Loch Ness Gin
Loch Ness has long been a place shrouded in mystery, so it’s no great surprise that the story of its namesake spirit – Loch Ness Gin – reads like the back of an Agatha Christie novel, with a retired detective and a local doctor teaming up to explore the famously furtive lake.
Kevin Cameron-Ross (the detective, in this instance) and his wife, GP Lorien Cameron-Ross, decided to make a gin in July 2015. They’d been at the Inverness Gin & Whisky Festival just a few month previous and were quite struck by a talk on the lack of juniper in the UK. With plenty growing on their own land, they thought it might be an idea to start selling theirs to distillers.
Of course, once they’d worked out how difficult it is to harvest the berries they quickly shook off that idea, joking that they should use the berries for their own gin. The joke carried on for a couple of months until they realised, actually, that it might be quite a good idea. Loch Ness Spirits Limited was registered in October 2015, and Loch Ness Gin launched the following August.
The Cameron-Ross’s quickly learnt that the Gin industry is one of the friendliest to be in as they sought advice from their fellow Scots makers. “Tony Reeman-Clark from Strathearn has been a huge help to us getting off the ground,” Lorien explains. “He offered limitless advice and even his workspace at Strathearn whilst we were getting our premises ready. Martin Murray from Dunnet Bay Distillers was always at the end of an email to give us advice on Highland-specific issues, and we also quizzed Jonathan Engels from Crossbill and Matt Gammell from Summerhall Distillery to get as many perspectives as possible.”
That help clearly paid off. Loch Ness Gin is almost certainly one of the most ‘local’ gins we’ve encountered, but at no point has story or locality been chosen over quality. Most producers like to shout about provenance and while some walk the walk, there are too many, in our opinion, that aren’t even made in their namesake towns, nor that use botanicals growing in the area.
The Cameron-Ross’s have well and truly gone one step beyond when it comes to authentic geography, taking all of their botanicals from their surroundings. “We went out with a foraging tutor to look at what was growing around us, but with fresh eyes. We were amazed to discover that every flavour you could wish for is available on our doorstep; sweet, floral, bitter, aromatic, spicy, citrus. You honestly don’t have to ship botanicals across the world.”
In keeping with its mysterious surroundings, the recipe for Loch Ness Gin is a closely guarded secret, though Lorien does reveal that “if it does not grow within 500 metres of our house, it is not in our gin.” One of the reasons for this, she reveals, is that she doesn’t want a list of ingredients to influence people’s perception of taste. She wants people to interpret the flavours according to their own palates. If you are wondering how it’s possible to get enough botanicals to make loads of Gin, it’s not. Only 2000 or so bottles can and are made each year.
All of the distilling is performed by Kevin, who charges the still (a small Portuguese Alembic) with a mix of water and neutral grain spirit and places the botanicals in a vapour chamber above the tank. The distillation run length varies from month to month, but can be anywhere between eight and 12 hours, with each run producing around 65 bottles.
What does Loch Ness Gin taste like?
The first thing to note is that this is one of the few gins where our headline question does not work. What does it taste like this time is far more appropriate as there is a natural drift that occurs year to year. It’s not massive, but it is noticeable and that’s the charm . here – it’s all from 500m from the distillery door.
On our tasting, sweet greens rush up the nose, with a warming spice following swiftly behind. Green and lively with a crisp fruity note at the end, this smells incredibly outdoorsy, with a cooling juniper hit.
A rich, honeyed taste greets the tongue (very possibly silver birch sap, which grows in the area and which would provide a delicate sweetness), followed swiftly by a warm, coriander-like lemony heat and a rooty, ginger taste. We’d love to know where that warmth comes from, as its fiery enough to catch in the chest, yet dies quick enough to not leave any scorch marks. It’s fairly smooth for its 43.3% ABV – a percentage chosen, incidentally, not for the gin’s performance at that strength, but to represent 433 feet – the average depth of Loch Ness.
