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Love Gin? Try This Week-Long Tour of Scotland’s Best Distilleries

AFAR logo AFAR 6/30/2022 Katie MacLeod

© Provided by AFAR

Scotland produces 70 percent of the U.K.’s gin, with around 100 distilleries located everywhere from the Borders in the south to Shetland in the north. Three of the world’s best-selling gins are made in Scotland, and more local craft spirits are growing in popularity, too.

In a nation already known for its whisky, gin is an obvious addition for distilleries; Scotch whisky needs to mature in oak barrels for a legal minimum of three years, but gin can be produced in mere days. The botanicals that are added to gin to complement the essential juniper are also plentiful in the landscape, with Scottish distillers using the likes of rowan berries, rose petals, seaweed, and heather to create unique tastes.

Choosing which distilleries to visit and which gins to try can seem overwhelming, but this week-long itinerary—taking in urban distilleries, a secret garden, and coastal island flavors—gives visitors a quick introductory taste of everything the Scottish gin scene has to offer.

Day 1: Begin your gin tour in Edinburgh

Start your Scottish gin education in the center of the city at Edinburgh Gin on Rutland Place, just steps from Princes Street Gardens and with dramatic views of Edinburgh Castle. Distilling began here in 2010 with the classic London Dry Gin, although its range now includes flavored gins, like Rhubarb & Ginger Gin, and liqueurs. Try Edinburgh 1607 gin, created with botanicals from the city’s Royal Botanic Garden, and take part in a gin tasting ($30), a gin distilling experience ($122), or cocktail making class ($55).

Afterwards, take an hour-long walk along Princes Street and Leith Walk (or take the Number 16 Lothian bus) to your next stop, Lind & Lime Gin Distillery. The experience here ($30) is hands-on: You’ll join the bottling line to fill and label a mini bottle of gin, and enjoy gimlets and G&Ts made with its London Dry Gin, which is juniper-focused with notes of fresh lime peel and pink peppercorns. While you’re in the neighborhood, take time to enjoy the buzz of the restaurants and bars in the city’s port of Leith, such as the Granary or Michelin-starred Restaurant Martin Wishart.

Lind & Lime dishes out G&Ts and lets guests bottle their own concoctions. © Courtesy of Lind & Lime Lind & Lime dishes out G&Ts and lets guests bottle their own concoctions.

Day 2: Explore Edinburgh’s Old Town and try new gins

Spend time in Edinburgh’s Old Town, exploring the historic Royal Mile before visiting two neighboring distilleries. Summerhall Distillery produces Pickering’s Gin, made from a recipe dating back to 1947 which features nine Bombay botanicals, including cardamom, fennel, and anise. It’s located in the former kennels of the University Veterinary School, and visitors can join the Pickering’s Gin Jolly, which includes a welcome G&T and view of the distilling process ($30) or the Pickering’s Peacocktail Tour ($40), which adds a VIP gin tasting and cocktail experience, plus a goodie bag to help you make your own gin cocktails at home.

Holyrood Distillery, a short walk away at the feet of Salisbury Crags, produces both whisky and gin. Its Height of Arrows Gin is juniper-forward, with Isle of Skye sea salt and natural beeswax added after distillation. While there’s no gin-only tour here, visitors can experience a Gin and Whisky tour ($22), or a Charmed Circle walking tour ($43) that covers the history of Edinburgh’s brewing and distilling industries.

Day 3: Take a day trip to the “home of golf” and Eden Mill Gin

From Edinburgh’s Waverley Station, board the hour-long train to Leuchars Station, followed by a 10-minute bus or taxi ride for a day trip to St. Andrews, home of Eden Mill. While the distillery isn’t currently open to visitors (a new carbon-neutral distillery launches in 2023), you can create your own bespoke gin at the Blendworks Experience ($117) with an Eden Mill expert at the Rusacks Hotel, located on the edge of the Old Course, the world’s oldest golf course. Before returning to Edinburgh, visit the Eden Mill shop on Market Street: Look for Forager Gin, made with local berries from endangered hedgerows, and Golf Gin, using botanicals that can be found near coastal Scottish golf courses.

Day 4: Taste coastal flavors in the Hebrides

Check in for your hour-long morning flight from Edinburgh to Stornoway, the largest town in the Outer Hebrides. Hire a car at the airport, or use a car service like Heb360, and head to the Isle of Harris Distillery. Known as the “social distillery,” it opened in 2015 with the hopes of bolstering the local economy and slowing population decline; on an island with less than 2,000 people, it now employs almost 40 permanent staff and sends Harris Gin worldwide. 

The gin, made with hand-dived sugar kelp, captures the maritime spirit of the island in both the flavor and the bottle. Set aside time after the distillery tour ($19) to visit some of Harris’s beaches, like Luskentyre and Seilebost. You’ll understand where the inspiration for the rippled teal glass bottle comes from when you see the color of the ocean.

Day 5: Discover island life distilled in Benbecula

You can spend your second day in the islands sightseeing in Harris and Lewis, or you can take the early morning 80-minute ferry from Harris to the Isle of Berneray, and drive 50 minutes south, crossing two causeways, for another gin experience at the family-run North Uist Distillery Co. on the Isle of Benbecula. 

Sit at the bar in the historic Nunton Steadings for a taste of Downpour Gin, a Scottish Dry Gin made with citrus, spice, and locally foraged heather. The unique mix of botanicals and essential oils causes the gin to go cloudy in the glass, although it’s clear in the bottle. After sampling its range of gins (which include Pink Grapefruit and Sloe & Bramble), return north on the late afternoon ferry and drive to Stornoway for the night.

Day 6: Back on the Scottish mainland, head to the seaside

Stroll through Stornoway in the morning, and after a return flight to Edinburgh, drive or take the train for 30 minutes along the coast for an afternoon in North Berwick, a charming seaside town and home to NB Distillery, which began life in the founders’ family kitchen. Visitors can now take a Ginspiration Tour ($30) of the purpose-built distillery, and sample its London Dry Gin, which was served at the Queen’s 90th birthday.

Finish your Scottish gin tour in a secret garden outside Edinburgh. © Courtesy of Secret Garden Distillery Finish your Scottish gin tour in a secret garden outside Edinburgh.

Day 7: Go all-natural in a secret garden at the edge of Edinburgh

Take a taxi or bus (Number 15) to your final Edinburgh gin tasting ($19) on the city’s outskirts at the Secret Garden Distillery. You’ll explore the herb garden, glasshouse, and drying room to learn about the botanicals that go into the distillery’s all-natural gins, which include Lemon Verbena, Elderflower and Jasmine, and even a Wild Gin made with bog myrtle and nettle.

>>Next: The Best Whisky Distilleries in Scotland

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