I like scotch just as much as (admittedly, it’s probably a little less than) the next person, but I’ve never sat fireside with a Lagavulin neat and dreamt about a pilgrimage to the spirit’s heartland. Do I dream of traveling to Scotland for the rugged rolling landscape, formidable castles, and that famously accented hospitality? Absolutely, but for me, the country’s distilleries have never been the main draw. Until now. Because while I like scotch, I love gin.
Launched in January of this year, the Scottish Gin Trail celebrates the renaissance of the country’s other favorite spirit. While scotch may be the more famous liquor, gin is just as well-loved in Scotland, and in fact, Scottish gin production predates that of the peaty brown stuff by roughly 300 years. Luckily for us, the increasing popularity of the clear, botanical spirit has sparked a boom of new distilleries—the number across the United Kingdom has more than doubled—and the Scottish Gin Trail seeks to introduce visitors to the newcomers. With 17 stops, a meandering path through the cities and across the countryside, and some of best gin in the world to try, here’s why the trail is a spirits aficionado’s dream.
Scotland’s reputation for craft gin is already established.
Even if you’re not a gin lover, chances are you’re already familiar with one of Scotland’s most famous contributions to the gin-drinking world: a little brand called Hendrick’s. Up until about 15 years ago, most bars exclusively filled their gin section with London dry gins like Beefeater, Bombay, and Gordon’s. Hendrick’s fresh, slightly sweet bouquet of botanicals was a revelation that not only helped make gin cool again (alongside a few artisanal American brands like Junipero and Crater Lake), but also helped inspire a new wave of floral and citrus-centric craft gins.
You’ll sip your way across the country, taking in the scenery along the way.
The Scottish Gin Trail stretches from a hands-on tour of the Edinburgh Gin Distillery in the capital city, all the way to the United Kingdom’s northernmost distillery where Shetland Reel Gin is made in the Shetland Islands. If you hit every stop on the trail, you’ll wind your way from Saint Andrews, where Eden Mill’s Original Gin is made with sea buckthorn berries; to Loch Lomond for a glass of Strathleven’s single malt Gilt gin; to the Balmenach Distillery in the Highlands, where Caorunn Gin is made with locally foraged botanicals; and many others.
It’s a two-for-one or three-for-one deal.
Possibly the best thing about a gin-themed Scottish vacation is that you’ll also travel to the world’s most famous scotch destination. Why not hit both spirit trails? Speyside, a small town just three hours outside of Edinburgh is home to more than half the world’s scotch distilleries. The town links seven world-famous scotch distilleries together to form the country’s Malt Whisky Trail, including Glenfiddich and Glenlivet. And for the truly dedicated, London has its own Gin Trail, also organized by the Wine and Spirit Trade Association. London’s trail includes 12 stops that feature some of the city’s greatest gin distilleries, bars, and gin experiences, from the Beefeater distillery to the legendary Savoy Hotel bar.
Just remember, these delightful distillates are an experience to be savored, so sip—don’t swig!—your way across Scotland.