Frederick Wildman Spirits

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Whisky, Schmisky: Scotland’s Distilleries Are Making Serious Craft Gin

America and bourbon. Russia and vodka. Mexico and tequila. Scotland and gin. Wait—what? Little-known fact: Though the iconic spirit of Scotland may be Scotch whisky, Scotland is one of the world’s largest exporters of gin, thanks to Gordon’s Gin and Tanqueray. And while both spirits have been distilled in the country for hundreds of years, gin is tired of playing second fiddle. It has reinvented itself and is now reemerging from the heather-clad hills as a trendsetter and innovator.

The history of Scottish gin goes back to the 18th century, when copious amounts of fiery genever (gin’s Dutch predecessor) arrived from the Netherlands through Edinburgh’s trading port of Leith. Britain’s thirst for the spirit quickly became insatiable.  So when parliament imposed a heavy tax on imported spirits during the war between Britain and France, British distillers began to produce their own version of genever. The new “gin” was dirt cheap, as sharp as a whip on the tongue, and readily available.

By 1734, Britain was embroiled in a period known as “The Gin Craze.” A sharp rise in crime, destitution, general mayhem, perpetual drunkenness, and rising death rates were all blamed on gin. When public outcry ensued, parliament instated the 1736 Gin Act, which put a fat tax on gin and made unlicensed distilling illegal. This put the kibosh on its distribution…momentarily. Bootleggers began to thrive, and by the 1790s, there were an estimated 400 illegal stills in Edinburgh alone.

But with the Industrial Revolution came state-of-the-art whisky distilleries, the invention of the column still (which popularized grain spirits), and the 1823 Excise Act, which sanctioned whisky distillation. While Tanqueray (launched in 1830) managed to stay afloat during this period, boutique-style gin simply fell out of fashion. Until now.

Today, Scotland is playing an integral role in the craft gin revolution, with at least seven craft-gin distilleries active from the hills of Speyside to the Shetland Islands. The revolution began, however, in the seaside village of Girvan on Scotland’s southwest coast. That’s where Hendrick’s in 1999 began producing a premium gin infused with the essence of cucumbers and rose petals—meant to evoke eating a cucumber sandwich in a rose garden. Consumers and bartenders were drawn to its unique flavor profile—light, citrusy, and floral, a far cry from its juniper-heavy predecessors—and cheeky Victorian branding, making Hendrick’s one of the hottest craft gins on the market. And it’s a market that continues to expand. In 2013, the premium-gin category ($17–$25 a bottle) grew by 6 percent, according to International Wine & Spirit Research, while the super-premium ($25 and up) grew by 27 percent.

Craft distillers in Scotland took note of Hendrick’s success—especially those twiddling their thumbs waiting for their whisky to mature. “It takes about eight hours to make a small batch of gin, and I can see it on the shelves within a week,” says Simon Buley, master distiller for Caorunn, a craft gin produced at Balmenach Distillery in Speyside since 2009. “I love the fact that I can handcraft a product that’s available for people to enjoy instantly. I’ve been making whisky for 16 years and some of it still hasn’t been released on the market.”

Infused with 11 botanicals, including the caorunn (Scottish Gaelic for rowanberry), Coul Blush apple, and bog myrtle, Caorunn gin ($31.99 per 750ml) hints of wildflowers on the nose, with a palate that is both spicy and crisp. Garnishes are becoming trademarks in the craft gin industry and Caorunn’s signature is a slice of red apple, which often accompanies the gin over ice with premium tonic.

In other areas of Scotland, some whisky distilleries have begun to add premium gin to their lineup, sometimes just for sheer amusement. At Bruichladdich Distillery on the Isle of Islay, master distiller Jim McEwan has risen to icon status for his passion and progressive thinking in the Scotch whisky industry, which tends to favor the traditional. So it’s no surprise that he’s responsible for Islay’s first gin, The Botanist ($34.99/750ml), released in 2011. Local botanists forage the island for 22 wild herbs and flowers, which are distilled with nine other botanicals in the world’s only active Lomond pot still, known as “Ugly Betty.” The slow (14-hour) and low (“a mere simmer”) process renders a spirit that radiates terroir and is what Bruichladdich calls “a thinker’s gin” that’s designed “as much for the mind as for the palate.”

