Citrus-scented with the tang of a salt-sea breeze, Fidra Gin is a summer day on the beach distilled in a bottle.
The glorious Gin Craze has no sign of slowing down with a fine flourish of Artisan gins across Scotland to capture a sense of the wild landscape. Speciality, small batch distilleries now pepper the Hebridean islands – Barra, Isle of Harris, Colonsay – and all around the coastline, from Seven Crofts, Ullapool over to Rock Rose, Caithness and south to Fidra Gin, East Lothian.
The founders of Fidra Gin are two friends, Emma Bouglet and Jo Brydie who brought together their respective experience in investment banking, corporate hospitality and as business entrepreneurs. Sharing a passion for gin they were motivated by the story of three women who craft Lussa Gin on the island of Jura. At the Scottish Gin Awards 2017, they met Walter Mickelthwait of Inshriach Distillery who offered expert advice and assistance. And with this perfect nspiration, “our gin dream was born!”
After purchasing a 5 litre still called Sadie, the most important aspect was to use locally grown ingredients sourced from sand dunes and hedgerows along the East Lothian seashore. After careful experimentation in Emma’s kitchen to select the best blend of botanicals, Fidra Gin was launched in September 2018.
The name Fidra is taken from a tiny uninhabited islet – a puffin and seabird sanctuary – just offshore from Yellowcraig Beach, near North Berwick. An ideal location as the seashore along here has a colourful spiritual history!
Gullane, Aberlady Sands, Dirleton Links, Canty Bay and south to Eyemouth was a gold coast in the early 19th century, where smugglers raided and wrecked ships for barrels of Dutch Gin and French brandy. Imported food and drink (salt, tea, coffee, chocolate, currants, sugar) was highly taxed and the challenge was to escape the exciseman with a cargo of valuable contraband.
As a child, Robert Louis Stevenson played pirate and smuggling games, hiding in caves and coves along the sandy beach at North Berwick.
He later recalled his summer holidays here an essay: “a genial smell of seaweed, two sandy bays, a file of grey islets .. a wilderness of hiding holes alive with popping rabbits and soaring gulls.” ‘The Lantern Bearers’, RLS, 1888.
Fidra lighthouse was built in 1885 to the designs of his father Thomas and his cousin, David Alan Stevenson – Robert visited the island to observe its construction.
This was during the time when he was writing his famous seafaring adventure story, “Treasure Island” about pirates, buccaneers and buried gold. The map of his fictional Skeleton Island has a similar horseshoe shape to Fidra with its inlets and rocky bays.
Most imaginatively, the vintage illustration of the island on Fidra Gin labels is like an old treasure map too, featuring the Lighthouse and ancient ruins of Castle Tarbert & St. Nicholas Chapel. This evocative Label was designed by John Smart of Collaborate Creative which won the silver medal at the 2019 Harpers Design Awards.
The tall, slender style of the glass bottle also celebrates the shape of the Stevenson lighthouse, with a charming gift tag around the neck to explain the story behind the name of this Coastal Scottish Gin.
Fidra Gin is made in small batches using six key ingredients – juniper, elderflower, lemon thyme and thyme, (these two types of thyme are grown in Jo’s garden and Archerfield Walled Garden) as well as locally foraged sea buckthorn and rosehip. The task of extracting and infusing the selected essential oils, floral, herbal and citrus flavours is a creative, technical process – with perhaps a touch of magical alchemy!.
While currently crafted under the expert guidance of Walter Mickelthwait at Inshriach Distillery, Aviemore, Emma and Jo have secured premises with plans underway to make and bottle Fidra Gin at their own distillery in East Lothian.
Just a year after its launch, in September 2019 Fidra received a Highly Commended medal in the best London Dry Gin category – voted 5th out of 45 finalists – at the Scottish Gin Awards.
So let’s get going to sample, test and taste this award winning Gin.
On the nose the aroma is juniper-rich with a fresh, earthy-pine fragrance; on first sip, the initial mellow sweetness, from the elderflower and rosehip, gives way to a subtle salty tang which is cool, crisp and so refreshing.
