It seems to have been a summer of ‘Scots wha hae’. From the Commonwealth Games to the independence debate, the media has been awash with all things Scottish.
As a half Scot, and this is in no way to be confused with half wit, I have been keeping half an eye on events North of the border. And, as a long term resident of England (my other half is Irish), the only lasting effect of a ‘yes’ vote would, to my mind, have meant being forever condemned to a Southern-dominated Tory government. If that’s not enough to drive a man or woman to strong drink I don’t know what is.
This brings me to the real subject of this article, namely, strong drink. A subject close to nearly every Scottish heart, even a half one. Written by Robbie Burns, ‘Scots wha hae’ translates as ‘Scots who have’. If you thought that it rained only whisky in Scotland, you’ll be surprised when I tell you that ‘Scots wha hae gin’! Yes, Scotland is fast becoming a producer of small batch ‘boutique’ gin. While it might not save an independent Scotland from economic ruin (if the stories spread by the British establishment were to be believed), it will certainly add to the GDP.
In furtherance of this vital export drive, I was invited to a ‘forage2glass’ event hosted by Scotland’s leading ‘boutique’ gin, Caorunn Gin. Caorunn is a small batch gin distilled in the whisky-soaked region of Speyside in the Highlands and infused with five Celtic botanicals foraged from the local hillsides to give it a uniquely Hibernian hue. In order that I might experience this singular forage-to-glass process, I was invited by Caorunn to forage, with other scribes, for the ingredients that make it. I must declare an interest here in that I have been aware of Caorunn for sometime and that it is a firm favourite in the Hamilton household (why, Mrs Hamilton and the bairns will imbibe nothing else). And so, with great expectations, I trudged out early on a dreich* Saturday morning, armed only with the weekend Guardian, in search of gin galore, or at least a goodie bag containing gin galore (*’dreich’ a Scottish word meaning dull or dreary, usage: ‘the no campaign is a very dreich affair’).
After a warming coffee at Manchester’s 22 Redbank and an equally warm welcome from the Caorunn team, we were driven to a secret location in the hills above Rochdale to begin our foraging adventure. Our guide was the informative and entertaining David Winnard of Discover the Wild, who showed the *missing collective noun* of journalists and bloggers around the increasingly wet landscape, and revealed the hidden history of the dandelions, coul blush apples, bog myrtle, heather and rowan berries that make up the cool celtic taste of Caorunn. His enthusiasm seemed to keep the chill from our bones. In fact, caorunn is the celtic for rowan berry which has a five star pentagram at the base of the bright red fruit and forms the distinct five star symbol on every bottle of Caorunn gin. The rowan tree was often grown in Scottish gardens to ward off evil spirits. I have to say it didn’t work last week when David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband all turned up in Scotland on the same day.
With our foraging done we were ferried back to Manchester for lunch at The Lawn Club. The goodie bag didn’t contain as much gin galore as I had hoped for but Mrs Hamilton and the bairns made do with the shop-bought Caorunn I picked up on the way home and the clan went to bed happy. A picture indeed that Hogarth himself couldn’t do justice. Despite the weather, it was, all in all, a very enjoyable day, the company as cultured as you could find and even The Guardian survived, missing only a mushy few front pages no doubt full of news about the Scottish Referendum.