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2015 is the Year of Food and Drink in Scotland, and we can’t wait to share some stories with you of the rich and inspiring produce that comes straight from our nation’s larder. With a forestry twist, of course.

Throughout the year we’ll be highlighting some of the wonderful food and drink that’s inherent to Scotland’s woods and forests.

To kick off our celebration of everything edible, and in this case drinkable, we caught up with Jonathan Engels of Crossbill Highland Distilling to find out what makes their gin so closely connected to the Scottish landscape.

Juniper berries in a cup

A gin from the forest

Back in 2010, Jonathan was researching gin and discovered that when the Dutch invented Jenever (the precursor to gin, as we know it today) they imported juniper from the North East of Scotland and used it as the primary flavouring ingredient.

Delving a little deeper into the juniper population of Scotland, and with a little guidance from ourselves, Scottish Natural Heritage and Plantlife, Jonathan soon set his sights on the bountiful planes of Inshriach, near Glenmore Forest Park.

He discovered that the period of time between the juniper being harvested and being distilled greatly dictated the taste of the final product. Jonathan decided it was best to locate the still as close to the juniper source as possible so the berries could be distilled on the same day as harvesting.

And so the quirky Crossbill Highland Distillery was born…

Collage of photos of the wooden buildings at Crossbill Distillery

What makes your gin unique?

It’s the only gin to be made with 100 per cent Scottish Botanicals.

What inspired the name?

The Scottish Crossbill, which - like the juniper we use in our gin - can only be found in the Highlands of Scotland.

How does it taste?

Fresh…like a Highland forest.

Where is your distillery?

Inshriach, near Aviemore, in the Cairngorms National Park.

Does the location influence your product?

Both our botanicals - the juniper and the rosehip - grow in the birch forest and are in season at exactly the same time. So yes, the location completely dictates the ingredients.

Also as the location has some extreme temperatures, the ambient temperature has a huge effect on the distilling times and therefore the flavour of the spirit.

A copper still at Crossbill Distillery

What does Scotland’s Year of Food & Drink mean to you?

It’s very exciting, hopefully there will be a focus on the many great producers we have.

Tell us some of your favourite Scottish food and drink producers?

Scottish seafood is word class and squat lobsters are my absolute favourite. Fencebay in Ayrshire is great as they always seem to have supply. Also Davidson’s Butchers in Inverurie is great too - their pork from the family farm is tremendous.

How do you like to drink your gin? Any serving suggestions?

With tonic, or in a Martini, chilled with just a squeeze of orange zest.

Many thanks to Jonathan for chatting to us about his wonderful gin.

While abundant in the Highlands and in parts of the west, Juniper doesn’t grow as freely in other parts of the country as it does in Glenmore. In fact, we’ve been taking action to conserve and expand the juniper population across the country. If you’d like to know more about the work we do to conserve the juniper population, see our action for juniper PDF.

Watch this space for more blog posts showcasing Scotland’s magnificent food and drink…