Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Botanical library to aid Scottish gin producers

gin Image copyright Getty Images

Scientists at Heriot-Watt University have created a botanical library to help gin producers create new products.

The experts have tested 72 plants and fungus used by distillers - ranging from nettles to lavender and the chaga fungus, which grows on birch trees.

They hope the body of knowledge will also boost export sales, by stopping unusual flavours of gin from being stopped at customs.

The scientists have spent three years working on the project.

All of the gin botanicals can be grown in Scotland, are commercially available and from a sustainable source.

Each one has been individually distilled, and its taste, aroma and mouth feel catalogued by the team at the International Centre for Brewing and Distilling (ICBD) at the university.

According to Scotland Food and Drink, 70% of the UK's gin is produced in Scotland and sales are expected to hit £1.5bn by 2020.

The library was initially developed to help Scotland's gin producers create unique, new products, but it is now being used to ensure Scottish gin meets the import standards of countries such as the US.

Several members of the Scottish Craft Distillers Association (SCDA) have already used the library to create new gins and botanical liqueurs.

Gin facts

Image copyright Getty Images
  • 70% of the gin consumed in the UK is made in Scotland
  • In 2010, gin sales were at £774m a year (about half the sales of Scotch whisky) - today's gin is worth about £1.2bn
  • By 2020, gin is predicted to soar to more than £1.5bn, while Scotch whisky sales will stay flat
  • Gin is expected to outstrip sales of Scotch by 2020
  • Supermarket giant Aldi says it currently sells more than 9,000 bottles every day in Scotland, compared with 6,700 bottles of Scotch

Source: Scotland Food and Drink

Matthew Pauley, assistant professor at the ICBD and a drinks industry consultant, said: "By definition, gin must taste predominantly of juniper. Creating a new gin that stands out in the market requires botanicals that should bring a subtle flavour, aroma and mouth feel that compliments or enhances the juniper.

"Our botanical library will help gin producers create Scottish gins with locally available botanicals that are available in dried form, from a sustainable source, to ensure consistency and availability.

"The library enables us to tell producers how a botanical will perform if it is added before or after distillation."

He said members of the SCDA can go to the lab where they can "experiment and explore new flavour palates, with less trial and error".

The team now wants to help producers avoid problems with exports.

Dr Annie Hill, associate professor at the ICBD, said: "We were approached by one gin producer who had listed the botanicals in their ingredients, and their sample was held up by US customs.

"We learned that around half of the botanicals in our library are not listed on the USA's Generally Recognised as Safe (Gras) list. Any Scottish gins that list these botanicals as ingredients could be banned by US customs without any investigation or questioning.

"We are now testing the potentially toxic compounds that could be present to demonstrate they are safe for consumers and not above threshold limits. This will give gin producers the evidence they need to prove their gin is safe."

She added: "Botanicals pose very little danger to gin drinkers in the UK or the USA - the relative concentration of alcohol outstrips any other more harmful compounds."

The ICBD's Botanical Library was funded by Interface and is currently available to members of the Scottish Craft Distillers Association.

The team is in discussions about how to make it more widely available and hopes to add more botanicals, along with nuts and flowers to the library.

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