From the editors

Scottish Genever

  • I have just finished a book on gin. It’s out in the autumn in case you are interested – you never know. After all, in my experience whisky distillers (and a growing number of whisky lovers) are also particularly partial to a little gin, but the links between gin and whisky run deeper than that.

    There are whisky distillers making gin: Botanist, Hendrick’s, Caorunn and Boe, for example, while Cameronbridge is home to Gordon’s and Tanqueray.

    Adding a gin makes sense. It can be made quickly and launched onto the market without any of that maturation stuff needing to take place – and you can sell it for pretty much the same price as a single malt.

    There’s more though. When the gin industry was trying to recalibrate itself after the disasters of the Gin Craze which ran from the 1720s to the 1750s, the new gin rectifiers needed juice to redistil into gin.

    Up until this point, gin-making had been pretty much a London-only operation, but now the London distillers were seeing rivals opening up in Bristol, Liverpool, Warrington… and Scotland.

    The powerful Haig/Stein clan saw a commercial opportunity to ship base spirit from their Lowland distilleries to England, much to the dismay of the London distillers who viewed it as a further challenge to their monopoly on the production of base spirit.

    In those days, Scottish distillers needed export licences to ship their spirit to England. So lucrative did the Haigs believe the gin trade to be that they offered – what shall we call them? – financial incentives to their Scottish rivals not to queer their trade.

    The base spirit shipped south wasn’t gin, it was whisky. It was also the start of the Scotch export trade.

    Some Scottish gin did make its way down to England as well, based on the Dutch genever style that was, rightly, regarded as the gold standard. Members of the Haig family had visited genever’s spiritual home, Schiedam, in the 16th century to learn the techniques.

    What they made (popularly known as ‘Hollands’) was very different to the dry ‘London’ styles we know today. In those pre-Coffey days, gin was a pot still grain spirit redistilled a third time with botanicals. You could argue it was flavoured whisky, coming from the same roots as usquebaugh.

    Millstone whiskyGinspiration: Zuidam’s Millstone whisky

    In 1786, James Stein installed a gin plant at his Kilbagie distillery in Fife capable of producing 5,000 gallons of ‘Hollands’ daily. The Haigs were attempting to sell their Scottish-made ‘Hollands’ in London in 1807 while, in 1828, distiller Robert More, Schiedam-trained, was selling ‘Geneva’ made at the Underwood distillery in Falkirk.

    Could Scottish Hollands return? I was in Baarle-Nassau not long ago visiting Patrick v Zuidam of Millstone whisky fame, whose father started the family distillery 30 years ago to reclaim genever as a premium spirit.

    Patrick came to whisky through realising that effectively he was making a whisky in the first place. His genevers, aged in quality casks, are a missing link between the two spirits and are a must-try for whisky drinkers.

    It is also, I’d like to think, an approach which enterprising Scottish distillers could try out. Stranger things have happened. 

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