The History of Gin in Scotland

Scotland is at the forefront of the current ‘gin boom’ with over 70% of the gin made in the UK being made in Scotland. This includes Gordon’s (the world’s biggest selling gin), Hendrick’s, Tanqueray as well as a host of small-batch, independent producers from every corner of Scotland.

There are now around 100 gin distilleries in Scotland, the majority of which started production after 2009 when a legal case was won against HMRC and companies won the right to distil in small scale as opposed on an industrial scale.

However, Scotland’s association with gin dates back much further than the last 10 years! Scotland’s love affair with gin can be traced back to the 1700s and is largely associated with Leith.

Gin LaneGin Lane by William Hogarth, 1751

Leith was at the centre of early Scottish gin production for many reasons. Firstly, there was already a thriving whisky industry in the area which meant there were skilled tradesmen in glass-making, coopering and warehousing.

Secondly, as a dockside town which was relatively close to the Netherlands (Scotland’s most important trading partner at the time), there was easy access to spices and raw materials which were vital for gin production.   

By 1777 there were 8 licensed gin distilleries in Edinburgh alone. There were also a huge number of unlicensed stills in operation too (thought to be around 400).

The quality of gin being distilled was inconsistent until the early 1800s when Robert Stein revolutionised gin production by moving away from traditional pot stills and developed a method which allowed for continuous production. This meant the spirit could be produced much more efficiently and in greater quantities.

Stein’s invention was later refined by Aeneas Coffey, an Irish distiller credited with the creation of the twin column still. This again increased efficiency of gin production.

Coffey Still

During the first ‘gin craze’ the most popular style of gin was Old Tom - a sweeter style of gin which often contained sugar. Old Tom faded in popularity in the early 20th century.

The invention of the twin column still made distilling neutral spirits practical and Scottish distillers were soon exporting neutral grain spirit to London and which led to the creation of London Dry Gins in the late 19th century.

The sales of gin continue to thrive until the late 1950s when vodka took over as the most fashionable drink. Gin sales slumped and by the mid-1970s there were no gin distilleries left in Edinburgh which was once the centre of the Scottish gin industry.

It wasn’t until the late 1980s and the launch of Bombay Sapphire that gin sales slowly started to recover. 2003 also saw the creation of Hendrick’s Gin, a premium gin that differed in style from the London Dry style and this innovation, along with the 2009 change of distilling regulation, led to the current small-batch premium gin revolution.

The Tower Street StillhousePhoto Credit: The Gin Cooperative

Gin production has gone full-circle and amongst the growing number of Scottish gin distilleries is the Tower Street Stillhouse which is home to Port of Leith Distillery & Electric Spirits Co. and sits just a stone’s throw from the docks where it all began.

We now have over 100 gins in our bottleshop, all produced in different locations around Scotland. View our full range of Scottish Gins >