I love Edinburgh. I made the trip up, for the first time, quite some years ago when my other half was working there. Fell in love the first visit and have equally loved it every time since. Last time we headed up was for International Scottish Gin Day last year and Holyrood Distillery was one of the locations on my visit list. If memory serves, they’d recently opened their new visitors centre and it looked incredible – still looks incredible actually (picture below). Sadly, it was the opening weekend of the Fringe Festival as well and everywhere was rammed so we couldn’t get in. Happily, though, I now get to have a look at a couple of gins they produce so I feel like I’m making up for lost time a bit, especially as we can’t be there this year! A follow-up visit to the distillery is definitely on the cards for next time though – getting that pre-booked even before my flights are taken care of!
The Holyrood distillery has a rather enviable position, nestled up next to its beautiful namesake park right in the middle of Edinburgh. The distillery was founded by Canadians Rob and Kelly Carpenter and Scot David Robertson – the staffing has expanded since though! After almost a hundred years, they’re proud to be the first distillery to bring single malt distilling back to the city centre, but we’re here to talk about their gin! There are 4 gins in total on the roster, Dry, Pink, Spiced and Auld Tam – the two we’re going to be taking a closer look at today are the Dry and the Auld Tam.
I’ve said it before, judge a distillery based on their core offering as it’s often the basis of everything else, and so it’s with the Holyrood Dry that we’re going to begin. Holyrood gins are all styled the same, bottled in 50ml clear glass apothecary type bottles, with an embossed copper distillery logo on the front. I rather like that each bottle also has an “I am full of…” and “…which makes me taste” section on the front – gives you a bit of insight around what to expect and it’s a nice friendly touch! The try gin is “full of” juniper, coriander and citrus – specifically lemon and orange I believe, along with rosehip, ginger, orris, angelica, cassia and liquorice. Liquorice is an often-misunderstood botanical in gins, but one you’ll find included very regularly. The first time I tried a “Make your own gin” session, I went heavy on the liquorice because I’m a huge fan of anise flavours, and this is what I was expecting. I’ve never made that mistake again, let me tell you. Liquorice root provides an earthy sweetness as a botanical, rather than that anise flavour that you may expect.
There’s nothing particularly surprising or unusual in this gin – and that’s absolutely not a bad thing when it comes to a dry gin! What I expect when I try a dry gin is juniper, citrus and a little spice. Anything beyond that is an addition or a bit of a twist, but a dry gin is never worse off for focusing on the core of what makes a dry gin, so long as it does it well. Looking at the botanical list, makes me expect a classic gin, and the nose certainly confirms that. Even as you’re pouring the gin into a glass, you get wafts of piny juniper coming off it without having to get too close which always makes me happy. Getting into nose a bit closer, yep, the big piney juniper is there, you have notes of that sweet citrus and then the undercurrents of spicy coriander.
Tasting neat, you get the same, loads of Juniper upfront, a lovely kick of citrus sweetness and then a long lingering spicy finish – well balanced and delicious. One thing that does make itself know is the slightly more prominent oiliness to the mouthfeel which is very pleasant as well. A splash of tonic (and a splash more gin because the cat had the first lot… might have been me, guess we’ll never know) and we’re in classic G&T territory. Normally, I expect a splash of tonic to bring out the citrus, and while this does, it also brings out the coriander and spice at the end more than I’d expect which is a pleasant surprise. Overall, this is a classic, balanced, well crafted dry gin which I’m looking forward to having a play with in some cocktails – particularly a Negroni!
Second up, we have Auld Tam, which is Holyrood’s version of an Old Tom gin. The really interesting thing with this is that all the sweetness, in this case, comes from the distilled botanicals and no added sugar etc, so technically this is a London Dry style! It’s much sweeter than you’d normally expect from a dry though, but also a bit less sweet than you might for a classic Old Tom. The sweetness in this comes from an intriguing selection of botanicals that you don’t see in gin that often: fresh peach, vanilla pods, orange blossom, chamomile and jasmine flowers. These botanicals, along with the rather more traditional liquorice, orris root and milk thistle seed provide that sweetness and like the dry, an oily, viscous look to it in the glass. The nose is hugely warm and floral with fruity elements and that vanilla running through everything. It’s not overly sweet and cloying, but everything is in balance – it’s really quite an impressive feat to get that much-balanced flavour and sweetness through in what is essentially a dry gin.
Normally at this point, I’d add tonic, but sweeter style gins never really work with tonic for me, and frankly, I don’t want to waste this. It seems sensible to go for what I’d normally do with an Old Tom to start with, and that’s a Martinez. The Martinez is a bit of a hybrid of a Martini and a Manhattan and generally uses an Old Tom gin. For this, went with the Auld Tam, Antica Formula and just a tiny dash of triple-sec to give it a little citrus lift on top of that floral orange blossom. Finished off with a spritz of orange zest over the drink and run around the glass, this makes an incredible drink. There’s just enough sweetness there without it being too much and the vanilla gives the Antica a massive kick up. Might need to have a play around with ratios, and maybe a dash of bitters in there as well but there’s the potential here for some amazing cocktails!
If you find yourself in Edinburgh – go give Holyrood a visit. I can’t speak from personal experience yet, but I’ve heard great stories from friends and it’s firmly cemented on the to-do list for next time we head north of the wall! If you’d like to know more, head over to https://www.holyrooddistillery.co.uk/