For the Love of Gin
Currently going through a boom in popularity, Scotland’s love affair with gin can be traced back to the 1700s and is largely associated with Leith. Not only was it already a thriving whisky industry in the area which meant there were skilled tradesmen in glass-making, coopering and warehousing, but as a dockside town which was relatively close to the Netherlands (Scotland’s most important trading partner at the time), there was easy access to spices and raw materials which were vital for gin production.
In 1777 there were 8 licensed distilleries in Edinburgh. There were also a huge number of unlicensed stills in operation too (thought to be around 400)!
Fast forward to 1826, and while gin was firmly established in Scotland, the liquid itself was still quite unpalatable. However, in 1826 Robert Stein of Edinburgh came up with an idea that would revolutionise gin production. His method of ‘continuous distillation’ increased the amount of potable gin that could be produced, as the fermented mash could flow continuously over the heat. The result was larger quantities of better quality gin, leading to the dry gin style that we know and love today.
* Did you know - Gin is made from juniper berries, but juniper is not a berry, it's actually a seed! Nearly all of the juniper used in gin-making is picked straight from the wild. During the plague years in the 14th century, doctors wore masks stuffed with juniper and people even began eating and drinking juniper, with the hopes it would fend off infection and disease.
Sales continued to thrive until the late 1950s when vodka took over as the drink of choice. Gin sales slumped and by the mid-1970s there were no gin distilleries left in Edinburgh.
It wasn’t until the late 1980s that gin sales slowly started to recover. In 2009 a change of distilling regulation led to the current small-batch premium gin revolution and, in what has now become full-circle, today there are a growing number of gin distilleries in Edinburgh. Here are our top recommendations:
Port of Leith Distillery
Established by two friends in 2017, Port of Leith Distillery is situated just a stone's throw from the Leith docks where gin production began all those years ago. They produce small batch spirits including sherry and Lind & Lime Gin. 2019 also saw the start of construction for their new, purpose-built distillery which will be over 5 floors and will become Scotland's first vertical distillery.
Since launching in 2010, Edinburgh Gin has been committed to the art and science of distilling and creating innovative, award-winning gins. Their delicious range of small-batch gin are all produced at their West End and Leith distilleries.
Opened in 2013, Pickering’s multi-award winning gin is based on an original 1947 recipe. Hand crafted at Summerhall Distillery, formerly the Small Animal Hospital of the Dick Vet School, you can also pop next door to the Royal Dick bar for a refreshing Pickering's and tonic straight from the gin tap.
Today, the spirit is fast becoming one of our city's favourite tipples, and over the past couple of years gin bars have been popping up all over Edinburgh. You certainly won’t struggle to find a good gin bar in the city. Why not have a look at our guide to 7 of the Best Gin Bars in Edinburgh.
Or, if you fancy exploring more about the mysteries of how your favourite drink is made (and possibly sampling some along the way) several breweries and distilleries in the city have opened their doors to guided tours – check out our guide to Distillery and Brewery Tours in Edinburgh.