When Tony Reeman-Clark founded Strathearn Distillery in August 2013, it was with a desire to contribute to Scotland’s ever-flourishing Whisky scene. Gin had not quite reached the behemoth status it holds today, but Tony – with a love for the spirit & a cash flow gap to fill until his Whisky was ready – knew that it would tide them over.
That gap filler, it’s safe to say, has turned into a huge passion project all of its own, with the Strathearn range now encompassing four varieties of gin (Oaked Highland, Juniper, Citrus and Heather Rose) as well as a genever and a peated genever. This wider range is incidentally, the subject of another article coming soon…
Even with the release of its first batch of Whisky in August 2016, the distillery has retained a focus on Gin, constantly dabbling with botanicals to pluck out different interpretations of the spirit. This experimentation shows no signs of slowing either, let alone stopping. When we spoke to Tony about plans for more variants he promised “loads and loads and loads”.
Tony is quick to point out the similarities between Whisky and Gin, saying: “A curious fact that not many seem to know is that gin is the root of Whisky. Call me heretic or whatever, but so far I have avoided the lightning bolts… the very first distilled spirit was made from beer, using juniper instead of hops. You could consider it a type of Genever – the root of Gin. So if you love Gin, you should love Whisky and vice versa – as I do!”
Across the entire range, Heather Rose Gin is likely to be the one you’ll hear about the most; we saw the effect a colour changing gin can have on consumers when Portuguese distillery Sharish showcased their Blue Magic Gin at Junipalooza in June. Whilst Heather Rose Gin’s transformation is slightly more subtle (from an oaked, honey colour to a warm pink rather than from bright blue to light pink), that tonic led transformation is still impressive, showcasing the spirit’s journey from a loud, strong spirit into a sweet, delicate cocktail.
Heather Rose Gin to taste…
Heather Rose Gin has a familiarly Genever-like smell, warm and malty. It comes across incredibly soft and well balanced – the sum of all its parts, rather than all of its parts individually. Rose is perhaps the most discernible botanical to nose, but only in its typically mollifying capacity, adding a thin, delicate film of calm to the overall spirit.
Rose rubs its fingers over the other botanicals to taste, blurring them on the mouth as it does on the nose, though orange and lemon peel bring a discernible brightness, whilst liquorice root sweetens the spirit and brings a rich, oily mouthfeel, helped along by the oils from the compounded botanicals – rose and heather.
The distillery is the first to say that Heather Rose Gin is a move away from tradition and we must agree with them; juniper whispers out from your breath after sipping, but it’s never particularly present to the taste, masked by a more domineering rose and heather.
Discussing the spirit, Tony said: “I have always loved flavours and a good G&T, but the standard gins to me were far too similar. I also love a challenge and it became a bit of a goal to create a Gin which non-Gin drinkers could enjoy; a strong charactered Gin for those long cold drinks on the beach (obviously not in Scotland…) and the unusual after dinner sipping alternative to Whisky, so Heather Rose, Citrus and Oaked Highland were created. Now that people are copying us – the greatest accolade in my view – we’ve created a clear gin.”
Heather Rose Gin has two recommended serves: 1. Neat, straight out of the freezer; 2. With Fever-Tree Mediterranean Tonic and no garnish. We’d opt for both, and happily. It makes for an interesting aperitif, sweet but dry and with no harshness at all, and while tonic water sweetens it, it doesn’t mute the gin, rather it complements its hay-like warmth and gives weight to the citrus botanicals.
To make Heather Rose Gin, Tony or a member of his team distils a bought in NGS with juniper, coriander seed, orange peel, lemon peel and liquorice root to form a base. The botanicals are not macerated ahead of time, merely moistened and left in a vapour basket inside the Hoga still. After a nine-hour distillation run, rose petals and purple heather are added to the gin and left to compound, before the spirit is poured through a sieve and cut with water to its bottling strength of 40%.
Priced at £30 for a 70cl bottle, Heather Rose Gin – for one so unique – remains at the very reasonable end of the price scale. It’d certainly be of interest to Gin collectors and is worth more than a passing mention to Whisky drinkers, as there’s something about it that reminds us of a non-aged Scotch.
Its mahogany colour means that even in a clear cut glass it stands out on a shelf, and while the branding doesn’t quite call to us (the logo is quite basic, and Gin written as G!n adds a bizarrely child-friendly element) it just about gets away with it; this is helped in part by the fact that Strathearn print directly onto the bottle, rather than using stickers – an aspect that always adds an element of premium.
So strong is its work within the Gin industry, that Strathearn Distillery has become an important feature on the WSTA approved Scotland Gin Trail. The distillery hosts a four hour Gin Experience, which offers visitors the opportunity to taste, tour and make their own gin infusions, as well as learn about the history of Gin.
With a Genever already in the range, the history of Gin is clearly something Strathearn is keen to explore, so we’re excited to see what comes next – an Old Tom, perhaps, or something from even farther back in the archives? Whatever it is, it’ll be made with a real love for the category and a sense of adventure far bigger than Strathearn itself, which – in its own words – “is probably Scotland’s smallest Whisky and Gin distillery”.
For more information about Strathearn Distillery visit their website: strathearndistillery.com
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