Sea Buckthorn is a medicinal plant high in Vitamin C, also known as Seaberries; the fruit has the aroma of pineapple and is now a fashionable ingredient in gourmet dishes as seen recently on Masterchef. As a key ingredient of Fidra Gin these tart berries, foraged along the sand-dunes, bring an aromatic, citrus flavour with a whiff of the salt sea breeze.
For a G&T, Jo and Emma suggest keeping it simple, just ice and a slice of lemon with a premium tonic; a garnish of a sprig of lemon thyme will add colour and further zingy freshness.
An ideal choice would be Fever Tree Mediterranean Rosemary and Lemon Thyme Tonic which has less quinine and lighter in flavour. The taste of Italian sunshine.!
13th May is World Cocktail Day so I have enjoyed trying Fidra Gin in a selection of my favourite classic cocktails. I started with a Gin Martini – not quite as dry as Noel Coward insisted: “a perfect Martini should be made by filling a glass with gin, then waving it in the general direction of Italy.”
Other connoisseurs prefer to swirl a little vermouth around the glass and then discard before adding the pure, ice cold gin. According to the eminent Bar tender, Salvatore Calabrese, the recipe is thus: 80 ml Gin with 1 – 2 drops of Extra Vermouth. A little strong perhaps?
This is the recipe I sampled: 50 ml, Fidra Gin, 15 ml Dry Vermouth into a mixing jug filled with ice. Stir (do not shake) and strain into a cocktail glass and then a twist of lemon peel. An olive or two would also suit Fidra to draw out the soft salty flavour.
Vermouth is a fortified wine infused with herbs, roots, bark and flowers and beautifully enhances the fragrant characteristics of Fidra Gin. This creates a marvellous Martini, the aromatic wine just taking the edge off the sharp strength of neat spirit, with a smooth bitter-sweet after-taste.
Fidra Gin has a carefully crafted, complex botanical balance blending perfumed, floral, citrus and salty notes. This gives the flexibility on how you enjoy it – either as a long, cold drink with ice and tonic, or letting the crystal clear spirit sing, almost solo, in a Martini.
As a regular traveller with Silversea cruises, a speciality cocktail was invented to celebrate the launch of a new ship in 2010, Silver Spirit – and remains a popular favourite tipple on board. Instead of Plymouth Gin in the original recipe, try this for a marriage made in heaven.
Silver Spirit Cocktail
60 ml Fidra Gin
60 ml St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
40 ml New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc wine
15 ml Lime juice
Add all the ingredients in a Cocktail Shaker filled with ice and thoroughly mix and pour into a glass with a wedge of lime.
St. Germain is the world’s first artisanal French liqueur, made with 1,000 fresh, wild, handpicked elderflower blossoms in every bottle. This delicate sweet flavour is reminiscent of peach, pear, citrus and a hint of honeysuckle. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is a distinctively crisp wine with notes of grapefruit, gooseberry and cut grass.
A Silver Spirit cocktail perfectly complements Fidra Gin – simply divine. Alternatively, add a little St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur to a G&T to draw out the floral flavour.
Emma and Jo have certainly been on an exciting adventure around East Lothian, immersing themselves in the natural and literary heritage of Fidra Island.
“ The dens and sheltered hollows redolent of thyme .. the air at the cliff’s edge brisk and clean and pungent of the sea.” Robert Louis Stevenson
His childhood memory of the East Lothian seashore could equally describe the fresh outdoor aroma and taste of Fidra Gin. He would likely serve it neat, on the rocks. Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of Gin!
“Whenever I smell salt water, I know that I am not far from one of the works of my ancestors,’ wrote Stevenson in 1880. ‘When the lights come out at sundown along the shores of Scotland, I am proud to think they burn more brightly for the genius of my father!’
Fidra is a Scottish coastal gin which artistically embraces the stunning seascape by distilling the essence of local herbs, flowers and salt sea breeze – like a summer day on the beach in a bottle.
For more details and where to buy Fidra Gin – www.fidragin.com
Facebook: Fidra Gin
Stop Press: During the Covid-19 lockdown, local home deliveries in East Lothian have been transported by bicycle and motorbike – a welcome gesture when bars and pubs are currently closed. When possible, a future plan is to use this 1970s Ukrainian Ural Motorbike & Sidecar for your supply of Fidra Gin.