Category Archives: Alcohol

Scotland’s other drink

Not Irn Bru; not Lindores Aqua Vitae; and not, of course, Scotch Whisky, single malt or otherwise. All of these are magnificent in their own way and at the right time, but for the moment I’m talking about gin.

There are over 50 gin distilleries in Scotland and some of them are good to visit.  I had the pleasure of a couple of days in St Andrews recently with good friends, and we partook of a little tasting to while away a quiet Monday afternoon. If you look up ‘gin St Andrews’ on social media you will probably find Eden Mill first – and I have to say, that is also a delightful set of gins with a good tour. However we were on foot and strolled into the St Andrews Gin Company‘s bar on South Street. We had booked in advance and our table was waiting for us.

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Our delightful and knowledgeable host Mike conducted us through a very pleasant tasting of their three gins – Pink Grapefruit, Lemongrass and Ginger, and Orange, Cardamom and Tonka Bean. Each was paired with a different Fevertree tonic water; wedges of citrus; and we also had little jars of sprinkles to add as we pleased. These included black peppercorns and cardamom pods. 

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I would never call myself a gin expert but it was really pleasant to take a relaxed and no-pressure hour or so to sample the gins, pay attention to what I was tasting, and try the different additions. I’m pretty sure that as soon as you start sipping, you lose 90% of your faculties to spot any differences – but it’s a very enjoyable way of losing! I liked the grapefruit version very well – it was light and refreshing and knocked back beautifully. Then when I tasted the lemongrass and ginger, I thought that was better – it had a little extra layer of spiciness which I really enjoyed; and the black peppercorns gave it a grand wee bite. By the time we came to the final gin, the Orange, Cardamom and Tonka Bean, my taste buds were confounded by (a) obviously, the fact that I already had two good measures inside me; and (b) Mike’s comment that this was his personal favourite and in the company’s view, the most sophisticated of the three. Now you’re not going to sit there in your middle-aged bliss and argue the toss with a fine young man dispelling good cheer, are you? Shallow, I know. A couple of weeks later I couldn’t say whether I preferred the lemongrass or the orange, though I think I liked them both a bit better than the grapefruit. They were all lovely and this is why I will never be a sensory expert!

After our tasting we had a first-class haddock and chips and mushy peas, chosen from a good fresh bar menu; and our whole afternoon – tasting and lunch – cost £19 which we felt was excellent value.

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We’d had a great walk on the beach before the tasting, with Rosa the cockapoo-wannabee-mermaid; and afterwards we hit the charity shops which are definitely a cut above – it comes of having the most affluent students in the land living there half the year and clearing their wardrobes out at the end of every term. So you see, it’s not all golf, Wills and Kate in St Andrews. Other flavours are available.

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First shift

Just done my first stint as a tour guide at Lindores Abbey Distillery. It was brought forward because my colleague, John, cracked a hip immediately after delivering some training to me on Thursday afternoon. (I definitely did not push him!). Otherwise I’d have been starting next Saturday. There were to be six people on the tour today, but it was a busy morning and we ended up with seventeen.

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There’s quite a lot to remember – significant points in the history, details of the barley, water and yeast, the equipment, the timescales, the temperatures, the ABV, what the codes on the barrels mean, where the toilets are … on the whole I think I did OK as a first-timer, but I’m looking forward to having a more fluent grasp of the story.

Above is a picture you won’t see very often – it’s the very first cask of new-make spirit, which was filled at the end of last year. Distilling started just before Christmas so there are just a few casks marked 2017, and as you can see, this is Cask 01, with the signatures of the Distillery Manager Gary, the owners Drew and Helen, and one or two others I haven’t identified yet.

The timing of this is both good and bad for me. Good, because my studies are about to end and I need some gainful employment; bad because I’m still writing up my dissertation and could have done with just another week or two of no extra duties. However it’s only a few tours before the magic dissertation hand-in date so I’ll manage. It’s been most timely that my research project is also about distilling – learning for each has reinforced learning for the other. Distillation is such a rich, fascinating field of enquiry however, that the more I learn, the more ignorant I feel! i.e. the more I know that I don’t know … Maybe that’s a good thing and it certainly keeps me on my toes. Here’s a picture of our low wines in the sensory lab at Abertay – after testing these five, we chose the best and gave it a second distillation and another testing. STV came and filmed us on the job last Tuesday; it’s been a week of brass-necking it.

FSCN0356.JPG That’s all for now; back to the chapter on ‘potential for commercialisation’. Only another week and a half and phew, phew, phew, it’ll all be over. And I’ll have time to learn more thoroughly the history, culture and provenance of my new place of work. And John, here’s wishing you a quick recovery!