Up until this most recent trip to Scotland, I had never tried gin before. Ever.
To me, gin just sounded like a strong spirit that I surely wouldn’t like, so I just stayed away opting for ciders or a glass of white wine whenever drinks were to be had. That changed when I attended a dinner at Achnagairn Castle during the Social Travel Summit in Inverness. That gala dinner was one of the funnest parties I’ve ever had the pleasure of attending, and then at the end of the night, when things were winding down, we had the opportunity to do a gin tasting.
All around the room various gin suppliers from the region had set up tables showcasing the best of the best; this was my chance. Seeing that one table was serving up gin and tonics, I approached the bartender rather hesitantly. He began enthusiastically listing off all the gins he had to offer, at which point I cut in, “I know nothing about gin, so I’ll let you choose. Surprise me.” And surprise me he did.
That was my first taste of gin; 1 part gin, 1 part tonic water, and an orange skin as garnish.
It was an instant hit. Forget ciders and wine! For the rest of my trip to Scotland I would be drinking gin and tonics every time we went out for drinks.
But first, I should take a step back and answer one key question:
What is gin, anyway?
So, I realize most people my age probably know all about gin, but in case there are any other gin newbies out there, here we go:
Gin is an alcoholic spirit that is clear in colour, made from grain, flavoured with juniper berries, and well, it’s been around for a really long time! The early origins of gin date back to Medieval times, and over the course of the centuries it has been used as perfume, medicine, and a drink. Fancy that!
Visiting the Edinburgh Gin Distillery
With this new found love for gin and an upcoming trip to Edinburgh, it only made sense to take part in the Edinburgh Gin Distillery Tour.
Now let me tell you, I have visited a lot of wineries and distilleries before and I’ve only enjoyed a small handful. Listening to someone drone on with facts and figures about wines and spirits is not my idea of a good time, but the tours at the Edinburgh Gin Distillery are nothing like that.
We started off by taking the stairs underground where we were led to a cozy room with dim lighting, leather couches, and within minutes we had a glass of gin and tonic in our hands. How’s that for kicking off a gin tour?
After some time to enjoy our drinks, we were then lead to the the next room where we grabbed our seats and met our guide, Abby (who was amazing, by the way!) She took us on a dark, grim journey of Edinburgh during its first gin craze, and as horrid as the tales were, I hung onto her every word.
The 18th century was a time when Edinburgh experienced an epidemic of drunkeness where the city could not function. There were tales of the water being so polluted that the local population was better off drinking gin, spooky murders fuelled by addiction to this spirit, and rumours of a barrel of gin with a dead cat tasting better than the regular stuff because that’s how nasty early gin was. The gin we drink today is clearly not the gin the early distillers were producing.
What eventually stopped the gin madness was a mix of legislation and the rising cost of grain. Gin consumption would not see a resurgence until the Victorian Era, when Gin Palaces would become all the rage amongst the upper class.
After hearing all about gin’s history, it was time to get into the botanicals. The one key ingredient in gin is juniper berries – you need that to make gin – however, aside from that you can often find coriander and Angelica root used as well. (Our guide was telling us that over 95% of gins have these two botanicals, so if you ever want to venture a guess and look like a gin connoisseur it’s not a bad idea to list those two!) For the next part of our visit, we passed around mason jars filled with different botanicals where we tried to develop our sense of smell, with the hopes that we’d be able to identify some of these aromas in our gin.
And with that quick lesson, it was time to drink!
For this, we made our way into what I can best describe as a gin den. After hours, the Edinburgh Gin Distillery turns into a bar called Heads and Tales, where they have these little caves wrapped in leather couches, perfect for drinking with a group of friends. This is where the gin tasting took place.
We started out with the hard stuff: Cannonball and Seaside, the first is Navy Strength meaning it is 57.2% alcohol! I can’t say I loved either of the two on their own (tonic water was my saving grace!), but I did enjoy sampling the gin liqueurs. For these, we tried raspberry, Elderflower, and rhubarb and ginger. My personal favourite was hands down the Elderflower, with a very light and floral sweetness; not a drop was left in my glass!
We also learned that the Edinburgh Gin Distillery comes up with seasonal flavours. Can you imagine sipping on a frankincense, myrrh & nutmeg flavoured gin liqueur right around the Christmas holidays?!
To wrap things up, visiting the Edinburgh Gin Distillery was one of my favourite experiences in town! I went in as a complete gin newbie, and I left with a new understanding of the spirit, a new appreciation for different botanicals, and a whole bunch of spooky stories from Edinburgh’s gin craze!
Suffice it to say, I have a new favourite drink.
Getting there & booking a tour:
The Edinburgh Gin Distillery is located in the West End of Edinburgh at 1a Rutland Place at basement level.
They offer 3 different tours to choose from: the 45 minute Discovery Tour, the 75 minute Expanded Tour, and the 3 hour Gin Making Class. All 3 tours come with a 10% discount for the Edinburgh Gin Shop. See here for details on how to arrange your visit.
Also, be sure to bring ID so you can prove you’re over 18. Otherwise you’re not getting in!
What’s your spirit of choice?
Have you ever tried gin?