El:Gin sounds an awful lot like the sort of name a narcotics investigator would give themselves whilst trying to blend in: “Me, they call me, er… El… Gin.” In actual fact, the title is a puntastic take on the drink’s hometown – Elgin, in Moray.
Founded by drinks industry veterans Leah Miller and Paul Hooper in June 2015, El:Gin set out with a very modern agenda – to create a gin that put as much focus on local flavours as it did a traditional juniper core. It took over a year of trial and error to get the recipe for the gin ready, but once that final ingredient slotted into place, the duo were so convinced by their product that they went somewhat boldly with a Friday the 13th release date. Luck, they didn’t need. What they had was liquid magic.
With over 25-years experience in Whisky production and distillation, the duo didn’t have a great deal to learn when it came to manning the necessary equipment, so when they say that trial and error was a big part of the process, there were a lot less fails than in your regular newbie set up.
Still, they had a goal in mind and with botanicals being the tricky little monsters they are, it took a great deal of tweaking to get to the right place. “We wanted to create something very different – a fruity, smooth gin,” Miller told us. “We believe that the overall flavour is like traditional Scottish dessert. We aimed to make a very versatile gin that is equally good straight on ice, with tonic or served up in a cocktail.”
Regular gin botanicals are joined by locally grown raspberries, strawberries and apples, bringing crispy summer vibes to the entire sip. The last found ingredient – the final piece of the puzzle – is Scottish oats. This was something that Miller and Hooper stumbled on quite by accident, but the botanical offers such soft, cereal sweetness that it was almost irresistible once they realised how well it distilled.
Since the 2016 launch, Hooper has now departed the El:Gin brand, leaving Miller with sole custody. She is responsible for everything, from distillation, to packaging to getting the word out. She operates on two 80-litre stills (which takes two hours to run) and a 250-litre still (which takes six hours).
All of the botanicals are left to infuse in a neutral grain spirit for 72 hours. After maceration, they’re emptied into one of the traditional copper pot stills, with a direct (and very carefully controlled) heat applied to the base. The 80-litre stills produce enough liquid for 20 – 25 bottles of El:Gin, while the 250-litre contraption creates enough for around 150. The stills are never filled to capacity to allow for greater copper contact.
El:Gin to taste:
The unusual combination of El:Gin’s botanicals shine. On the nose there’s a malty, mashed strawberry and raspberry note, the kind you get when you add red jam over porridge and gently stir it in. The sweetness of the fruit is notable, yet it lingers behind the oats, adding a unique depth and a distinct texture. Smell for long enough and the juniper becomes clearer, so too do the subtle citrus peels.
There so much more to the taste than just fruit and juniper too. It begins as the nose would suggest, a compote of strawberry and oat. The flavours are gentle and a little shy at first, but they develop further as the journey kicks off and the core gin botanicals are allowed to start taking the lead. El:Gin slowly ambles its way from fruit to pine and into more spiced botanicals, but it never becomes fiery nor dry. It’s a tightrope walk, where the resinous nature of juniper has been balanced by the red berries, enlivened by them, in fact, and where a whole cast of other botanicals gently contribute to a journey where there’s just enough zingy citrus, just enough warming spice and just enough lingering depth. It’s a real ensemble of flavours that work in harmony.
The striking thing about the flavours here is just how true to form they are. This isn’t an over-sweet, artificial berry flavour, instead it’s what actual, real red fruits taste like. Nor is it a weird Scottish botanical for the sake of it either: just raspberry, strawberry, oats and juniper. Each of the local botanicals comes across clearly, and each plays an equal and evident role. It’s a feat that’s quite rare to see and it shows Miller’s understanding of flavour balancing.
As far as serves go, we’d lean into the gin’s inherent qualities a little further and garnish a G&T with something that keeps those balanced perfectly poised: sliced cherries and a sprig of rosemary, perhaps.
For a gin that states it’s deliberately not trying to be as juniper forward as many, preferring instead to emphasise its use of other ingredients, it delivers more than enough to be on the right side of decent, honest-to-goodness gin flavours, so there’s no risk of the juniper police knocking down the distillery door any time soon.
The bottles are quite unique and almost handsome, if that’s ever a reasonable descriptor. Big, blocky and boldly black throughout, the El:Gin bottle is both striking and premium, with a rich paper label and beautiful gold foiling. It is a bottle you can gift, certainly.
El:Gin isn’t an only child; the dessert-like qualities of the gin were taken to the next level in June this year, when Speyside Honey Gin was released. The regular gin is mixed with a great big dollop of local heather honey, which not only brings a dose of sweetness, but a light floral touch too.
There are also two liqueurs in the range – Merry Mocha, which is a combination of locally roasted coffee and chocolate essence, and Moray Berry, which sees El:Gin infused with raspberries, strawberries, blueberries and fuchsia berries. The latter is of particular excitement to us – fuchsia berries are a particularly wonderful fruit, but we’ve never heard of them used in a gin before. We’re sort of cross we didn’t think of it ourselves…
El:Gin described itself as ‘no ordinary gin,’ and while in some respects it’d be safe to argue that there is no such thing nowadays, we’d happily support their statement. There are many gins that fall more on the side of botanical vodka as they make their adventurous leaps, but this one has enough juniper to be a fully fledged member of the gang. We loved it at first sip, and we’re sure you will too.
To hear more from El:Gin, visit the website: elgin-gin.co.uk
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