In a culture that places great value on artisanal foods and superior ingredients, it’s no wonder this appreciation has spilled into the craft spirits market. “People are looking for products with a story—something they can be evangelical about,” says Vivienne Muir, director of the new micro-distillery NB Gin, which she launched in October 2013 with her husband, Steve, in her hometown of North Berwick, 25 miles northeast of Edinburgh. “There has been buzz about our gin being produced locally, and people really like that.”

“Whisky has always had to fight with white spirits. I see gin potentially stealing a share of the vodka market.”

Back in Edinburgh, Scottish gin distillation will finally return to its roots after a 150-year hiatus. Within the next few months, two distilleries are set to open, including Pickering’s Gin (which is also planning a gin museum and a state-of-the-art tap system) and Edinburgh Gin, from Spencerfield Spirits Company, which will also have a tasting room and visitor’s center.

“Edinburgh Gin draws on a long history of distilling in the capital,” says Alex Nicol, Edinburgh Gin’s managing director and former marketing director for Glenmorangie. “We hope in a small way to revive Edinburgh’s fantastic distilling legacy and build upon it.”

Skilled bartenders have also had a hand in the rise of modern gin—after all, they’re the ones creating and serving gin cocktails to regular consumers. At One Square bar in Edinburgh, senior barman Huge Gibb oversees the menu of more than 50 gins and leads personalized gin tastings (15–20 per week!) with expertly paired tonics. Many conventional tonic waters have large bubbles, which Gibb says “bruises your tongue,” interfering with the taste of gin. He prefers tonics such as Fentiman’s, 1724, and Fever-Tree, which is known for its delicate bubbles. For customers who say they don’t like gin, Gibb lures them in with the bar’s signature cocktail, the Scotch Orchard: Caorunn gin with freshly muddled apples and pears, raspberry, and a squeeze of fresh lime.

“There are many misconceptions about the flavor of gin,” says Gibb. “We’re trying to change that.”

Fortunately the Scotch whisky industry doesn’t have to worry about losing it share of the drinks market any time soon. “They are very different markets,” says Simon Buley of Caorunn. “I don’t see gin competing with whisky, but perhaps with other long drinks and cocktails.” Mark Watt, general manager for Wm. Cadenhead, which produces Scotland’s Old Raj gin, agrees. “Whisky has always had to fight with white spirits,” he says. “I see gin potentially stealing a share of the vodka market, especially the [premium] brands.”

While Scotland has always had great respect for tradition, modernization is something the country is familiar with. “Scotland is full of innovative people,” says Lesley Gracie, master distiller for Hendrick’s. “The telephone, television, and steam engine were all created by Scots, as well as its famed distilleries. So when you put two and two together, it’s little wonder that we’d get creative in formulating different drinks.”

When Scotland Means Gin | Ian Buxton | The Tasting Panel

You can’t keep a good man down, or so they say, and when it comes to Alex Nicol, of Sheep Dip Whisky fame, it’s hard to even get a word in edgeways. Alex and wife Jane (another husband-and-wife partnership) couldn’t stop telling me about Edinburgh’s great gin distilling traditions. Up until the early 1900s, as many as 40 stills made gin in Scotland’s capital, and with his Edinburgh Gin, Alex plans to recreate that heritage with a range of historically-inspired gins in his new distillery and visitor center.

Alex Nicol with his piglets. 

Located right in the heart of the capital, the $500k investment—slated to open in May this year—will incorporate two copper gin stills, a cocktail bar, a private dining room and a visitor center with a gin lab to allow visitors to make their own gin. With demand growing from consumers eager to visit the distillery, Edinburgh Gin production will return to its spiritual home, and the company plan to create a centre of excellence in gin distillation in collaboration with the local Heriot-Watt University’s renowned School of Brewing & Distilling. First up will be a new high strength 60abv “cannonball” Edinburgh Gin to follow the company’s raspberry and elderflower flavored styles. The U.S. importer is Frederick Wildman & Sons. 

