Gin distillery’s delightful and historic setting

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Dornoch Castle.

Amid the current mushrooming growth of gin distilleries, I have long intended to visit one. That finally came to pass some weeks ago when I saw a gin distillery that, for all it was in the most delightful and historic setting, reminded more of a medieval alchemist’s workshop than a 21st Century distillery.

It was located in the rear garden of Dornoch Castle in Sutherland, now a prestigious hotel, in what I assumed were the former stables or possibly the potting shed.

A small copper still with a minaret top fed into a copper condenser on top of a wooden cask. The condenser’s cooling water supply was via two plastic hoses, one of which was suspended on hooks and clamps attached to an overhead beam. Glass measuring beakers and other paraphernalia sat on hefty timber tables and sundry other distilling equipment was visible in the cramped space.

Outside lay empty sacks of floor-dried malt from a firm in Warminster, as well as big plastic tanks filled with what looked like additives to whatever was being distilled.

A chalked sign declared that the distillery was producing gin and, in the long term, whisky. Those interested could sample the gin at the Dornoch Castle bar. Unfortunately, it was long before opening time and I would be miles south of Dornoch when the bar would open. However, there’s always next time…

In a way, it reminded me of a magic morning spent with Peter, a retired lawyer in New Zealand. He distilled his own gin (distilling for personal consumption is legal in Kiwiland) and also made his own tonic water. The two together were the nectar of the gods and we consumed far too much of both as we put the world to rights. However, despite being well over the driving limit as I tottered home, I felt right as rain and never had the slightest hangover. Peter’s gin was in a class of its own.

The crucial flavouring in gin comes from juniper. The bushes are generally regarded as conifers and their small, purple-blue berries as tiny cones. If the current gin distilling boom continues, I just might consider converting my garden to a juniper plantation. Demand for juniper berries seems set for exponential growth…

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