Tucked in a literal Fairytale house, like something out of Hansel and Gretel, Fairytale distillery makes gin up in the North West Highlands of Scotland. With a host of medals, their many gins are well regarded, read on to find out more about them as part of the celebration of Scottish gin that is International Scottish Gin Day:
*Full disclosure I was provided samples of Fairytale Distillery gins in order to write this blog and review them, all opinions remain my own*
The Fairytale village
It’s not just gin that is made in the Fairytale village tucked up at Ardelve, in the North West highlands of Scotland. They are joined by the Wee Bakery and Jo’s Pizza Parlour – so basically a complete meal all run by the same family. The distillery is a wooden building on a small island in a landscaped lochan and looks out across Loch Ailsh to Eilean Donan Castle and the Isle of Skye, a truly scenic placement.
The background to Fairytale Distillery
Fairytale Distillery was started by Thomas Gottwald after he and wife Manuela moved from their native Germany to Scotland in 2013. They brought a little of the magic of their homeland and the Brother’s Grimm fairy tales with them too. Manuela runs the Wee Bakery and Joline has her Pizza Parlour and is also involved in the gin as the distillery manager. It was Thomas’ interest in gin that was the driving force behind the distillery. He told me:
‘Initially I preferred whisky until I went on holiday in Scotland. There are a local Pub ” The Loch Duich” I had my first gin and tonic and so began my love of Gin’
Thomas’ love of gin was reinforced by becoming friends with a retired RAF Squadron Leader who had moved to the Highlands and was a gin lover too. This friendship burgeoned into a mutual desire to know more about gin distillation and began by attending gin courses. Working with consultant Roger Knight, and a wider team that includes two botanists – Martin and Stephan – Thomas and Joline made the fairytale come true in real life in 2019!The final member of the team that must be discussed is Tinkerbelle – the Fairytale still. Specially commissioned, the still was made by the renowned coppersmith Herr Schmidt in the Austrian Tyrol, doesn’t she look glorious?!
The gins marry the traditional ingredients with carefully selected botanicals and water from the spring fed burn, Alt Mor na Dornie, and have won many awards! (Even more since the graphic below). The range is also immense with new editions frequently added.
When I asked Thomas how he develops his new gins, he said it was constant experimentation and the drive to produce a perfect gin, which kept him creating! And he also admits to having favourites:
‘Our Highland Gin No 57s (both the Earthy and Fruity versions), with their higher ABV, create even more of the traditional gin taste’
Tasting Fairytale gins:
Since there are so many gins (12 at last count, but Thomas is always bringing out more), Thomas asked me for my gin preferences before sending me 3 samples to try. We settled on No.4 , No. 6 and No. 57 (because I like the stronger ABV too!). Highland Gins, whether they are London Dry method or a contemporary style gin, all have a distinctive piney resinous aroma.
No. 4 – Juniper & Allspice (London Dry style)
As well as the juniper and allspice, other botanicals include angelica seeds, lime zest and bitter orange.
On the nose the juniper makes it’s presence known with the pine notes, in addition there is lots of citrus and a dry woody note also. When tasting neat, I definitely get piney juniper and menthol notes, with a background of herbaceous flavours and almost floral top notes. I wonder if those are coming from the angelica seed?
With a Indian tonic water I smell more of the spice notes and I definitely get more of the citrus flavours on dilution, however some of the juniper is lost from the sweetness of the tonic. It makes a very palatable gin and tonic.
The garnish recommendation for No. 4 is rosemary or cassia bark, but I also think classic citrus would work here too. No. 4 has won gold at the World Spirits awards.
No. 6 – Kaffir Lime & Bitter Orange (Contemporary style)
As well as the kaffir lime leaves and bitter orange, other botanicals include angelica seeds, lime peel, allspice and juniper.
Neat the aroma is sweeter than No. 4, I think due to the citrus notes coming from the kaffir lime leaves. To taste this sweetness definitely comes through, with a supporting backbone of juniper and then ending with a dryness and slight spice at the end. This is a slightly softer style of gin than the London Dry style of No. 4.
With the same tonic, it’s a refreshing a zesty citrus led gin and tonic. In fact Fairytale distillery recommend garnishing with a slice of lime and drinking on the beach, I can get on board with that!
No. 6 has won double gold and Spirit of Year at the World Spirits awards, as well as Gold at the London Spirits Competitions.
No. 57 – Navy strength! (London Dry Style)
Using the same base botanicals of angelica seeds, lime zest, bitter orange, allspice and juniper, it’s amazing how the flavour changes when you bottle at 57% abv instead of 41%.
The nose is very resinous, I was surprised that this gin didn’t louche when diluted as it smells like it’s packed with juniper and citrus oils. It certainly packs a punch neat, with less resin oiliness coming through in the mouth, but instead a delightful smoothness, which doesn’t have any burn despite the proof. The taste lingers with satisfying length and leaves light floral and sweet notes at the end.
With tonic this gin retains it’s juniper notes and is definitely a traditional gin drinkers gin and tonic. I like how this retains so much flavour – a trait of most Navy Strength gins. And actually looking at it with tonic it has louched slightly (gone slightly cloudy) which denotes the high oil content held in the spirit. Fairytale distillery recommend garnishing with lemongrass or grapefruit to keep the gin and tonic fresh and aromatic.
No. 57 has won a well deserved Gold at the London Spirits Competition.
How to drink Highland gins:
Thomas is a traditionalist when it comes to drinking gin – he likes a gin and tonic with a 1 to 3 ratio of gin to unflavoured tonic.
However having tried the three gins above, I had to test them all in negroni cocktails (naturally!). I can say that the Highland Gin No 57 worked amazingly well as an equal parts negroni, so definitely try that one out!
- 25ml Highland gin no.57 gin
- 25ml Campari
- 25ml Sweet red vermouth
- Stir with ice and garnish with an orange peel
If you prefer a more contemporary style gin, then No. 6 with kaffir lime and bitter orange also works well to bring out the orange notes in a negroni. No. 4 I struggled to taste the gin as a negroni and had to double up on the gin, but if you don’t like such a strong flavour as the No.57 this is the negroni for you.
All of the Highland gins come in two sizes of bottle – 20cl and 70cl so you can try a small one first before committing to the full size. They also have a gift set with 3 20cl bottles – one of each of their Gold award winning gins, Nos 4, 6, 7 with 4 gold medals between them, or you can buy the full size bottles with 3 gin glasses.
Get involved at the Fairytale distillery:
The ultimate try before you buy, Fairytale distillery run two different tasting options if you visit (make sure to prebook & wrap up warm as they are hosted outside!)
- Gin tasting of 5 Highland gins is £15 per person
- Gin tasting of 9 Highland gins is £25 per person
The tastings are conducted safely outdoors under a gazebo. There is a minium of 2 people and max of 4 and they last for approximately 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the option chosen. They can be booked Monday through Friday, starting at 3 or 4pm. Thomas will also talk you through his distillation process and attendees will receive a discount on any gins they purchase.
If you want to go super gin geek, then you can also book to attend Gin School with Thomas. Lasting around 3 hours, the class is for 2 people at a time. It uses the award winning Highland Gin basic recipe and students are invited to add their own botanicals (with guidance from Thomas of course!). Then you get to take your own bottle of gin home at the end. Gin School is £80 per person.