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A Night Away in the Scottish Highlands with Caorunn Gin

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By Hazel Fulton on 20th June 2023

Deep in the gorse-carpeted moorland of the Highlands, with the Cairngorms rising majestically in the distance, lies Balmenach Distillery, home of Caorunn gin.

The romantic – if rugged – setting is entirely in tune with the character of the drink, which, as I discover during a tour and tasting session at the distillery, is unarguably Scottish. The raw spirit is infused with six traditional gin flavours and five Celtic botanicals – rowan berry, bog myrtle, dandelion, heather and caol blush apple (all of which grow in the immediate vicinity) – via the world’s only working Copper Berry Chamber. This impressively Victorian-looking piece of kit is actually a 1920’s perfume still from the US, where it may or may not have been involved in the production of illicit Prohibition liquor. It contains large trays, on which the dried botanicals are spread, and as the gin passes through as a vapour it is suffused with the plant essences.

The result is a clean, dry gin with crisp apple notes and fleeting scents of the coarse, blustery landscape that surrounds the distillery. It comes in reassuringly weighty bottles that have the Caorunn ‘star’ – in fact a representation of the calyx at the bottom of a rowan berry – etched into the base. We try it neat and with a local tonic, garnished with red apple, and agree that it is as Highland as the malt whiskies Speyside is traditionally famed for.

And so the news of Caorunn’s latest release, when it is revealed to us later over a fitting dinner of haggis, makes perfect sense. The Cask Aged is a limited-edition small batch run of 797 bottles of Caorunn gin which has been carefully aged in Spanish oak whisky casks to create an entirely new drink. Not quite gin, not whisky, but something hovering in between; the perfect marriage of warmth and freshness. At 56% proof it is delicious to sip like a fine malt, but also works well lengthened with ginger ale and finished with a sprig of rosemary.

Given its limited run, the Cask Aged is likely to sell out very quickly. Fortunately, Caorunn have a meticulously curated range of award-winning gins to try even if you miss out. Their Scottish raspberry expression – unlike many other flavoured gins on the market – is entirely free of artificial flavours or colours. It is simply Caorunn with added Perthshire raspberries. Similarly, their Blood Orange gin contains no added sugar – just a hint of chilli essence for a spicy, floral heat. And if it’s the ABV percentage of the Cask Aged that appeals, try Caorunn Highland Strength; a bold interpretation of the original that enhances the botanical elements even further. 

All of them encapsulate the uncompromising beauty of Balmenach’s surroundings – a taste will transport you to the wilds of Highlands. But I can highly recommend actually visiting the iconic distillery itself for a fully immersive experience. Speyside is already a world-famous destination for whisky-lovers, and now gin fans have a reason to visit too.

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