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Gin with a twist of Scotland ready to hit shelves

It is a quintessentially English drink associated with beefeaters and garden parties.

CHEERS: Jonathan Engels expects to have a batch of his gin on sale for Christmas.
CHEERS: Jonathan Engels expects to have a batch of his gin on sale for Christmas.

But a Scottish entrepreneur has now taken the ingredients of gin and claimed it for the nation.

Jonathan Engels, the owner of the Pincer vodka brand, is producing a new gin made from juniper and rosehip grown in Scotland.

He believes the Crossbill Gin is the only gin on the market made from entirely Scottish plants.

A recent harvest of juniper is being used in the first distilling of the spirit, and around 200 bottles are expected to be available before Christmas.

Mr Engels has spent years trying to find the right combination of ingredients but has only now been able to secure a large enough sustainable supply of juniper.

The Glasgow-based businessman has been working with the Forestry Commission, conservation charity Plantlife Scotland and the Inshriach Estate, Aviemore, to revive the tradition of juniper harvesting.

The gin is being hand-distilled in a copper pot still at a micro-distillery Mr Engels has established in Argyll. He is using water from nearby Loch a'Bhaillidh.

Juniper is facing a number of threats including the age of the plants - much of the stock is more than 100 years old - under-grazing which is preventing germination and suppressing seedlings, and growing rabbit and vole populations as those animals eat on younger plants.

A deadly fungal disease called Phytophthora austrocedrae is posing further problems for native Scottish juniper variants.

Mr Engels is limiting harvest of juniper to a single area where it is abundant and he is also working on a planting scheme at Inshriach to help re-stock the population with cuttings from existing healthy shrubs.

He said: "Juniper takes three years to ripen and should be picked before the first frost [in the autumn]. So we can only do it once a year and you have to take care not to knock off the ones for the next year.

"It is difficult to do as it is remote, the trees are spiky and you have to be careful about what you pick, which is why juniper supply has been mostly outsourced to places like Hungary and Bulgaria."

Further batches of Crossbill, which takes its name from the bird and will cost around £38, will be made available next year.

Mr Engels said: "We are doing one run before Christmas to get it out there. We were surprised at the quality of the harvest so we will be able to do several runs next year."

Mr Engels intends to sell ­Crossbill through its own website and through retailers he has an existing relationship with.

Until now Mr Engels, who was an architect before moving into the drinks business, has concentrated on building the Pincer vodka brand, which is made with extracts of milk thistle and wild elderflower.

The spirit is available in dozens of bars and restaurants across Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and London as well as on the shelves of Waitrose stores in ­Scotland and WholeFoods Market in Giffnock. Export deals to the US, Russia and Spain have also been struck.

The move into gin production comes at a time when that spirit is undergoing something of a renaissance in Scotland.

Larger companies such as ­International Beverage Holdings, which has Caorunn and William Grant & Sons - producer of Hendrick's gin - are making the spirit, although there has also been a number of smaller producers popping up in recent years.

Those include Spencerfield Spirit Company, Gilt, Darnley's View, Strathearn Distillery and Bruichladdich's The Botanist.

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