High in the Cairngorms a river is born and before it finally collapses into the North Sea at Aberdeen it passes through some of the most beautiful, castle studded, scenery in Scotland. Of course, I am biased – it’s my own hinterland. This royal and legendary river is the Dee. Its majestic sweep takes it past Barmoral Castle and down to Banchory, a stretch called Royal Deeside. The royal bit was added after Vicky allowed Albert to build their Scottish retreat, wear tartan and start a craze for shortbread in wee tartan tins. We have a lot to thank them for, obviously.
It is in this fabled land that you will find the achingly beautiful Kincardine Castle and from its estate comes a botanical that helped launch a unique Scottish Gin. This botanic is the sap of the silver birch trees that elegantly stand sentinel to the flowing waters of the Dee. We now need to introduce another couple of Ginventors - Steve and Lynne Duthie. Sharing a love of gin and perfectionism these two people have experimented, dabbled, mixed and stirred for nigh on two years before jumping out of the bath shouting ‘Ulrika’ as they had fine-tuned their recipe and were ready to launch Esker Gin onto an eager public. The name Esker comes from the formation of a ridge by a glacier scrapping mountains like they were carrots.
This glacial reference continues with the branding – a jewel of a bottle with art deco mountains and rivers that flow down the bottle ending in a dinky wee Kincardine Castle motif. The font in light blue and copper reflect the waters of the Dee as well as the alembic pot still in which Esker Gin is made. Steve, by trade, was originally a designer and his eye surely has led them to this clever and striking livery for their bottles.
We have parked the gin bus close to the Falls of Feugh, just outside of Banchory and with our feet dangling into the water let us uncork and pour Esker into a crystal old fashioned glass – this is Royal Deeside after all and standards must be maintained.
On nosing Esker Gin tells you immediately that it is different. Yes, there is Juniper, but there is a broad and horizontal filling of the nose that is sweet and wooded – like glucose frosting a Christmas tree. I feel this is going to be a gin that packs its middle notes and has exquisite depth.
The Juniper is fresh and green and there seems to be a waft of Angelica and then the funicular starts to climb into the middle tier of the gin. This sweep is the Silver Birch Sap. It is sweet and mildly cleansing, but it is the mouth feel that it adds that sets Esker Gin apart. This is like being polished by silk. The smoothness is sublime. The middle is then embellished with thistle, again sweetness with an edge of herb, and rosehips, which give a floral, juicy muskiness. The florals are also boosted with heather flower and a tantalising prickle of spice is added with pink peppercorns – warmth with a little sizzle. This is all kept in check by the clean freshness of the sap. The taste is unique and the balancing act achieved by Steve and Lynne would not be out of place on the Palladium’s stage.
There is a little citrus that takes us up to the higher notes, but not too much. This is a gin that delivers from the middle and leaves just enough space for you to play with the top tier. This gives me the chance to try an E&T: Esker Gin with Franklin & Sons Sicilian Lemon Tonic with a dual garnish of orange peel speared with Rosemary. This gives more to the top notes with the lemon and the juiciness of Orange grounded with the Rosemary adds to the middle and strokes the Juniper’s earthiness. This is a G&T that hallmarks with its unique, full and refreshing taste.
Esker Gin is a very unique taste and the 42% ABV makes it great in the E&T, but I would caution against putting on your bartender's cap and shaking this into a multi hued concoction. Keep Esker Gin simple - with tonic, or drink it nude over ice (by that I mean neat, but clothes are optional).
Finally, before I get letters, Molly Dog is not with us today. As we are in Banchory I dropped her off at Inchmarlo where her groomer lives. She's getting a hair cut and shaping. So I better keep some Esker Gin to help calm the groomer down afterwards. It must be like giving a flat-top to a grumpy vampire bat - poor guy!