Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Everyone's talking about Scottish Gin!

While Scotland is best known for its whisky, it is also responsible for producing over 70% of the UK’s gin. Big brands such as Hendricks, Tanqueray and Gordon’s are well established, but the rise of passionate new distillers, creating exciting and complex blends, gave eight of Scotland's Best B&B Gin loving hosts the idea of getting together to learn more about the variety of Scottish craft gins available.

This ‘spirited’ event was hosted by Lynne and Weyland at the Auld Post Office, Thurso in the most northerly part of Scotland.  Famous for it's stunning scenery and wonderful wildlife, it made the perfect location for a weekend of gin tasting.

They were joined by Carol and Gordon from The Dulaig, Grantown on Spey, Irene and Terry from Wyvis Boutique B&B, Tillicoultry and  Susan and Stewart from Home Farm, Muir of Ord 

The weekend started with a visit to the Dunnet Bay Distillery where Rock Rose Gin is made. Our group were greeted by Martin who shared how he and Claire experimented with over 55 recipes before choosing a selection of 5 local and 13 traditional botanicals together with traditional Italian and Bulgarian junipers that are blended together to create the unique taste of Rock Rose.   

While the exact recipe of Rock Rose gin is a secret known only to Martin and Claire, he was happy to share details of the provenance of the botanicals used, their garden projects and how they work with local botanists and forestry to ensure sustainability.   

The distillation process was explained, highlighting how the selected and prepared botanicals are placed into a basket and their traditional copper pot still, named Elizabeth, passes vapours over it, enabling the botanicals to infuse the spirit with unique flavours.
Made in small batches of 500 litres, the passion and enthusiasm of  the small  Dunnet Distillery team can be seen in every step of the production of the gin, including the way each bottle is hand filled, hand waxed, batch numbered and hand-signed before leaving the distillery. A wee tipple of Rock Rose gin put the finishing touch to this engaging and enjoyable tour and got our intrepid group in the mood to explore more about the variety of craft gins available in Scotland. 

With their new found knowledge gained at their recent distillery visit, our group held their own Gin Tasting evening at The Auld Post Office where they sampled 12 specially selected Scottish Gins.  Here are their verdicts and tasting tips for those tried on the night:

Daffy's Gin.  Named after the Goddess of Gin, this Edinburgh made gin mixes classic ingredients with newer botanicals like Lebanese mint and rare lemons.
Serving suggestions: Neat or with a good tonic, double wedge of lime and a sprig of mint. 
Conclusion:  A nice manage of flavours, smooth yet vibrant, leaving a warm and elegant finish.  
The Botanist. Distilled at the Bruichladdich distillery on Islay, this is the BIG one, with 31 botanicals, 22 sourced locally.
Serving suggestion: Enjoyed with a double twist of lemon, layered into the rocks with a good tonic.
Conclusion: Intense and snappy, full bodied like a glass of red wine.

Kirsty's Gin (Gluten free). This gin, from the Arbikie 2000-acre farm, is made by adding kelp, carline thistle and blueberries to the farm's own spirit made from three varieties of potato grown there.
Serving suggestions: Lemon twist and several blueberries
Conclusion: Creamy and smooth, with an individual taste.
Harris Gin.  Created on the Isle of Harris using sugar kelp, hand harvested from the deep underwater forests of the Outer Hebrides. 
Serving suggestion: With a slice of pink grapefruit and a twist of lemon and lime.
Conclusion: A salty ocean tang with a long finish and flavours of lovage.

Glen Wyvis. Made in Dingwall, the key botanical used in this gin is ‘skiach’, Gaelic for hawthorn.
Serving suggestion:  With orange peel or a full slice of lemon and star anise. 
Conclusion: Neat: Heady, with an after taste of strong juniper. With tonic: Quite pleasantly sweet, a good surprise.

Rock Rose.  The gin with two perfect serves personally recommended during the distillery visit by Martin and Claire Murray. 
Serving suggestions: Martin: Flaming the tips of rosemary leaves and add a twist of lemon. Claire: Add the zesty peel of orange.
Conclusion: Adding rosemary, gives a pleasant balanced nose with hints of lemony citrus.  Adding orange peel gives a sherbet lollypop taste.
Strathearn Heather Rose.  This gin, from Scotland’s newest and probably the smallest commercial distillery based in Perthshire, turns a pretty pink when tonic is added!
Serving suggestion: With a good tonic and garnish with a twist of lemon and a bramble
Conclusion: Light and feminine with a lovely sweetness.
Gordon Castle.  A glass filled with Highland herbs from the walled garden.
Serving suggestion: Garnish with a twist of lemon, lime and mint. 
Conclusion: Aromatic with a lovely clean finish.

Stirling Gin. Developed in Stirling using hand-picked Stirlingshire nettles.
Serving suggestion: Slices of orange peel layered on ice with basil leaves
Conclusion:  Citrus, herbaceous and spicy with a warm and creamy finish.

Gilt Gin. This is a single malt, five times distilled, is produced at Strathleven Distillery close to the shores of Loch Lomond. 
Serving suggestion: With 2 dashes of bitters, 1 sugar cube and 1 tsp of water – the perfect Old fashioned! 
Conclusion: Flavoursome, fruity, zesty orange with a lovely dry finish
Caorunn. Created by the Balmenach distillery on Speyside, this gin is a true ‘Aromatic Adventure'.  
Serving suggestion: With slices of red and green apple  
Conclusion:  Crisp and invigorating with a refreshing, slightly dry finish.