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"Brotherhood, dedication, discipline, reflection, hard work, prayer… ancient companions of quality"


Author Alex Truman works for, an online spirits and liqueurs retailer specializing in absinthes, bitters and digestifs.

You’ve probably come across chartreuse at your favorite cocktail bar. And it’s usually available in two ubiquitous varieties – green and yellow. But there are many variations of this interesting liqueur, which is backed by a rich history.

Chartreuse is a very unique spirit hailing from the Chartreuse Mountains region of Grenoble in France. It is produced solely by the monks of the Carthusian order in the Grand Charter house of the monastery (pictured below).

chartreuse monastery

The most fascinating thing behind the production of chartreuse is the pure secrecy of the recipe. It is believed that only Minister Benoit and Brother Jean-Jacques know the full list of the 130 ingredients included in the original recipe. The common perception is that 1/3 of the ingredients originate from the Chartreuse region, with the remainder coming from regions all over the world.

The monastery was founded in 1084 by Saint Bruno of Cologne, Germany. The recipe was given to the monks by one of King Henry IV’s Marshall’s in 1605, and this was experimented with for many years. Fast forward a century, and the monk Jérôme Maubec had developed Élixir végétal de la Grande-Chartreuse in 1737. The drink began to be produced more and more as it increased in popularity, and eventually a milder version was created in 1764 – Chartreuse Vertre (green), which was then followed by Chartreuse Juane (yellow) in 1838.

The sale of chartreuse began to finance the maintenance of the monastery and also fund charities and religious projects. Over the years, many people have tried and failed to reproduce the secret recipe, which means we’re still entirely dependent on those monks to keep us plied with this delightful spirit.

Over time, the monks have experimented further and developed many variations of chartreuse, which are certainly worth seeking out. More on that below.


chartreuse distillery

The start of the production process involves the drying, chopping and mixing of 18 tons of plant material within the main abbey of the Carthusian order. These materials are then transported to the distillery in Voiron, which is 24km away. The material will then be macerated in alcohol, and left to distil for approximately eight hours.

When the distillation process has finished, further plant material is macerated in the new distillate. This is how the liqueur gains its color. Upon the completion of the second maceration, the liqueur is taken to the largest liqueur cellar in the world in Voiron. It is left to age in oak casks, with no certain time limit. It will be bottled whenever the monks decide it is appropriate to thin it to appropriate strength.

Since the whole aura surrounding the spirit is very secretive, the best way to discover chartreuse is to taste it. It’s relatively easy to find the green and yellow varieties these days, but below are some of the lesser known variations the monks also produce.


 Chartreuse Elixir Vegetal

This is the original elixir produced by Jérôme Maubec in 1737. It initially contained the words “elixir for long life” on the label, however such claims are no longer acceptable on labels, so that got scrapped. The original tagline nodded to the spirit’s first use as a medical tonic, but over time it was purchased more and more frequently for the flavor.

The monks have constantly strived for perfection whilst experimenting and looking to improve the elixir. However, the drink still stays true to the original 130 ingredients from the first recipe.

The spirit was last altered in 2010 due to EU regulations that restricted the transportation and aging of alcoholic products with an ABV of higher than 70%. As the Elixir used to be 71%, the monks decided to begin thinning the spirit to 69% to keep it as similar as possible, but also making it available for transport.

Elixir Végétal can be used in many different forms. Adding a few drops into sugar water, or a cup of tea can add a lot of flavor and a new element to your drink. Of course, it’s also possible to experiment with cocktails, as this can work as a substitute for herbal bitters. The elixir is also believed to help alleviate illness and fatigue when mixed with hot water.

69% ABV, Voiron Distillery, France.


It’s a common tradition for the people of the French mountain regions to produce a liquor of the same name as the region itself, with the secret recipes utilizing local herbs and plants.

