At one point there were said to be more than 80 distilleries in Edinburgh, and that's not counting the unknown, illicit stills.

Given the stench of Auld Reekie with its open sewers, the fumes of making moonshine were easily hidden. By today's standards the spirit produced was not whisky, gin or vodka, it was simply hooch. Modern paint stripper would have been silky smooth by comparison.

The spirit from the big industrial distillers in the Lowlands was probably just as rough, but most was sent south to be rectified into gin to feed London's addiction to "mother's ruin". Drunk sweet and neat and spiked with turpentine, it was the crack cocaine of its day until the mid-18th century. Scotland remains a huge gin producer, led by Gordon's in Fife, although the quality has certainly improved.

Its first urban, boutique gin distillery has just opened in Summerhall in the centre of Edinburgh. Pickering's Gin, with its pocket-sized copper pot still, began distilling a few months ago using a handwritten recipe from Mumbai, dated 1947. It was passed to Marcus Pickering by an Indian friend of his father's, so the story goes.

Pickering, a one-time butler at Skibo castle, was involved in converting Summerhall from veterinary college to arts venue and home to Barney's Beer. "Having helped set up the brewery three years ago, people said 'you should have a distillery'," he explains. When it became clear no-one else was going to do it, Pickering and his friend Matt Gammell thought 'Why not?'

Having tweaked the recipe with help from Edinburgh's resident gin queen Geraldine Coates, they have gone for a robust, London Dry style. Nine botanicals are led by juniper, which gives the spirit its pine-fresh, invigorating hit. The flavours are absorbed by the base alcohol through maceration, followed by a gentle distillation at 79°C. If you want to drink it straight from the still you will need to pop into Summerhall, where the gin is pumped directly to a small tap on the bar.

Will this be the first in a new wave of tiny urban distilleries producing small batches of gin, vodka and perhaps one day whisky? I hope so, for it's time we had an alternative to the big spirits brands. Interestingly, Customs & Excise, which virtually banned small stills on principle for fear of smuggling, were remarkably relaxed about Pickering's Gin. For stockists see