Discovering Scottish Gin

Sandy Morrison, The Pentland Still makers of King's Hill Gin.

Published: 18th June 2019

We asked members of our Facebook Group to take part in this latest feature, Discovering Scottish Gin, posing questions to owner and distiller Sandy Morrison of King’s Hill Gill. They did a great job and we struggled to narrow them down (sorry Sandy!) having offered a prize for the best question… a bottle of Sandy’s new Rhubarb & Amaretto Gin Liqueur. Sandy chose, and answered, his favourite question and we’re delighted to say the prize is already on its way to the lucky winner. As always, Sandy has a great story to tell and I think the group participants will be delighted with his responses. Thanks to everyone who took part and for giving their permission to be part of the feature!

What got you into this in the first place? Passion? Money? Good luck? (Gillian Amos)

There are a number of reasons I decided to dive, two footed, straight into Gin. An unadulterated passion for the stuff and the sudden realisation that various beautiful Gin ingredients are growing right on my doorstep. I think you won’t find many craft producers that are in the business for money, I still have a ‘real’ job and King’s Hill is very much a labour of love for me!

Why Gin? (Karen Austin)

Made from plants, berries and booze, I have convinced myself it is good for me! (if drunk responsibly of course). It is a really versatile spirit that can be the base of many products, it also helps that a whole pile of the main ingredients are available whilst rambling around almost any hill in Scotland. Scotland is a natural gin larder!

How did you decide on your brand name and logo? (Linda Beard)

We stumbled across our brand name and logo, quite literally. I was circling top foraging spots I had found in the Pentland Hills on an OS map. I happened to notice one particular area where we were picking some Heather had an interesting name, King’s Hill. Usually these names have a meaning and after a bit of digging I discovered an amazing story of how King Robert the Bruce had lost his entire Pentland estate in a bet over a white deer on that very spot… King’s Hill Gin was born! Check out my website here for the full story.

How do you keep coming up with ideas in such a competitive market? (Nicky Giddings)

Hi Nicky, great question. This is always the tricky part, normally you think you have come up with a clever idea, investigate it then discover it’s been done two or three times over already. I put some of my ideas down to my extensive eating experience! I am a bit of a foodie as well as a booze fan. We came up with our Rhubarb and Amaretto concept as it works tremendously as a pudding, so why not turn it into a boozy version! I have plenty more ideas up my sleeve, trick is to get them out of my sleeve before anyone else.

How do you cope with the seasonality of foraged ingredients? (Alison Downing)

This is a great one Alison, it’s all about very careful timing. I keep a diary for the main foraged ingredients and when they come into ripe picking season. Although it often seems like we get 4 seasons in a day! We have a dehydrator at our premises where we dry them out and store them for up to one year. The more delicate items such as Gorse Flower are air dried and stored in jars.

How do you know what doesn’t make a good flavour for gins? (Dan Fullard)

This is an easy one, pure trial and error, nothing else! Despite only launching in July 2018 I have a book of various trial and error recipes. I usually start in my kitchen with a Kilner jar, this is where some cracking recipes are born… and where plenty also die.

Do you worry about gin’s popularity starting to wane or lack of originality becoming an issue? (Nicky Giddings)

This is of course a worry for every gin producer, and ginthusiast alike. I feel it is a whole change in drinking dynamic rather than a fad that is likely to wane. When I first started hitting pubs and clubs it was still Gordons or perhaps a dusty Bombay Sapphire bottle at the back shelf for special occasions. This was a similar story for Vodka and Rum. Pop into any half decent bar now and craft has landed big time. The range of Beer, Vodka, Gin and Rum is staggering compared to 10 – 15 years ago, the classic half pint of heavy and a nip is the ones who should be worrying. 

With the variable weather influencing the concentration of flavours in the botanicals, how do you ensure that batch B is as good and as anticipated as batch A? (Colin Walker)

Ah ha! This is where ‘craft’ distilling comes to the fore. The beauty of craft distilling is that it is completed entirely by hand (speaking on behalf of King’s Hill of course). There will of course be odd discrepancies in botanical condition, quantity and distilling (temperature variations during summer/winter, cooling water temperature). We follow a strict distilling procedure to try and ensure continuity. There will of course be very slight differences in each batch, but this keeps it exciting and is a great excuse to buy a bottle from every batch.

Would you consider a gin club with discounts and different flavours each month? (Araline Moran)

I would love to do this at some point in the future! Experimenting with new flavours is really great fun and gives the public a chance to try out something new and very exclusive that may not be on the open market. Watch this space…

When the weather is wet and wild in Scottish Summer how do you keep your botanical foraging team motivated? (Sharron Wilson and the winning question!)

Thank you for the great question Sharron! The crack botanical foraging team usually consists of myself, Mum, Dad and my fiancé, Heather. Each are motivated in very different ways! My Mum is kept fuelled by plenty hot tea in the flask (I swear it runs through her veins), my Dad is motivated by a decent picnic for lunch (we aren’t allowed to discuss the contents as the surprise is half the fun), Heather’s motivation is often a mini Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc tucked in the picnic basket. Our team is small, hardy and very effective. Usually out in all conditions… the only conditions that we really struggle in are the infamous midges! The amount of botanicals our wee squad can gather is amazing and I am eternally grateful for all their help. I’d be lost without it. We of course all finish the day in front of the fire clutching a very well earned King’s Hill Gin & Tonic in our tattered hands.

How much rhubarb is needed to make a bottle of King’s Hill Rhubarb & Amaretto Liqueur? (Sue Corrado)

We use around 850g of Rhubarb per litre of Gin, so 425g in each bottle. This is why it is super Rhubarby and blush pink in colour!

How do you decide whether to make your product a flavoured gin or gin liqueur? (Dan Fullard)

I normally experiment and try both! Often a flavoured Gin will have to be diluted with a mixer to make it palatable for most people so the fruit flavour has to remain strong. The Gin liqueur can often be drunk straight so allowing more delicate flavours to remain at the fore.

How do you survey the public to know what they think would make a good flavoured gin? (Klayre Hurnn)

We have been attending plenty festivals through the year, which is the perfect opportunity to get direct public feedback on a new recipe. Our Rhubarb and Amaretto liqueur was on test at GIN:NE in Inverurie early this year, people were trying to have my arm off for the taster bottle so we decided to roll with it and launch.

Can you see yourself doing a barrel aged reserve gin in the future? (Araline Moran)

Never say never! Personally I am not a huge fan of barrel aged gins and I tend to make Gins that I love personally (selfish I know!) I would never say no to an idea though, this may be something we explore in the future as a special release.

Scotland is renowned for its whisky, but despite over 70% of British-made gins being distilled in Scotland, it’s not something people immediately associate with our country. Can you see a time where either Scotland, or King’s Hill Gin, becomes a ‘go-to’ choice for gin-lovers worldwide? (Fiona Galloway)

Great question Fiona, I think we are certainly going that way. Thanks to Whisky, Scotland has been built as a truly wonderful brand. Scottish Spirits already stand out as top notch and as there are so many gins out there you have to remain top quality to survive. I feel that Scottish Gin will follow in the footsteps of Whisky and be known worldwide as where the best Gin in the world is made, much like our old pal Whisky. I would truly love for King’s Hill to remain up there and become a go-to worldwide for Ginthusiasts.

You can learn more about King’s Hill Gin here.

News & Features G is for Gin
(and Good)