What are some of the key botanicals in your gin?

Both Something Blue and Something Clear are centred around the marriage of our 2 favourite botanicals; tonka beans and buchu leaves. They’re an unlikely pairing, but one that works really well – perhaps a little like myself and Jess. Tonka beans provide some lovely sweet flavours; think vanilla, marzipan and burnt caramel, with buchu providing some much fresher notes; blackcurrant, mint and sage. There’s some cardamom in there and lots of orris root too for a bold, floral entrance.

With Something Clear, we decided to add 3 additional botanicals; angelica root to add depth, fresh orange (the whole fruit, not the peel) for a big, juicy citrus burst. And finally, a little loquat leaf; the fruit of which we picked and ate on the day we got engaged. We’d been out walking and forgot our packed lunch, but discovered wild loquats growing and took our chances. When we got back to our apartment we discovered the fruit has a sedative effect; queue the best 5 hour nap we’ve ever had! Loquat leaf provides a delicate herbal note to the gin, but in truth is more symbolic than anything.

What’s the distillation process?

Something Clear was our first (and currently only) distilled gin – and so, we’re rightfully pretty damn proud that it picked up the Bronze Award for High Strength Gin of the Year at 2019’s Scottish Gin Awards! At the moment, we don’t own our own still (or certainly, not one big enough to produce commercially) as the rest of our range is produced via the cold-compounding method (much like most producers do with liqueurs), so we used the facilities of Strathleven Distillery in Dumbarton to create this spirit. 

Distilled in a 30L copper alembic, we had to run the still 13 times to produce the total yield of 352 bottles. We started with a higher ABV than most; the spirit went into the still at 40% ABV (typically <35%) – we found that starting with a higher ABV allows the ethanol to draw out more of the botanical flavour. Each run was cooked up low and slow, taking around 5 hours. This gave the botanicals plenty of time to macerate with the spirit and release all of their unique flavours. The resulting spirit – seriously packed full of flavour for a London Dry style gin – was then cut to 50% ABV to symbolise the equal partnership that marriage entails (although we all know it’s really 60/40…)

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

It took 7 attempts to perfect the recipe on our 3L alembic (3 hours per run), 1 trial run on the 30L and a subsequent 13 runs to produce the final spirit (5 hours per run) so the total time crafting the spirit was around 90 hours. This doesn’t include the intricate packaging design, the travel to/from Strathleven Distillery (1 hour each way), preparing the botanicals, cutting the spirit to strength, mixing, bottling, labelling, sealing, carefully wrapping each bottle by hand (which took almost a fortnight – we won’t be doing that again!) etc. All in all, Something Clear was probably a solid month’s work and looking at the figures, it hasn’t been our most profitable release. But we never expected it to be; we just wanted to challenge ourselves to do something completely different to our bread and butter, and we think we’ve done a good job of it. It’s been selling well and we’re now down to the last 60 bottles; we don’t expect them to hang around much longer.

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

Going from compounding to distillation was tricky – although the botanical profile is the same (with the addition of the 3 new botanicals, of course), the quantities of each are completely different. Some flavours come through much stronger with distillation, whereas others were barely detectable at compounding quantities and so we had to increase the dosage 10 fold. It was a great learning experience for us and we love having the gins side by side at tastings to see who can pick up on the distinct differences and similarities between Something Blue and Something Clear.

Can you describe the flavour profile?

It’s a classic London Dry style gin and so packs a mighty up-front whallop of bold, rich, piney, sweet juniper. This coalesces with orris and angelica to provide delicate floral notes and rich, earthy undertones. The use of whole oranges makes the gin very much citrus forward… served with Mediterranean tonic you’d be forgiven for thinking you were actually on a beach in the Mediterranean (assuming you have your big jacket, gloves and scarf on, of course). 

There’s some subtle spice in there from the cardamom, but not everyone will pick this up straight away. The balance of the gin’s focal points is what sets it apart; tonka bean and buchu leaf deliver some lovely, sweet, fruity hints; think fat, juicy blackcurrants glazed with marzipan. 

As it should be with a good London Dry, the finish is unimaginably smooth, refreshing and moreish. For the first time, we haven’t stipulated a garnish for this one. We truly love it as it is.

You can learn more about McLean’s Gin here.

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