Port of Leith Lind & Lime Gin (£34.95, masterofmalt.com; craft365.co.uk) It’s Burns Night on Tuesday, which, for drinks columns like this, is usually an excuse to roll out the whisky barrel. There’s a simple reason for that: Scotch is far and away the most successful Scottish food and drink product, and its sheer scale dwarfs the rest of the Scottish drinks industry. According to the Scotch Whisky Association, Scotch accounted for 75% of Scotland’s (and 21% of the UK’s) food and drink exports in 2021, even if a combination of Brexit and (now rescinded) US tariffs have seen it lose more than £1bn worth of exports since 2019 (taking the figure for 2021 down to £3.8bn from £4.9bn in 2019). Still, the dominance of whisky does rather invite the question that a (Scottish) friend of mine asked me after my last whisky-monopolised contribution to the pre-Burns Night drinks column genre: don’t the Scots have any other drinks to offer? A question that he followed up the next time I saw him with a glass of G&T using Edinburgh’s gloriously pure, critussy Lime & Lind gin as a base.
Swannay Brewery Orkney Porter (£3.70, swannaybrewery.com) My friend’s liquid punchline was only slightly undermined by the fact Lime & Lind is part of an exciting ongoing project helping to revive Edinburgh’s whisky heritage which includes the construction of a striking multi-storey (“vertical”) distillery on the waterfront in Leith, and which is due to finally open after a series of logistical and Covid-inspired delays, sometime over the summer. Scotland has more than its fair share of other genuinely distinctive, high-quality gins, from the enormously successful original Scottish craft gin Hendrick’s produced in Ayrshire (£29, 70cl, Tesco) to the brisk, crisply herbal-aromatic, subtly Sugar Kelp-infused, Isle of Harris Gin (£40, 70cl, harrisdistillery.com). And although I don’t think the location of a brewery is anything like as important in shaping a beer’s flavour as the location of a vineyard is in shaping a wine’s (or a distillery is for whisky or gin for that matter), Scottish craft-brewing does seem to me particularly creative. It’s certainly responsible for a high proportion of my favourite beers, such as Swannay Brewery’s darkly alluring, 9% abv classic Orkney Porter.
M&S 12 Year Old Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky (from £31.50, Marks & Spencer, ocado.com) Beer has an obvious affinity with whisky, with that key trio of ingredients: water, barley and yeast. And some of the best and most distinctive Scottish beers make the most of this connection, using used Scotch whisky barrels to impart a little whisky-like rounded complexity and flavour. First brewed in 2003, Innis & Gunn’s The Original (£2, Morrisons), a golden ale made with three different malts that is aged in single malt whisky casks, is wonderfully suave, creamy, and laced with vanilla but brightly refreshing, too, an 6.6% abv brew that would work superbly with a scallops first course at any Burn’s Feast. For the haggis, meanwhile, I might switch to the richer, darker, roasted mocha intensity of Harviestoun’s 8% abv Ola Dubh 12 Year Old Whisky Aged (£4, 33cl, as part of a case of three bottles, harviestoun.com), before finishing off with at least one dram of whisky: M&S’s superb value, silky Highland bottling, perhaps, or a full peaty-smoky hit of Islay’s Bruichladdich Port Charlotte 10 Year Old Whisky (£52, Waitrose).
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