What makes Scottish Gin special?

We ask some of Scotland's gin makers what makes the category so special.

Published: 5th February 2021

It’s one of the most difficult and, at the same time, easy questions to ask any Scottish Gin maker or brand owner. What makes Scottish Gin special? It’s a term that 20 years ago didn’t exist and has only really came to the fore in the last decade as Scotland’s gin category has continued to grow. As a spirit producing country, Scotland is known first and foremost for its Whisky. It’s a spirit that can trace its primitive roots back as far as 1494 noted as an entry in Exchequer Rolls describing malt being sent “To Friar John Cor, by order of the king, to make aquavitae”.

In terms of distillation: the science, the craft and heritage – a lot has changed since 1494, but one thing remains true – Whisky produced in Scotland is seen as the benchmark for quality and craft. With globally renowned brands, rare and limited edition single malts sell for a small fortune at auction. Due to the scale of production, we wonder if any Scottish Gins will find themselves going under the hammer at Sothebys? 

With our proven history of being able to take raw ingredients and turning them into something special, Scottish Gin very much falls into this category. For us as gin drinkers, we see the greatest value in the diversity of Scottish Gins available. The different brands. The stories. The people. Behind every Scottish Gin, there’s a story.

It may be the local landscape that has influenced the spirit in the bottle, either directly through the use of locally foraged botanicals or a local landmark that’s played a role in shaping the brand. In some cases, it can be a family member or family tale that’s been passed down through the generations or a moment in time that means something to the gin maker. It can be any number of nuances that have influenced and inspired a Scottish Gin.

As for the spirit itself, we take the approach the base spirit is the blank canvas and the botanicals are the paint. How the gin maker or brand owner uses these to create, shape and refine their gin is ultimately determined by them. How it tastes, how it looks. The journey into Scottish Gin is one that calls you. You might see a bottle of Scottish Gin on the shelf at the supermarket. You might read something on social media. You might even have enjoyed a Scottish Gin on a night out and not realised you were drinking a Scottish Gin. How Scottish Gin invites you on the journey cannot be pinned down. It’s part of the magic. It’s part of the mystery. It’s just one of the many, many things that makes Scottish Gin special.

We love Scottish Gin. We’ve dedicated the last three years of our lives talking about, showcasing and helping raise the bar for the term Scottish Gin and how it’s seen. For us, it’s a premium spirit made in Scotland with love, care and passion. We’ve discovered the stories, the people, the spirits. We’re invested in the industry and are proud to be playing our part in helping others explore, be inspired and learn more about the amazing story of Scottish Gin. So of course we are going to say we think it’s special. But as the Scottish Gin category and term ‘Scottish Gin’ continues to grow in recognition as a global brand and mark for gins made in Scotland, we wanted to ask some of Scotland’s gin makers and brand owners what they believe makes Scottish Gin special.

”I think that the renowned provenance of spirit production in Scotland lends itself beautifully to the production of gin, and the availability of brand inspiration, locally grown botanicals and really, really good people with entrepreneurial tendencies provide a depth of quality and authenticity that really shines through our Scottish Gin Brands.”

Stephen Kemp, Co-Founder, Kirkjuvagr Orkney Gin

“At McQueen Gin, what we believe makes Scottish Gin special is the passion with which it is made. We believe this comes from pride in our country, that pride is carried into our gin development with passion and honesty – and it shows.”

Dale McQueen, Co-Founder, McQueen Gin

“I could say it’s the fresh pure Scottish waters and the love of foraging for botanicals on the hills looking out on stunning scenery but really for me, it’s the people! Something amazing happens between strangers when you talk about gin, something I’ve never experienced with any other spirit, their eyes light up and the chat moves to ‘which gin are you drinking at the moment’, ‘which mixer works with that’ to ‘have you tried this one’. As you chat, you find out where they’ve travelled to, which bars, gin festivals and before you know it, you’ve made a gin friend, a camaraderie that I think is unique! People love sharing their stories, their gin cupboard pictures, their unique finds and whether their love of gin is as a couple or with friends, it’s wonderful to hear where their journey is taking them. That for me is what makes Scottish Gin special.”

Kim Cameron, Founder, Gin Bothy

“Scottish Gin is all about the places, the people and the passion.  With such a wealth of history, folklore, scenic landscapes and abundant flora, Scottish Gin producers are creative and inventive and weave all these magical ingredients into each and every fabulous gin produced, ensuring that no two Scottish gins are the same, which makes the Scottish brand exciting and fresh.”

Alyson Jamieson, Co-Founder, Linlithgow Distillery

“Scotland has a strong cultural identity that permeates everything it makes and everyone that evolves from it. The recent gin renaissance is a perfect example of where Scottish distillers have been able to produce world class spirits that capture the essence of that culture; be it our history, geography, botany, geology or sociology. Gin might be classified as a generic spirit predominantly flavoured with juniper but we at Loch Ness Spirits see it as a vehicle to provide meaningful connections to our culture.”

Lorien Cameron Ross, Co-Founder, Loch Ness Spirits

“I believe it’s the people behind so many small distilleries now, some great characters and a great community! If you think of what we’re all going through at the moment, most of us that are craft distilleries have stepped up to the plate and turned to sanitiser to help in any way possible, which in turn makes Scottish Gin even more special.”

Alistair Wilson, Co-Founder, Isle of Skye Distillers

“I firmly believe that Scotland has one of the most diverse and intriguing landscapes, an association with distilling excellence as well as interesting and sometimes unknown heritage tales from the past. I think this combination plays out in the range of spirits that Scotland has created and ultimately leads to intriguing, unique and authentic products that really capture the imagination of the consumer. It gives me enormous pride to be able to be part of the Scottish Gin community playing on our strengths to deliver great tasting gin to the country and beyond.”

Nick Smalley, Co-Founder, The Teasmith Spirit Company

“What I think makes Scottish Gin so special is the ingredients. Us jocks, all like to moan about our shocker of a weather system, whether it’s ‘gie dreich’ or ‘blowin’ a hooley’ or full on ‘p**hing doon’, yet it seems to be the perfect storm that brings us our bountiful gin larder. The copious quantities of crystal water running off the mountains, the jaggy bush that flowers into the most beautiful yellow Gorse flower, the baron mountain side that turns into a glorious purple thatch every year. To name but a few, I am eternally grateful of the bounty our wee country provides to the Gin world… doesn’t stop me moaning about the weather though.”

Sandy Morrison, Founder, The Pentland Still 

There is no specific recipe or single thing that makes Scottish Gin special. But just like the spirit in the bottle, when you bring together a number of individual ingredients mixed with time, skill and passion, something very special happens. The landscape. The people. The process. The creative spark and ambition that sees someone who’s never made a gin in their life just a few short years later stand proud as the owner of a distillery producing a gin that’s adored by many. The person whose invested countless hours refining their brand and how their bottle looks, so when you see it you fall in love with it before ever tasting the actual Scottish Gin. The person who used their own background and love of the area they grew up in and taken inspiration from to shape and mould their gin, their business, their brand. Discovering Scottish Gin is magical.

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