There’s definitely a Scottish feel about Loch Ness Gin – a hint of heather, thistle, nettles and hawthorn. It comes across sappy and raw, like the milky blood of brittle stemmed plants. The juniper is used quite interestingly, too; it doesn’t have that bright pine quality you’d expect, rather its earthy and cool, more like the forest floor than the fir tree taste it often emits.
With tonic, that big bushy green smell is amplified, while the spice takes on a dustier undertone. Huge vegetal greens flourish across the mouth, coating the tongue in a tart, sappy wax that cools your tastebuds as it heats your heart. It’s a loud G&T (though we made it 1:1, so it had little choice), with a drying quality that sets it apart as something quite unusual. We’d serve with Fever-Tree Mediterranean Tonic and a sprig of rosemary to up that pine, though the Cameron-Ross’s serve of a kiwi garnish is sorely tempting…
Those of you from our part of the world will be well versed in the tale of Loch Ness, that of a creature so vast she can be likened to a dragon, yet so shy she’s never been photographed. Nessie is the stuff of legends, her long neck having burned its way into the imagination of every British child for the last century. Needless to say, she serves as the logo for Loch Ness Gin, which is packaged in a clear black glass bottle, the opacity of which is determined by the light in the room. Copper foiling strikes against the dark, creating a look and feel that’s something a little bit… well, special.
While the opacity is less obvious, it is a particularly effective element of the design. In certain lights you can just see through and that touch, though so subtle, is exactly why the brand ties in so neatly back to the mythical beast itself. It makes you look twice, want to know a little bit more and dig beneath the surface, and while it’s not something you notice at first, once you do, you can’t help but have a little wry smile about the sheer cunning of it all.
Only 2,000 bottles of Loch Ness Gin are made each year, as to do more would be nigh on impossible. Each botanical is hand picked, dried and sorted by the duo. The gin is distilled in such small volumes (with Kevin sometimes spending up to 12 hours shivering his way through zero temperatures) and the botanicals available in such small quantities, that there just isn’t room to create more.
The “you honestly don’t have to ship botanicals across the world” statement above may be true, but – and this is a big but – if you want to make more than a couple thousand bottles, you really, really do need to start pulling resources in from further afield. Their solution to this problem is the Loch Ness Legends Gin series.
Here, the team produce a gin who’s flavour is built around around a story of the region (a legend). From Pictish heritage, folklore and all the way to more modern inspiration, they look to the stories of their region to inform the direction of the batch. They very openly talk about using botanicals that are not all locally foraged and deliberately look to make this a more scalable, more widely accessible range. At £5 cheaper, the Loch Ness Legends price point reflects this too.
The quality remains, the smoothness of spirit remains, the fact that everything is underpinned by their location remains, it’s that just that the ingredients are selected from both local and exotic sources to match the intent of the story. Given those stories are intrinsically linked to their geography – the flavour area they have landed in has, so far, not gone bat shit and fans of one will most likely like the other.
“Our main driver,” Lorien says, “is to produce high quality spirits that demonstrate that if you take your time, are willing to listen and learn, and you genuinely care about your craft, you can create products that create a buzz on the world stage. As we grow the brand and the business, we want to feel proud of what we do, we want our staff to be proud of what they do and most of all we want our customers to feel proud buying our products.”
Loch Ness Gin is available to buy direct from the website (Gin Kiosk too), with each 70cl bottle retailing for £45. For us, a gin really has to earn its stripes if it’s being sold at above £40. There are certain factors that have to be met – taste, branding, provenance, authenticity… you need to taste the whole story in each drop and know that the people making the gin are doing it because they love the category, and because they want to place their own narrative into it. To be the full “package” worthy of such a cost, it has to be a treat both flavour wise and intellectually.
We believe Loch Ness Gin has all of these qualities by the bucket-load. It’s more than earned its place on a shelf and it is worth seeking out. They are growing as a team and while it’s slow and steady for the foreseeable (keep in mind, Lorien is still a full time GP!), it’s a distillery that are making something pure in concept, for all the right reasons. They just need a bit of awareness to help that move along a bit more.
One to try and get hold of before the current batch makes like Nessie and disappears…
For more information about Loch Ness Spirits, visit their website: wearelochness.com
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