Scotland is a producer of fine – often even divine – spirits, so when Esker Gin happened upon our paths we were particularly excited, especially given its ultra-modern design and unique botanical selection.
The gin is made in Royal Deeside, Scotland, by couple Steven and Lynne Duthie, who started tinkering around with the spirit on a one litre still with no real clue that their passion project would turn into a bonafide product. Within 18 months, though, they had fine-tuned the recipe and upscaled the equipment for Esker Gin – a spirit so tasty that they were confident enough in its quality to produce it commercially.
Neither has a background in spirits, rather they’ve come from Scotland’s other towering industry – oil and gas. Though they’d never worked with gin before, it’d always been a passion of theirs, drawing comparisons to the fantastic whiskies on offer nearby. Both Steven and Lynne made it a mission to try new gins wherever they went – an act of pure geekery that helped them to steer the overall flavour profile of their gin, as they sought to emulate other producers by also making use of local botanicals.
In total over a dozen botanicals are used in the gin: juniper, rose hip, heather, thistle, peppercorn and citrus amongst them. That oh-so-important local element comes from silver birch sap, which is pulled from trees on the Kincardine Estate. The trees are a real feature of Royal Deeside and the sap is a tricky creature to deal with – it can only be tapped in spring, so enough liquid has to be pulled in order to last the year.
To make the gin, Steven – in his capacity as distiller – soaks a selection of the botanicals in a bought in neutral spirit for 24 hours, leaving the rest to be vapour distilled during the distillation run. Each run – undertaken in a 100-litre alembic copper pot still – produces around 100 bottles of Esker Gin.
The silver birch sap is also included in the distillation process – rather than infused afterwards (as is the case for Blackdown Spirits). In fact, the only element that is added afterwards is triple filtered Deeside water, which is used to cut the spirit back to its final bottling strength of 42%.
Esker Gin to taste…
The gin has a cooling smell – nothing so overwhelming as mint has been used here, but a botanical with similar properties is certainly involved – we’d be willing to toss nettle into the ring as a guess, as this is a plant that entirely confuses the senses, transforming from crisp and fresh into hot and tingly. Overall, fresh, fleshy citrus comes through on the nose and there is a rooty angelica-sweetness, buoyed by the birch sap.
The initial sip is dominated by earthy sweetness and a flush of vivid citrus. Angelica root isn’t named as a botanical but a similar presence is felt, perhaps due to the birch sap. The core flavour carries a bright feel – that of green, fresh herbs with an underlying fire behind it. Juniper comes through on a very long (if a little coarse) finish, leaving a delicate and lasting pine in the mouth. The peppercorns are not evident as a flavour in their own right but help give a spiced finish and accentuate a certain fruitiness in the gin.
Perhaps because they were looking to emulate elements of gins they enjoyed, combining the best of each and using it to inform how they developed their own profile, perhaps it is because of the use of regional Scottish botanicals so distinct in other gins as well – Esker has a familiar yet unique feel to it.
Comparisons to Blackdown Gin are inevitable given the signature botanical, however, in our opinion the two are quite different when tasted side by side. There are parallels with the medicinal nature of Edinburgh Gin (thistle) too, but Esker Gin really reminded us of another Scottish made gin – Stirling. Fans of either would be well placed to try the other, as they share some similar qualities, not least that cooling/warming feel.
Esker Gin doesn’t need a great deal of corruption in a G&T – serve with a classic ice and a slice stance (Steven suggests a twist of orange peel – which would work well to pep up the citrus and hush the earthier tones) and prepare to be surprised by the way the tastes of each component evolve and combine into a rich, refreshing and unified cocktail.
Though the liquid is undoubtedly solid and the concept grounded in provenance and passion – Esker Gin is still entering into a very crowded market. There are already dozens of fantastic gins coming out of Scotland and hundreds from the UK as a whole, so it’s a hard challenge for any brand to get noticed without spending a huge marketing budget. Luckily, Steven’s past career as a designer (and, therefore, a with a naturally perfectionist nature) shines through in the bottle, which is sharp and modern, yet representative of Scotland’s history.
The topography of Deeside is represented in skandi-esque lines, which also hint towards tartan, as well as the river that snakes its way through the city. It’s all done in blue and copper ribbons of font, creating an overall modern and striking look. The bottle, created by RRD Creative, is certainly one that will stand out on shelves, and may well lend Esker Gin an advantage when it comes to batting against its local competitors.
On the key moment of their gin journey so far, Steven cites that first glimpse at their fully realised product, saying “after so much work, time and development of both the gin and the bottle design, the highlight was seeing the finished product come together for the first time and it being exactly as we had hoped it would be and more.”
We agree, this hard work has paid off – while Lynne still holds her energy industry role, Steven has recently stepped away from his 9 – 5 to focus on Esker Gin full time. With the first two big steps of launching a new product done (and done well), there is no reason why they can’t continue the upward trajectory and establish their gin in the market. What started off as a hobby is starting to look like a viable business and as fellow gin enthusiasts (and hobbyists ourselves) we wish them very well.
For more information about Esker, visit their website: www.eskerspirits.com
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