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Just the tonic: Lunch with Leith Gin

Edinburgh’s rich history of distillation, trade, and pursuit of good times has for centuries provided fertile ground for spirit manufacturers and consumers. Leith’s edgy vibe is an increasing magnetism for modern entrepreneurs, and the area’s food and drink industry is continuing to thrive.

Taking into account my fondness for gin-drinking, good times, and of course Leith, I jumped at a recent invitation to the launch of Gleann Mór Spirits’ Leith Gin at Malmaison. The spirit (both inside my glass and outside of it) did not disappoint – and I decided to meet up with co-founder Karin Mair to find out more about the whats, hows and whys behind her new venture.We kick off with the obvious. What brought about the invention of Leith Gin?

“It’s not a very sexy story, so I apologise”, Karin says.

“Basically, we [Karin and her husband] were pondering why Leith didn’t have its own gin – and after much googling, and the opening of a second bottle of wine, we decided to come up with our own.”

What a woman. All hail gin, Karin, and Leith. What a trio.

As co-founder of GM Spirits – a company who retail whisky, cognac and gin – including Firkin Gin and their signature London Gin – Try Me… Naked!, Karin’s got a pretty extensive CV behind her when it comes to the bevvy market. But she’s refreshingly unpretentious about it.

We talk about the tendency some spirit manufacturers have to “over gild the lily”.                                                                 leith gin cropped

“At the end of the day, gin’s gin. You either like it or you don’t.  Leith Gin is not a poncey gin. It’s not made with 35 different botanicals and it hasn’t been distilled dozens of times.

What it has got is a good taste balance and good quality. For me, that’s what’s important.”

Despite its lack of ponce, it still took the husband and wife duo nine months to come up with a blend they were totally satisfied with. “It was like making a baby”, Karin says, “including all the morning sickness.” But it was all worth it, because the end product did indeed deliver a bundle of sheer joy – and perhaps a sleepless night or two.

Karin wanted to include citrus notes in the gin, both because it tastes, well, delicious, but also as a subtle nod to Leith’s maritime history – something the gin’s nautical branding more heavily alludes to. It’s known that sailors used to suffer from scurvy, a condition caused by a deficiency in Vitamin C – so the flavourings of the gin are citrus-inspired, with hints of orange and lemon.

While I’m a big gin fan, I’m boringly predictable when it comes to mixers – almost always using tonic. For Karin, this is a big no-no (woopsy). Instead, she’d recommend simply experimenting.

And – importantly! – what about her favourite gin garnish?

This was obviously a very “newb” question to ask, since of course it depends, as Karin patiently explains, on the gin you’re drinking. But a good tip we discussed was using frozen fruit as a garnish – one I’ll definitely be trying for my next gin at home!

Keep up to date with Leith Gin by following them on Instagram @leithgin. Don’t forget to check out some of their other stuff  here. The aesthetic of that Firkin Gin bottle alone is enough to make it onto my shopping list…

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