It was bound to happen at some point. I’ve always had a mild penchant for the pretentious. I’ve always enjoyed flavoured teas. I had various facial hair combinations in my twenties and thirties, ranging from ‘nu-metal’ sideburns à la Limp Bizkit, to the ‘Victorian General’ moustache that I shaved off only a few years ago. I do occasionally enjoy a lovely sourdough bloomer from an artisan baker that costs the equivalent of 30 minutes on my minimum-wage office job. I like ‘retro’. Worryingly, I now look at Pachamama wool waistcoats with names like ‘Finisterre’ or ‘Stornoway’ and think, “Mmm, that looks nice”.
Basically, I was a wannabe hipster 15 years ago, but I was too introverted at the time and have now missed the boat entirely. And this, combined with a habit of being late to the party and being (mostly) out of step with the culinary and cultural zeitgeist, has often seen me behind the curve of my more fashionable peers.
And I find myself here yet again. Left looking at something as the enlightened pioneers have moved on to the next piece of fertile ground to write articles, wax lyrical and probably make TikToks about. But I’m glad this time because I’m here to talk to you about how I discovered gin… and write an article about it.
Now historically, gin has had something of a bad rap. From William Hogarth’s grotesque Gin Lane to the nickname ‘Mother’s ruin’, gin has had a very difficult time. This was predominantly due to its low price in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries and the massive social and health issues its consumption caused for the unfortunate ‘underclass’ of the time, not helped by the fact that it was made illegally and was also very accessible.
Gin: A Revival
But the early 21st century has seen something of a long overdue revival of its fortunes for us millennials. I mean, it’s not enough to make up for 9/11, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Great Recession, Covid-19, the Ukraine-Russia conflict and a general feeling of political and economic ennui, combined with looming technological stagnation that all resembles the return of feudalism, but it’s something to get us by I suppose.
I was at a small community garden party in August 2022 on a blistering hot day with a close friend. The legacy of lockdowns still loomed fairly large and, at least in my head, Covid-19 was still a threat. It had only been five months since the return to office working. Basically, I’m trying to tell you that I hadn’t been out that much. At this event, there was a moderate gin bar with a bearded man behind it who seemed to know what he was talking about regarding the assorted pigmented and fluted bottles in front of him.enceforth, he shall be known as the ‘gin-ologist’ (I considered putting ‘Gindolf’ here) or perhaps the term ‘gin-o-naut’ would be more appropriate for this was indeed to be a journey across continents, time and space.
The First Sip
Pine needle gin? Sounds awful, right? One minute I was in a provincial town in South Ayrshire, the next I was in the boreal forests of Scandinavia, breathing in a dense, cold, clean air, the kind that brutally forces open the sinuses. The hoarfrost made crunching noises as I moved forward. Glacial fjords stood eternal; nature’s sentinels. A blink later, the taste of parma violets was on my tongue. Long-dormant memories of walking home from school after Geography, bag slung over one shoulder (don’t ask, we just did this for some reason) were awakened.
I was 12, going to the corner shop for some cheap sweeties with meagre pocket money. The chalky, artificial, saccharine taste of the, admittedly not unpleasant, ingredients turning my tongue purple. In another moment, the sea. Spume. Crashing waves. The almost-imperceptible taste of salt. Is that a hint of umami from seaweed? Next, the Mediterranean coast. Sun-bleached brick so dazzling it hurts the eye. Furrowed groves of jewel-like blood oranges moved gently in a sirocco wind. Thirst quenching. A bit too easy to drink. Another gulp, the Amazon. Thick undergrowth. Dappled light flowing through a Palla tree. The smell of damp earth after heavy rainfall. Then back to South Ayrshire, Scotland.
My very brief introduction to gin had been a blast but unfortunately, (or fortunately for my liver and wallet) this journey had come to an end. I disembarked to reality, slightly more lightheaded and giggly than 30 minutes ago but with a newfound appreciation of the noble liquor.
Gin in Scotland
Indeed, it’s heartening to know that Scotland is at the forefront of this gin ‘renaissance’ and in the inverse to a lot of our political and cultural establishments, it is also not entirely located in the Central Belt. From the Orkney Distillery, situated on Kirkwall Harbour, where it looks to be making the most of the island’s Viking heritage and maritime culture, to the Crafty Distillery in Newton Stewart located over 400 miles away which uses foraged botanicals from around Galloway to create its signature gin, there is a plethora of evenly spread gin diversity across Scotland. In fact, in the town I live in, William Grant & Sons distil the Neptunia gin that I tried that August day.
Perhaps it’s still the closeted hipster in me, but I really enjoy this sense of diversity that reflects the different facets of Scotland and its landscape, from the wild North Atlantic to the gentle hills of the Southern Lowlands and everything in between. So go and have a gin. Look at the bottle. Look at the ingredients. Challenge yourself to identify some of them. Does it evoke anything in you? Think about what you are drinking. Use your imagination. Go on a pretentious gin journey and be happy about it. And at £4.50 for a small glass, you probably won’t be out on an all-nighter either so you’ll be home by 9pm. Great!