Despite being a big whisky fan, my favourite boozy event of 2014 ended up being the inaugural Scottish Juniper Festival. Held in Edinburgh’s Summerhall arts venue to coincide with World Gin Day, the event brought 15 Scottish gin brands together under one roof, with the entry price allowing for a sample (or two…or three!) at each of the 15 stalls. Safe to say, it was a bit of a crazy Friday evening, but good fun all the same.
With these good memories in mind, I was delighted to see the event return again in 2015, showing that the gin scene, especially in Scotland, is going from strength to strength. This year, the number of gin brands in attendance ballooned to 27, which proved a challenge, even for a gin lover like me. Luckily, I’ve done the tasting so you don’t have to, and here’s my top three gins from the festival.
Martin Miller’s Gin
Martin Miller’s Gin was launched waaaaaaay back in 1999 – long before gin had become as popular as it is today. It’s made in the Black Country using traditional methods, in a still which is affectionately known as Angela. They take a unique approach, by distilling the earthier and citrus botanicals separately, before combining them. Once this process is over, the gin then goes on a 3,000 mile round trip to Iceland, where it’s blended with some of the world’s purest water. This gives the gin a full, fresh, citrus taste, with the juniper emerging half-way though.
Another gin with international pedigree, Strane Gin comes from Hunnebostran, which is around 130km north of Gothenburg. In a similar fashion to Martin Miller’s Gin, three separate distillates are created – one juniper, the second citrusy and a third herby one. These are then blended together in different ratios for the three different gins they bottle. I tasted two of out of the three at the festival, with the Merchant Strength (47.4%) my favourite. Here, juniper is right to the fore, followed by a hint of citrus and a woody, earthy finish.
Daffy’s calls Edinburgh home, although its sprit comes from Northern France. It has been bottled at a very specific 43.4%, as the distillers believe this to be the perfect strength for their expression – not too punchy, but with enough oomph to have some presence. And they seem to have it spot on. The use of Lebanese mint as a botanitcal brings a freshness to the sprit, complementing the sweet and fruity notes, along with a warm and elegant finish. The bottle design, incidentally, is the work of Robert McGinnis – the artists behind posted for films including Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Barbarella.
Honourable mentions also go to Edinburgh’s very own Pickerings Gin, Darnley’s from Fife, and my current favourite, Rock Rose from Caithness. What all six of these gins have in common is that they are simply good, solid spirits. Unfortunately, too many brands at the Festival were tinkering with the recipe to such an extent – in an attempt to find a unique angle in a crowded market place – that they lost sight of the fact they were producing a gin. Many just felt far too quirky to find an audience and are unlikely to be at next year’s event. However, the brands listened above prove that Scotland continues to lead the way in creating distinctive, reliable gins for years to come.