Well after a journey we have reached the Cairgorm National Park and above Aviemore we find Balmenach Distillery. Home to Caorunn Gin (pronounced Ka-roon)
Balmenach Distillery was one of the first to be licenced to make whisky in 1824 (then it was owned by Glenlivet and sits near the river Spey.
Caorunn Gin is one that was inspired by Celtic tradition (so we're told) and uses five locally foraged botanicals. What I like about the Caorunn philosophy is that there are no 'secret' ingredients so we get a full botanical taste map for the gin. Let's take full advantage so that we can discuss botanicals and the three tiers of taste in more depth.
First, the traditional gin botanicals Juniper, Coriander Seed, Orange Peel, Lemon Peel, Angelica Root, Cassia Bark. Obviously Lemon peel fives the top notes and the orange lets it slide down into the medium tier. The coriander and cassia give the intermediate spice, warming and filling out the triangle of taste. Then on the base we have the juniper and angelica, giving an earthy foundation. See this as the skeleton on which we will now add the locally foraged botanicals that fill out the taste - giving muscle to the gin.
These local 'Celtic' ingredients are Rowan Berry, Bog Myrtle, Heather, Coul Blush Apple and Dandelion. The Rowan has juicy sharpness and so the berry adds a dry lightness to the top notes. The Bog Myrtle (related to allspice and clove) adds to the middle, but in a tympanic way - its a drum roll that embellishes the song but is not totally necessary. The heather gives floral sweetness in this level along with the crisp apple. The dandelion working with the base notes.
Simple! Well, there's more to it than that and in the hands of Simon Buley, Caorunn's Gin Master, the botanicals along with the grain spirit are distilled into a smooth and formidably balanced gin.
Reading the label you notice it's a small batch gin - small batch meaning made in around 1,000 litres distills. This control giving a high quality.
All good so far. Now how to drink it. It's smooth enough to drink on its own, with a light 50:50 tonic garnished with a little lemon or some apple slices. It is a smooth balanced gin, so to be more ruthless with Caorunn will lose some of its taste, but you could try an apple presse, or elderflower.
Tours around the distillery are done - but again, please book in advance (mornings only usually). So if you like an early gin and tonic you know where to come.
Now we need to get all loaded up as we have a long journey as we are off to Islay. Some more gin, of course, but we will also have some side tours as Islay is Islay and that means Whisky too.