Usual Disclaimer: Loch Lomond Distillery very kindly sent me their gin to try and write about for International Scottish Gin Day. All opinions, content and editorial decisions are, as ever though, solely my own.
Next, on our journey to ISGD, it’s time to head back down south just a little bit, to the shores of Loch Lomond to visit Ben Lomond gin.
Ben Lomond is another gin that takes huge inspiration from the incredible landscape around it and the wealth of botanicals that can be found there. The Loch Lomond Group has 3 distilleries in the area, the oldest of which dates back to 1772, and is primarily a whiskey distillery. More recently though, they’ve expanded their range into gin, vodka and rum – one of which we are, of course, going to take a look at (no prizes for guessing which).
Due to the gin being a fairly recent addition to what they do, Ben Lomond Gin is currently distilled not too far down the road at the Glasgow distillery, until Loch Lomond have a gin still of their own to start production on site. Once the distillate is made, it’s brought back inhouse to be cut and bottled. It’s really nice to have some transparency around this – there are lots of incredible gins out there that distil elsewhere until they get their own setup and some that will continue to do so. It doesn’t mean the distillery isn’t dedicated or involved in the process, it’s just an interim step in bringing the production inhouse for many.
I wanted to include a little bit here about the distillation, as I think it’s something that is relevant but also something that it’s important for consumers to both understand and not see as a negative – so long as distilleries are transparent about it. In fact, in many cases, I see it as a positive since so many incredible gins, made with as much love and passion as those distilled inhouse, wouldn’t exist if they weren’t able to start this way.
Let’s talk about the gin itself, it’s why we’re here after all. Ben Lomond is inspired by its namesake, the 974-metre high mountain situated on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond and the most southerly of the Munros. This, and the Loch and surrounding landscape, including Trossachs National Park, provide the backdrop and some of the local botanicals for the gin as well. Slight aside, I just learned that Loch Lomond is often considered the boundary between the lowlands of Central Scotland and the Highlands – not entirely relevant but I thought it was interesting! Even the bottle reflects the land around the distillery, a natural wooden stopper and heather inspired purple glass. When the light shines through the bottle, it does looks bluer strangely, and then you move and it’s purple again… might just be my gin addled eyes but it’s very pretty either way!
Ben Lomond is a London Dry style gin (meaning nothing is added post-distillation) and is bottled at 43% abv. Botanical wise, as mentioned there are some locally inspired additions to the gin alongside some of the stapes. We have juniper, coriander seed, angelica, orange, cassia, liquorice, rose petal, Szechuan pepper, blackcurrant and rowan berries. It’s these last two additions, which are handpicked in the local area that are the heroes in this particular gin and what make it a bit different.
On the nose, you get juniper of course, but you also absolutely get a hefty waft of berries from those signature botanicals which, along with the orange, add a slightly sweeter note than you’d often get in a dry gin from citrus alone. Finally, you get a lingering pepperiness from the Szechuan which is actually more prominent than I would normally expect.
Tasting, to an extent it follows the nose, but with everything just that little bit more pronounced. What really hits you first is the berries – I’ll confess I have absolutely no idea what rowan berries taste like, but I’m now intrigued to find out at some point. Knowing the blackcurrants are there, you can pick them out from the rowan, but they work together with the juniper amazingly well. I think what shocked me a little bit on that first taste is just how much sweetness comes through from the fruit given that this is a dry gin. It’s not “sweet” by any means, but it’s certainly more naturally sweet than a lot of juniper heavy gins, and as a result really quite smooth while not missing out on big flavour. The blackcurrant, in particular, seems to linger long after you’ve swallowed as that heat from the pepper kicks in at the end as well.
Adding a splash of tonic levels things out a bit between the berries and citrus. The sweet berry notes step back a little and let the orange come to the fore a little more. This is a G&T you could tailor to anyone’s tastes quite easily and it still works. Less tonic and the berries and sweetness are still more prominent, but up the tonic a bit and as you’d expect, the citrus is brought out more while the sweetness is dialled back. This happens without losing the soul of the gin though, everything is still there, just with a different element highlighted. (So long as you don’t drown it of course!). The recommended serve is with Fever-Tree tonic, blackberries and lime.
There’s definitely some cocktail experimentation to be done here to see what those berries can do beyond a classic G&T. Need to stock up on ingredients, but there are some classics that I always have to try. In a Negroni with Campari and Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, it really works. I dialled back a bit from the usual equal parts since the gin has a little more innate sweetness and went with 40ml gin, 25ml Campari and 20ml Cocchi which seemed to balance things out nicely and was far too easy to drink. One recipe that Loch Lomond suggest is a slight twist on a Tom Collins with raspberries. No raspberries to hand unfortunately so had to make do with a classic Tom Collins – I wasn’t disappointed. Slightly reduced the sugar syrup again to make up for that innate sweetness and it just worked so well with those berries coming through again with the lemon. Hard to argue with a straightforward cocktail that lets the gin do its thing. A Clover Club is definitely on the cards to try in the near future as well!
All in all, a great gin that does something a little bit different and does it exceedingly well. I love that so many Scottish gins seem to be able to take in much of the stunning landscape around them and incorporate it into the fabric of the product. There’s so much variety in what’s around the places these gins are made, you get something unique to the area that really celebrates where it comes from. Look out for the Gin to my Tonic festival in Glasgow next year (September) – hoping these guys will be there again!
If you’d like to know more about the gin, as well as the Blackberry & Gooseberry, and Raspberry & Elderflower infusions they do, head over to https://www.benlomondgin.com/