Raise your spirits: the flourishing Scottish drink scene
Plenty of top tips for the good booze shelf in 2019
Some of us are old enough to remember when abstaining from Scottish drinks wasn't exactly a hardship. Beer and wine lists in bars and restaurants lacked variety, and while whisky was of course available it tended to be either the preserve of older men, or come doused with lemonade when your nana had a cold. Gin was all but ignored on the back bar, and liqueurs were something that lurked, dustily, at the back of the cupboard, only coming out with the Christmas decorations. How times have changed – and 2019 is set to bring another round of excellent additions from producers all over the country.
Whisky comes of age
There has been a raft of new whisky distilleries launching all over Scotland in the past few years (where there's a gin now, there'll be a whisky soon enough) and the fruits of their labours are beginning to hit the market this year. Fife is leading the charge with new single malts expected from Eden Mill, Kingsbarns and hopefully something from the popular Daftmill distillery. All will likely be in limited supply, so move fast if you want to get your hands on them. The Glasgow Distillery Co recently debuted the first whisky made in the city in over 100 years, with more on the way.
Scotch and rye
Don't expect it to be all single malt. While strict regulations and the burden of tradition has somewhat tied the hands of Scottish distillers in the past, other countries – especially the USA – have been experimenting hard. That spirit of innovation has caught on here and some of the newer producers are all but ignoring the rule book. The Ncn'ean distillery, based in Drimmin on the west coast, and Fife's Lindores Abbey in Newburgh have looked to whisky's past for inspiration. Both have crafted aqua vitae-style spirits, taking their whisky's new-make spirit and infusing it with a blend of herbs and spices for balance. These malt-based delights are the perfect alternative for anyone feeling a tad gin fatigued.
They're not the only ones doing something a little different. Sweetdram moved their distillery to Edinburgh last year and may just be making some of the most interesting and unique drinks around, whether it's Escubac, their gin alternative, or their take on the Italian amaro liqueur with a whisky twist. Meanwhile in Aboyne, the Lost Loch Spirits distillery is putting a Scottish stamp on some more unusual spirits – their Murmichan absinthe is made in the Highlands and takes its name from a particularly wicked Scottish fairy.
And several distilleries are experimenting with producing rye whisky, something not seen in Scotland for over 100 years. Arbikie were the first distillery to hit the shelves, but expect more soon from Brewdog's Lone Wolf distillery and InchDairnie. Rye and absinthe? It sounds like we have the makings of a Scottish Sazerac cocktail.
Continuing the cocktail theme, auction sites for older bottlings are booming and it's catching the attention of the nation's best bartenders. Rum, whisky and vermouth from the 1960s, 70s and 80s are said to offer a different flavour profile to what's available today, and the talent mixing the drinks are taking full advantage. Bullard & Worth (formerly Bryant & Mack) in the lanes just off Edinburgh's Rose Street have a lovely collection if you'd like to try some for yourself.