This is how the monks came about producing their own Génépi, as this is a generic term for a group of plants that grow in this region. Therefore, they altered their production process to ensure that the distillate would take on all characteristics of the génépi herbs to create a unique flavor. This gives the spirit a very sweet flavoring, but also has notes of an herbal bitterness.

This spirit has become quite popular with chartreuse enthusiasts for its individual flavor and great taste. It can be enjoyed neat if well chilled, or on ice.

40% ABV, Voiron Distillery, France.


French speakers might have guessed that this chartreuse was developed specifically as a 900th anniversary special. This was done in order to celebrate the founder of the Carthusian order, Saint Bruno.

The monks spent a lot of time and effort developing and producing this chartreuse, and the result is one of certain quality and expertise. The spirit lands somewhere between the flavors of Chartreuse Verte and Juane – certainly sweeter than Verte, but not quite as sweet as Juane.

To let the flavor develop and mature, the spirit is left to age for extensive periods of time before being bottled. The bottles are individually numbered, making each one unique. The bottle shape is similar to that of the design of the bottles used between 1840 and 1878. This chartreuse can be enjoyed chilled, or on ice.

The swizzle, a style of cocktail utilizing crushed ice, typically made with rum and given a good mixing with a swizzle stick, is a perfect drink for the approaching Summer. In this swizzle, Jamie utilizesEdinburgh Gin, a new gin on the market. With wonderful floral tones and resounding pine notes, it is the perfect gin for the Evergreen SwizzRecipe


1 1/2 oz Edinburgh Gin

1/2 oz Yellow Chartreuse

Zirbenz Pine Liqueur

1/2 oz fresh lime juice

1/2 oz simple syrup


shake with ice

strain over crushed ice in a Collins glass

garnish with rosemary sprig

serve with straw

When Pigs Fly and Scotsman’s Journey from the November 13 issue of Tasting Panel

4 1/2 teaspoons gin
4 1/2 teaspoons green Chartreuse
4 1/2 teaspoons maraschino liqueur (such as Luxardo Originale 32°)
4 1/2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1 pasteurized egg white
Crushed ice
Club soda, chilled
2 lime peel strips


Combine gin, green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur, fresh lime juice, powdered sugar, and egg white in a cocktail shaker. Cover with lid, and shake vigorously until frothy (about 20 seconds). Remove lid, and fill shaker with crushed ice. Cover with lid, and shake vigorously until chilled (about 15 seconds). Strain into 2 (10-oz.) stemmed glasses, and top each with a splash of chilled club soda. Twist a lime peel strip over each drink, and rub around rim of each glass; garnish with lime peel strip.
John Currence, Adapted from Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey by chef John Currence., Southern Living

Last Word Fizz

Last-Word Fizz Recipe |

Tim Master - Chartreuse Tasting from Zachys Wine on Vimeo.

Tim Master, #Chartreuse Training Video

Produced only by Carthusian monks tucked away in the French Alps near Grenoble, chartreuse is special. Legend has it that only two of the brothers ever know the secret recipe for Chartreuse. The story goes that each of the brothers memorizes a part of the recipe, which involves 130 herbs, plants and flowers, and since they take a vow of silence, it has remained a mystery to the outside world for over 400 years. Chartreuse was originally produced as a digestif, consumed for its medicinal, cure-all properties. It comes in three varieties (yellow, green, and VEP elixir), but we’ve chosen to focus on the Green because it is the strongest (110 proof) of the syrupy trio and has the most extreme taste. In addition to its striking green color, Green Chartreuse also has a few other similarities to absinthe – there’s the intense floral and herbal flavor, with hints of cloves, citrus, thyme, rosemary and cinnamon. And as it also contains a small quantity of thujone, the active chemical in wormwood, Chartreuse is said to have psychoactive qualities. So while describing the intense flavor of Chartreuse as heavenly might be a stretch, there’s still a good chance that after a few sips, you might see god.

#Chartreuse discussion from 0:00-0:57

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