Ah. A day at the beach. Is there anything better in this life?…
There’s something kind of magical about being near the ocean, with the sand between your toes, the summer breeze in your hair and the sun on your back that puts the mind and soul at ease. There’s a peaceful tranquility to the smells and sounds of the coastal paradise that really is a dream…
No. Really. Usually it’s nothing more than a dream!
You see, in this country, the thought of a day out at the beach more often than not outweighs the reality of the experience itself.
One such ‘character building’ experience that springs to mind as case and point was when my wife & I opted for a day trip to Scarborough from our ‘stay-cation’ base at the nearby city of York. Undeterred by the light drizzle of rain that had greeted our morning outlook, we made our way on to the most expensive public transport the UK had to offer (the train. Of course) and looked at each other with smiles that were shortly to be turned upside down.
It’s difficult to put in to words the ‘sea view’ that we were presented with on arrival. Mostly because the torrential rain, by now driving sideways & aggressively in to our pale, cold cheeks, was playing an impressive supporting role to the sheet of thick mist blocking out any chance of a visible horizon.
It felt like we’d only been walking for five minutes (because we had only been walking for five minutes) when my wife declared she could walk no further! It turned out than my suggestion of wearing sensible footwear had been misinterpreted for ‘wear the least comfortable pair of shoes you own – preferably ones that’ll cause instant blisters’. To which she had duly obliged.
Hamstrung by both the weather, and my wife’s minor flesh wounds, we found ourselves warming our hands around polystyrene cups of tea in a cafe that time had forgotten. And as we ummd & arrd over whether we had enough 20p’s for the arcade games (spoiler alert; we didn’t and the main arcade was closed for maintenance anyway) we tried to ignore that hailstones that had started to fall outside.
Well. What did we expect. It was June after all.
Message in a bottle
I’ve not ventured too far from the shore since the washout of our last excursion. But more recently, in a twist of fate, it was the sea that came calling to me.
Well, I say ‘calling’…it was a Tweet. And I say ‘the sea’…it was actually a lovely lady called Emma. And after some short social media introductions (a ‘Wave’ if you will…) there was soon a ‘message in a bottle’ washing up at my doorstep. Well, it was actually a message wrapped around a bottle (of gin), which I think you’ll agree is a far better use of penmanship! It went on to read;
Please find enclosed a bottle of Fidra Gin for you to try. Really hope you enjoy it!
Jo & Emma’
Without a hint of rain, sand or polystyrene in sight I was starting to think this was the kind of beach life I could get used to. All that was left to do now was to dip my toe…
Launched in September 2018, Fidra Gin is the brainchild and labour of love of two ‘BFF’s’ Emma & Jo.
Provenance is at the heart of this spirit. Inspired by the wealth of coastal botanical riches on their East Lothian costal doorstep, the pair were enthused by the prospect of creating a gin that could represent them and their surroundings.
After enlisting the help of ‘Sadie’, a 5 litre Still that the friends added to their little team, a 2017 Winter of foraging began – they probably had better weather than my Scarborough outing! In combing the treasure troves of the Scottish hedgerows and sand dunes, 6 botanicals made the final cut; juniper, thyme, elderflower, lemon thyme, rosehip and sea buckthorn. It’s a small, almost misleadingly simple sounding, lineup that is disguised by the flavour and cleverly worked complexity that we’ll get to shortly…
The research has stood Jo & Emma in good stead, and the scavenging of local sea buckthorn and rosehip is a point of pride and principle instilled in the now end product. The lemon thyme is grown a the local Archerfield Walled Garden, which is also soon to be home to their thyme going forwards.
However, it would be fair to say that this is a gin still in its infancy, and at the start of its journey. To achieve that full ‘East Lothian postcode’, local sources of juniper and elderflower are still being sought. And whilst the team are fully transparent that Fidra Gin is a contract distilled operation, taking advantage of the experience and expertise of their pal Walter Mickelthwait from Inshriach Distillery in Aviemore, it is an obvious ambition to move the distilling on to sands a little closer to home…
That said, it’s an exciting journey to watch unfold.
X Marks the spot…
Let’s take a longing gaze at the bottle, because it really is a thing of beauty. Spoiler alert; if you’ve not guessed…I think it’s quite pretty!
So named after the teeney-weeney (but jaw droppingly beautiful) island of Fidra, tales of smuggling and treasures helped to christen the brand name.