Eden Mill Love. This stunning pink gin is distilled in St Andrews.
Serving suggestion: With a slice of pink grapefruit, peel and raspberries. 
Conclusion: Fruit and floral with a mellow citrus hue.

We hope sharing our favourite Scottish gins has given you a flavour of what is available and will encourage you to book a visit to one of the small craft distilleries located near to your Scottish Best B&B!  Sláinte !  

If you want to plan your own Scottish Gin Tour, visit our Website where we feature our Handy Gin Trail Map showing the gin distilleries that are open to the public, together with the location of Scotland's Best B&Bs you can stay at on your way

Thank you to all our B&B owners who participated so enthusiastically in researching and writing this Blog.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Loving life on the Fife Coastal Path

This week we are featuring a guest blog from one of our B&B owners who can't wait to tell you all about where they live and why they love it so much!  This weeks guest Blog is from Jean Bowman, a keen hill runner who also owns Gruinard Guest House in Burntisland, Fife.  If you thought all Scottish B&B's were run bold ladies who look like Mrs'd be SO wrong!

Hello to all readers of this my first ever blog. I hope you will find it informative and enjoy learning more about ‘The Golden Fringe’ of Fife.  The title of this blog says it all. Every day the views and the light amaze and delight us. Even today in the aftermath of a storm we had iridescent clouds above the river. Beautiful.

My name is Jean and I moved here to Burntisland with my family of 2 boys a dog and a husband in 1988. It was our dream to live by the sea as our passions and sports are all outdoors activities. We deliberately looked for a house to renovate in our own style which we called ‘Gruinard’ after the beautiful bay in the north west of the country where we holidayed for 34 years. The renovation took over 4 years and then became a B&B in 1992 after my sons persuaded me to invite people to stay in what was always Granny’s room.

We love meeting so many interesting and lovely folk from all over the world. We are situated on the main route on the coast from St Andrews to Edinburgh so we have a lot of tourists passing by. The education it gave my 2 sons was second to none. They learnt so much and have excellent social skills which still remain with them today.

The Fife Coastal Path is in front or behind our home depending on the state of the tide.  The Path starts at the Forth Estuary in the south, to the Tay Estuary in the north and is 117 miles long. We run, walk or mountain bike on the path most days at some point, we also sea kayak adjacent to the path. Mostly in the middle of the day although we have squeezed in a cycle before serving breakfast occasionally.

It is always interesting and a great training ground for us when preparing for marathons, Ultras or long hill races. Hill racing (Fell racing) is our favourite sport but living by the coast means we have the best of both worlds. It is only 30 minutes’ drive to our local hills. The Fife Coastal path is varied but always good to walk on with good sturdy shoes or in our case trainers. Only small sections need boots or shoes with a bit of grip. It has fantastic public transport links so it doesn’t have to be done all at once you can do small sections at a time. 
The churches can be very special for different reasons.

You will also see evidence of old brick war time buildings. Gun batteries, look outs and anti-tank defences all along the coast and many of the islands have them too. There was a fear that the enemy would bomb the Forth Rail Bridge during the 2nd World War and on the island of Inchkeith (4 miles South East from Burntisland) there were 1,000 men stationed for the duration of the war.

You will see seals possibly Dolphins or Porpoises, Herons and hundreds of other birds. There are usually squirrels around in the trees or on the paths as you walk along. At this time of year the ground within the tree plantations to the west of Aberdour is covered in snowdrops then in a few months’ time there will be a carpet of daffodils for over one mile on the verges adjacent to the path.
The coal mines are closed now but you can still see the pit head at the Francis Colliery to the east of Ravenscraig Castle.
Industry in the Central part of Fife was ship building now car scrap yards. Ship yards are repairing oil rigs towed in and anchored out in the river which provides work for skilled tradesmen at various points all along the coast. Factories have been knocked down but in their place are lovely family houses where parents commute to Edinburgh for work. Then there are the small fishing villages of the North East Neuk to the east of Lower Largo.     
Only Pittenweem lands fish now and the pan tiled cottages of the fishermen are occupied by artists and crafts people for during August for the Pittenweem Arts Festival.  Anstruther is the home of the Scottish Fisheries Museum at the Harbour Head in Anstruther. Anstruther has numerous excellent fish and chip shops some having national award s for their produce. Marinas for leisure craft are also found in the harbour and for boat trips to the Isle of May this is the departure point for the Island.

Below are the names of some of the villages and places to see along Coast.

North Queensferry
Burgh of Leven
Burgh of St Monans
The Historic Royal Burgh of St Andrews
Royal Burgh of Pittenweem
Royal Burgh of Burntisland
The Royal Burgh of Crail
Royal Burgh of Dysart
Royal Burgh of Culross
Burghs of Elie & Earlsferry
Royal Burgh of Kinghorn
Royal Burgh of Kirkcaldy
Culross Palace, Culross
Kellie Castle and Garden, Pittenweem
Rossend Castle, Burntisland
Newark Castle and Doocot, St Monans
Ravenscraig Castle, Kirkcaldy
St Andrews Castle and Visitors Centre

I hope you have enjoyed this taster of what we have to offer in Fife and it will encourage you to come and explore.
Thank you for reading this blog. I have enjoyed writing about a place we love.
Jean Bowman
Gruinard Guest House.