Last Updated on August 20, 2021
A great alternative for a “school night”
Scotland’s long history and unchallenged prowess in whisky production is a global given. With the rise in popularity of gin consumption, so it’s not surprising that those fine Scottish noses and pallets have turned their gifts to gin production. NB Gin, produced in North Berwick and The Secret Garden Distillery in Edinburgh are two of a new generation of Scottish distillers who are working with their landscape’s natural resources to create wonderful flavours and award-winning spirits.
Sales of gin have rocketed during the pandemic as many turned to the spirit for an early evening sundowner, a pre-dinner aperitif or a post-work treat. And emerging from lockdown, many of us, started to look for alternatives to continue this new tradition but to wean us off “the hard stuff”. The herbal alchemists have responded to this with a new line of low and even zero alcohol gins perhaps more accurately described as “distilled botanicals”.
When looking for low or non-alcoholic drinks, it should be borne in mind that even drinks labelled “alcohol-free” can contain traces. There are three drink labels in the UK that apply to this sector: alcohol-free which contain no more than 0.05%ABV (i.e., a trace); de-alcoholised with no more than 0.5% ABV and low alcohol containing no more than 1.2% ABV.
So, when looking at an alternative to a regular gin, the question is: how low can you go?
Established in October 2017, The Secret Garden Distillery is famed for creating hand-harvested natural gins from botanicals grown in their very own Secret Herb Garden at the foot of the Pentland Hills in Edinburgh. For their Alcohol-Free Distilled Botanicals 0%, they have used their extensive knowledge to replicate the flavours you would expect from a London Dry Gin without the alcohol. There are no added sugars, artificial colourings, flavourings, additives or preservatives. As they put it: just nature distilled.
Without a mixer, you can certainly taste the botanicals: juniper, coriander, yarrow, cardamom, calendula and lemon balm. The liquid lacks the body, gin’s viscosity, that alcohol provides but served with a mixer, a good quality light tonic, it produces a floral and fragrant alcohol-free drink.
Launched in 2020, The Secret Garden Distillery’s Alcohol-Free Distilled Botanicals 0% is produced in small batches. Once a batch has gone, it may be some weeks before the next is ready for release. Each release is unique, but of course, the quality and care that goes into making it is always the same. You can register with The Secret Garden Distillery to receive news of their latest releases as well as their excellent blog.
If you’re not quite ready for 0%, then NB Distillery’s “School Night” might be more to your taste. NB’s London Dry Gin has been voted the Best London Dry Gin in the world and also has a royal seal of approval having been served at both the Queen’s 90th birthday and Harry and Megan’s wedding celebrations. “School Night” is a limited edition, low alcohol-based spirit or “Distilled botanical essence” at 21% abv, that’s 50% less alcohol than their regular London Dry Gin.
For the purist, the only way to drink your London Dry is neat. A tot of School Night provides all the flavour and body of a regular gin, but the lower alcohol restricts the tell-tale “burn”. As you would expect, with a light tonic it loses body, but hey, that’s the perfect gin and tonic for a mid-week treat – just like it says on the bottle! And the School Night bottle alone will prove a talking point, being a black fully recyclable cardboard “frugal bottle” – a sustainable alternative to a traditional glass bottle made from 94% recyclable paperboard.
“School Night” is available on NB Distillery’s website as £25 per bottle or £45 for two.
For more low and no alcohol “gin” reviews check our gimlet mocktail recipe and No-Lo taste test of three more options.