It’s bold purple text, with gold trim shadow, set against a textured cream background is both elegant and instantly eye catching. It was actually whilst scrolling through Social Media that a picture posted by The Gin Cooperative’s (www.thegincooperative.com) Natalie Reid grabbed my attention. It’s clean lines, and classy feel, are a nod to the purity that Fidra Gin promises to deliver on taste.
If you were in any doubt as to the gins credentials as being a ‘Scottish Coastal Gin’, the bottle helps to alay your fears – the gins heritage is delicately kissed across the artwork for your viewing pleasure.
And it’s the little touches that really finish this as a class act.
The Island map printed on the bottles front and centre has the feel of a treasure map, which goes on to guide you to the aforementioned botanical list displayed proudly on the backside of the label. There’s even a tiny lighthouse displayed, paying homage to Fidras almost sole inhabitant – other than the puffins that are denoted on the robust cork stoppers paperwork. (Note to reader; these may be Seagulls…I’m not Bill Oddie.)
It’s almost a shame to open it. Almost…
Fidra Gin to taste
Now. If you’re going to call out a gin as being ‘coastal’, then you’d best be packing some kind of a nautical feel. Luckily for us, Fidra delivers it in abundance!
On the nose, I picked up an initial saltiness. It’s not unpleasant, like seafood or fish. It’s more like when you gently wade out in to the warmth of the ocean and you get that light sea breeze spray as the waves wash against you.
There’s a greenery of coastal vegetation, with a hedgerow herbaceousness of rosehip. Against the light saltiness, it could be forgiven for coming across as a sense of seaweed.
The thyme & lemon thyme combine beautifully for a slight citrus bite on the nose, which helps to cut through the savoury edge and provide a lighter zing.
The elderflower, a botanical I have a lot of time for, isn’t a massive presence on the scene. But I’d hazard a guess that it is its inclusion that brings a delicate and delicious sweetness to the gin.
There is also an ever growing, and ever pleasing, force of juniper. It’s not immediately bold, given the waves of sea air that hit you upon opening. But a sturdy pine cone hum builds as the neat spirit develops in the glass.
When tasted neat, there is a much stronger sense of sweetness on the pallet, presumably from the elderflower, that works wonders against the savoury saltiness of the sea buckthorn. I liken the effect to being the grown up drinks equivalent of ‘sweet & salty popcorn’, or sea salt chocolate. It really is a marriage made in heaven and a beautiful thing!
There’s a brilliant vibrant freshness to the gin – it’s both bright and elegant on each sip, with a resfreshing and crisp mouthfeel.
Those herbal inclusions have a headiness that really sings from the glass. It conjures imagery of Emma and Jo foraging amongst those sand dunes. The flavour profiles are as clear as when each botanical were first picked and cut.
There is a solid juniper backbone to the gin, which helps to provide an earthy pine tone that works in perfect harmony with the rosehip.
Now, for those that know me, I’m a big ‘fan boy’ of citrus gins. And a citrus gin this is not…But I couldn’t give a hoot – it’s bloody fantastic. The lemon thyme gives a suggestion of a zing, but that’s not what this gin is about. This is about locality. And if you can find me a lemon growing in a Scottish sand dune then we can talk. Until then, I’m going to bask in the equally enjoyable tang of the sea that Fidra has in (buckets and) spades.
There’s a purity to Fidra that provides more than just a beautifully balanced gin. It evokes feelings. You’re almost transported to the seashore, trousers rolled up and paddling in the low tide.
A light tonic pulls forwards the sweetness and the juniper. There’s still a herbal earthiness, but it is toned down and moved toward the background. I would suggest a double garnish is in order here; a slice of lemon and a sprig of fresh thyme, to not only emphasise the greenery, but also to add a citrus kick in the trunks!
Remember when I said earlier that the modest list of botanicals was almost misleadingly simple? Hate to say I told you so…
This is a small batch Scottish gin, that is proudly shouting about the beauty of its surroundings for all who’ll listen. What Jo & Emma have created is as eye catching in its design as it is breathtaking on the taste. If this is what they’ve managed to produce in such a short amount of time, I’m excited to see what the future holds.
Come on in folks…the waters warm.
Many thanks to Emma & Jo from Fidra Gin for my complementary bottle.
Head over to social media to follow the Fidra Gin journey at @FidraGin and follow all the latest news at their website http://www.fidragin.com
And thanks to Martin & Natalie Reid from The Gin Cooperative for introducing me to Fidra Gin during this years International Scottish Gin Day! Head over to their website to learn more at http://www.internationalscottishginday.com
And don’t forget to stop by @theginshelf across all social media platforms for more blogs & event updates. Stop by, say ‘Hi’ & chat gin!