Scotland’s misty lochs and wild, windswept moors can leave visitors with a bit of a chill – and while anyone looking to warm up with a wee dram knows that the Scots do whisky best, the country has blossomed into a place for gin aficionados too. The spirit was all the rage until the late eighteenth century, when bad harvests and acts of Parliament slowed distilling, but the 1999 launch of Hendrick’s in South Ayrshire sparked gin’s comeback. Today, more than 50 distilleries employ juniper (the foundation of every gin) and an array of other Scottish botanicals to create an aromatic base for bartenders elevating the country’s gin game. Many of these spots can be found on the UK-based Wine and Spirit Trade Association’s official Scotland Gin Trail, which added new destinations last summer. Sipping from Edinburgh north or east makes for a spirited introduction to some of Scotland’s most innovative distillers.
Tucked at the foot of a stone staircase near Edinburgh Castle is a space that’s home to the acclaimed Edinburgh Gin Distillery by day and the convivial Heads & Tales cocktail den at night. Edinburgh Gin, which moved the lion’s share of its production to a larger, nonpublic venue in Leith in 2016, offers daytime tours of its boutique operations, along with a daily gin-making experience. For those who prefer their gin education in the evening, the master classes hosted by Heads & Tales pair history with gin tasting and end with a selection from the bar’s Gin It Yourself menu: Choose your glass and add a gin, a mixer, and a garnish for a personalized spin on the classic G&T. Using house-made shrubs and syrups, bartenders mix a selection of inventive cocktails, such as the No. 2, which blends Caorunn gin from the Scottish Highlands with Calvados, lemon, and Mandarine Napoléon.