The bottles can almost be works of art, with their patterned glass and intricately-designed labels.

Inside, lurks spirits laced with complex flavours; mango to liquorice, cassia bark, even the sap of silver birch trees and Dundee marmalade. 

Lovingly distilled on copper stills christened with nicknames such as Phil, Lucy, Little Maggie, Emily and Gertrude, some are the result of “lightbulb” moments of inspiration and brought to life in glorified garden sheds on a remote Hebridean island or bubbling away beneath Edinburgh’s pavements. 

Stretching from seaweed-infused gin in Shetland to Borders country where Selkirk bannocks are macerated in juniper gin to create a “bannock” in a bottle, Scotland’s “ginaissance” shows no sign of slowing down. 

At last count, Scottish-produced gin accounted for 70 per cent of the UK gin market, partly thanks to Gordon’s, the world’s best-selling gin brand, being produced in Fife.

There are about 200 different Scottish-based gins currently in production, with dozens more on the way. 

And it appears they are feeding an almost unquenchable appetite for the tipple. According to the Wine and Spirits Trade Association, 73 million bottles of gin were sold in Britain last year.

Sales figures hit £2.1 billion – £2.7bn when exports are taken into account – breaking all previous records.

The WSTA points out that just two years ago only a few brands were making flavoured gin, but last year the category was valued at £165 million, 
up 751% on the previous year. 

Although still dwarfed by the whisky industry, which is worth more than £5bn to the UK economy, gin is said to be racing towards the £2bn barrier and expected to outperform the blended whisky sector by next year. 

So, in a nation soaked in whisky heritage and known the world over for its fine, smoky malts and smooth blends, why are we suddenly developing a taste for gin?

And where might it all leave our national drink? 

According to Fiona Laing, author of Gin Clan, a new book that explores Scotland’s flourishing gin sector, the spirit’s renewed success is rooted in the past but with some very modern ingredients. “History, whisky, expertise and Scotland’s natural resources all play their part,” she says. 

“There is an energised community of gin makers who love exploring the rich botanical world and creating enjoyable flavours.

“Most importantly, there is a market made up of increasingly knowledgeable gin drinkers who seek out new experiences, alongside a more general thirst for consumable products that reflect the place they come from and respect for artisan skills.”

Scotland’s “gin fling” is not entirely new: Scots have enjoyed a gin tipple since the mid-17th century, when Dutch ships laden with jenever – the juniper spirit that preceded gin – traded at Leith, Dundee and Aberdeen

By 1782, some 2.5m gallons of jenever was arriving on Scottish shores, while juniper was so abundant across the Highlands that large quantities were being sent back across the North Sea to make more of the spirit. 

While today three of the world’s best-selling gins – Gordons, Tanqueray and Hendrick’s – are all produced in Scotland, it is dozens of small, artisan producers using inventive, sometimes bizarre, combinations of flavours, and sustainable approaches to gin-making, that have ignited the modern market. 

Laing points to Esker Spirits on Royal Deeside, where the gin was originally concocted in a garden shed and is laced with local rosehip, pink peppercorn, heather and sap tapped from silver birch trees. 

A zero-waste policy sees packaging reused and waste going to local farmers’ fields. The sustainable approach is at the heart of Arbikie Distillery in Angus, which emerged from a farm loaded with ‘wonky’ potatoes that supermarkets didn’t want. 

Its gin contains 6kg of spuds in each bottle, while at Crossbill’s Hatchery at The Barras in Glasgow, which sources its juniper from limited stocks left in the Highlands, a botanical greenhouse is to be heated with waste from the distilling process. 

“We have this ingenuity along with people who are using the land around them to create their gin,” adds Laing, pointing to Dundee Gin Company’s use of Mackay’s Dundee Orange Marmalade and Dundee cake in its gins.
Deliquescent from Kelso in the Borders is among the more unusual – there’s a colour-changing rose gin, a parma violet version and, for Burns Night, a haggis gin. 

Some gin makers – such as Crafty Distillery in Newton Stewart – have taken inspiration from whisky rivals and positioned themselves as tourist attractions in scenic spots, offering tours and special bottles to take home as holiday souvenirs.

Crafty, along with Glasgow-based McGin with its wry label depicting a woman mixing her gin in a bathtub and Glean Mor’s traffic cone-topped Duke of Wellington statue on its Glasgow Gin, has embraced a ‘punk’ style to set it aside from others which draw on folklore, historical figures and landmarks for creative inspiration. 

And, it seems, British drinkers are enjoying their tipple. Last summer more gin was sold in Britain than during the summers of 2014 and 2015 combined, while the spin-off artisan tonic market is also thriving. 

Market analysis from Vinexpo/IWSR released last month suggests the gin sector will grow by 12.8% by 2022, and gin is so popular that the Office for National Statistics has added it back to the basket of goods used to measure inflation after a 13-year absence. 

Are whisky producers worried? 

In some cases, Scottish gins are laying the groundwork for a new generation of whisky.

Faster to produce, fledgling whisky distilleries, such as Dingwall’s community-owned Glenwyvis Distillery, are selling gin to provide income and develop their brand while they patiently wait for their first barrels to mature.

Graeme Littlejohn, SWA director of strategy and communication, says: “The UK is the fourth largest global market for Scotch Whisky.

This is despite the UK being a highly competitive drinks market and the high duty rate that means consumers pay £3 in every £4 spent on Scotch in tax. 

“Scotch Whisky has to mature for at least three years, so many new distilleries are making gin while waiting for their whisky. But the spirit we produce in Scotland is worth the wait, which is why 41 bottles of Scotch Whisky are shipped overseas from Scotland every second.”

Meanwhile, Laing says gin makers are continuing to innovate, with the focus on label and bottle design as important as the spirit inside, turning empties into collectables.

“Some empty bottles are so attractive, they’re ending up as lampshades,” she adds. 

At Pixel Spirits, based in North Ballachulish, Lochaber, spicy Devil’s Staircase gin, with its warm notes of cardamom, cassia and nutmeg, has a label illustrated by Iain McIntosh, best known for his Alexander McCall Smith book covers. 

While Strathmashie Distillery in Newtonmore, perhaps tops even that, with a striking original illustration by Robert McGinnis, the American artist behind scores of movie posters, including Breakfast at Tiffany’s, on its gin.

As for the future, Laing predicts a new wave of flavours to keep the spirit on drinkers’ radars. “Flavoured gin has driven over half the growth in gin, despite only making up one-fifth of total sales,” she says. “Some say the next trend will be savoury flavours.”