If you’ve any tartan in your wardrobe, now’s the time to dig it out and fire up that cèilidh playlist. The 25th of January has rolled round once again and it’s time for Burns Night, the annual celebration of the poet Robert Burns.
This usually involves a Burns Supper of haggis, neeps and tatties, accompanied by poetry addressing said ‘great chieftain o’ the puddin’-race’ and a recital of the Selkirk Grace. If you’re enjoying the traditional meal, you may also want a dram or two of whisky to accompany it. Or, for a change, some Scottish rum.
But what if you’re more of a gin drinker? You might think of whisky as Scottish and gin as English but distillers in both nations have been busy turning that on its head for years now. Scotland boasts a wealth of innovative gin distillers putting out gins that celebrate botanical ingredients found north of the border.
Aberdeenshire micro-distillery Little Brown Dog Spirits is a great example. Its founders bring a deep knowledge to their distilling or, as they put it, ‘intense geekery’. Each bottle of its excellent Aberdeenshire Foraged Gin has a ‘Scan yer Dram’ QR code, allowing drinkers to see where the ingredients for that particular batch were grown — accurate to within three metres. (Though they do keep the source of their local juniper a secret.) The gin contains surprising ingredients such as parsnip and bee pollen. And why not, if it tastes good?
Or head into Aberdeen itself, where, since 2009, the House of Botanicals has produced not just its thoroughly excellent Old Tom Gin but a whole range of others, plus cocktail bitters, aperitifs and digestifs. There are maple and raspberry versions of the Old Tom, plus an ABZ Dry Gin that is both distilled and compounded to extract the optimum flavour from its botanicals.
Naturally, there are also whisky distillers who turn out gin as a sideline. Sometimes these spirits can be excellent in their own right; The Botanist Islay Dry Gin from Bruichladdich Distillery, for example. Another to try is Caorunn Gin, which is distilled at Speyside’s Balmenach Distillery using a copper berry chamber for its signature rowan berries.
Read on for five of the best Scottish gins for Burns Night and beyond. And before you go, here’s a bonus tip: if you happen to be heading to France imminently, look out for Titans, a gin tourbé (peated gin) from Maison Victors. It may not be Scottish but it’s a suitably smooth and smoky delight with which to toast the auld alliance.
Five Scottish gins to try
Isle of Harris Gin
Want to sharpen your appetite with a pre-dinner Martini? This elegant and lightly savoury gin from the Outer Hebrides is hard to beat. It’s made with sea kelp gathered by hand from local sea-lochs, which gives it a gentle maritime edge. This is rounded off by citrus, spice and a good whiff of juniper, all of which helped it to a score of 91 points and a silver medal at the 2023 IWSC. The bottle is gorgeous too, winning an IWSC award for design – it’s far too nice to throw away. Luckily they sell recyclable aluminium refills.
£44, 45% abv, harrisdistillery.com
Electric Spirit Co. Achroous Gin
If Burns Night can get a bit too traditional for your taste, shake it up with a gin that’s less 1800s Balmoral and more modern Scotland — vibrant, colourful and even a little bit feisty. This one’s an earthy, peppery stunner. It has bright citrus, Sichuan pepper zing and finishes long with aniseed warmth. It mellows in a G&T but is electric (fitting, given the name of the brand) in a Negroni.
£36, 41% abv, electricspirit.co.uk
Rock Rose Navy Strength Gin
A Burns Supper isn’t always the most delicate of dishes. You might want a gin with a bit more oomph to stand up to the haggis and cut through all that rib-sticking goodness. This navy strength gin from Rock Rose opens with a warming whack of pine softened by lemon sherbet. It also has distinctive berry flavours from bilberry, rowan and hawthorn to bring some bright refreshment to your palate.
£43, 57% abv, dunnetbaydistillers.co.uk
Height of Arrows Heavy Gin
Distilled in Edinburgh with a whisky-maker’s mindset, this has had all the usual botanical embellishments stripped away. Instead, you are invited to concentrate on its texture and the nuances coaxed from just three flavourings: juniper, beeswax and sea salt. It comes in standard and bright expressions as well as the heavy, which will better complement a Burns Supper, with its more robust and roasted juniper.
£38, 46% abv; holyrooddistillery.co.uk
Edinburgh Gin Raspberry Gin
This flavoured gin is perfect to sit alongside cranachan as Burns Night eating winds down. The distillers behind it have been at work in Scotland’s capital since 2010 and only ever use 100% natural flavours. Stir it up into a Bee’s Knees, a cocktail with honey and lemon juice, and you’ll be onto a winner.
£29.50, 40% abv, edinburghgin.com