In a special post for Intentional Scottish Gin Day, I caught up with Jack Smith on how the surrounding landscape breathes life into his gin. Cairngorm Gin is a gin inspired by the landscape that surrounds it. The Cairngorm Mountain range of the Scottish Highlands are not only the gins namesake, but they also breathe fresh essence into the life of the gin.
The distillery was founded in 2019 by Jack Smith, who was born and raised in the valley of the River Spey. His family have lived in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park for decades and have a real love and care for the flora and fauna found native to the local area. So, it made sense to launch the distillery in his home town of Carrbridge.
“I was Born in Inverness and raised in a small village called Carr-Bridge, deep in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park. Some of my favourite memories of the landscape growing up include going Skiing in the winter up the Cairngorms with my Father and younger sister. At present, I enjoy playing golf whilst I’m not in the still room or out on the roads! I do also enjoy heading out foraging for wild mushrooms and other local produce I can cook with on my days off.”
Jacks Father and Grandfather found their trade in the culinary industry. So from a young age Jack had exposure to flavour and became keen on cooking himself. This naturally fed into a keen interest on flavours and experimenting with ingredients. He spent some time working alongside Michelin start chefs
“My late Grandfather Alan, Commonly known as ‘Ginger” who we aptly named our still after, opened a Fish And Chip Shop in Aviemore back in 1982 . My Father, Also Alan, took this over back in 2000, and is still there to this day. I started helping out there from a young age, before moving on to a local restaurant to begin my own journey.”
Before long, Jack heard a calling back to his home and a new project to make gin.
“I think the lightbulb moment for me to create a Scottish Gin was when the idea was formed to combine my love of cooking and sourcing the finest local ingredients with my strengthening love of the up and coming Scottish Gin Scene! This all fell into place when I returned to the Cairngorms National Park after having served time working in Kitchens in Edinburgh. I worked alongside Michelin Starred Chef Martin Wishart for nearly 3 years.”
Jacks love of the land proved an effective inspiration and foraging and experimenting with botanicals were skills that transfered easily from his culinary days.
“When I returned to the Area and began my Gin journey, I did a lot of research into what I thought I could do to stand out from the crowds and be a little bit different! While I was doing this, I came up with my tagline “Inspired by the Land we live in” I guess then it all made sense. I quite literally took inspiration from the land I live In! And what more could I do to try and capture that in the bottle than to use our hand collected water from the River Spey for each and every distillation!”
Being new to the game, Jack was wise and sought some help from an expert to help perfect his recipe.
“I worked in partnership with Master Distiller Lewis Scothern at Distillutions. A well renowned contract distiller based in Arbroath who is known for producing some cracking Scottish Gins. I reached out to him for help to create my unique recipe and to show me the ropes before I set off on my own. Together we developed the recipe for Cairngorm Gin which combines 9 botanicals. Our signature botanical is the Cloudberry. An amber coloured arctic berry that can be found high up on the Cairngorms plateau, although quite hard to come by! I believe that we are the first gin producer in the U.K to use them.”
The gin is small batch, with only 70 bottles being produced for each distillation. The gin contains some expected botanicals, the main three of juniper, coriander and angelica are joined by orris and orange. Kaffir lime and elderflower give it a slight twist and then we have the local botanicals of Scots pine and cloudberry, a species of flowering plant from the rose family that grows well in cool temperate regions. Cloudberry was once abundunt in the region, but is now quite Rare, so it is imported from Scandinavia to give a nostagic taste of the past. Cloudberry has a tart taste that becomes creamy as it ripens and is often used for liqueurs in Nordic regions. And loving the land so much, you can imagine how keen he is to look after it.
“Being inspired by the environment, and knowing how important it is for us to respect and look after the stunning landscapes we live in, I thought hard about how I could do my bit to try and minimise my impact. As I had mentioned, for distillation I hand collect and filter my water from the River Spey. I also hand forage and dry my own Pine Needles from the local woodlands. I have also introduced a return / refilll service with some of the local bars and restaurants I work with, and am currently developing a refill service for our retail customers through our website.”
I don’t know about you, but I just love finding something a little different and I’m really intrigued by this flavour profile. You can find out more about Cairngorm at https://cairngormgin.com.
Thanks Jack for taking the time to send me some words and some photos to use. Happy International Scottish Gin Day!