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10 Mar 2020

Raw nature, distilled

A bottle of gin sits on a log in a woodland, next to a pine cone.
Created as our conservation charity celebrates 25 years of caring for Mar Lodge Estate, our small-batch gin is flavoured by the UK’s largest National Nature Reserve.

Made with botanicals foraged from the wild heart of the Cairngorms, Pinewood Gin is a special distillation of this landscape. Plus, every purchase supports our efforts to protect the Caledonian pinewoods of Mar Lodge Estate and restore them to their former glory.

The Great Wood of Caledon

Caledonian pinewood is an iconic and much-loved natural (and cultural) habitat of the Scottish Highlands. Statuesque ‘granny’ pines are scattered through the glens, many over 200 years old. To wander among these characters is an almost spiritual experience. The pinewood supports species such as pine marten, red squirrel, golden eagle and the rare and diminutive twinflower.

But this woodland has been through hard times. Exploitation for timber, clearance of trees to create grazing land and centuries of heavy grazing stifling natural regeneration have resulted in a woodland that is a shadow of its formal self. Reduced in extent, fragmented and with an aging and dying population of trees, its future was looking grim.

Excitingly, we’re turning this around at Mar Lodge Estate National Nature Reserve. The estate holds nearly 1,000 hectares of Scotland’s Caledonian pinewood, which is under national and international protection. A long programme of deer management has significantly reduced grazing pressure, and young naturally seeded pines are now emerging from the heather in and around the forest. A recent survey indicated that the total area of natural regeneration on the estate was 835 hectares, meaning that the overall area of the precious Caledonian pinewood on Mar Lodge Estate is set to double.

Scots pine seedlings are now appearing everywhere, and these are being joined by other species such as birch, rowan and willow. Tree seedlings are creeping up the slopes to break the skyline, giving a hint of the exciting potential for this forest to lock up carbon and climb the mountains. In a time of climate emergency, the value of restoring and expanding this woodland is all the more important.

A bottle of gin is balanced on a pine log, with a heather-filled clearing in the background.

Ori-gin-al idea

Restoring the Caledonian pinewood is a long-term project ... and also an expensive business. We’re always on the lookout for creative opportunities to raise funds to support our conservation work – and that’s where gin comes in! The idea crossed our minds about whether we could use the pinewood in a sustainable way to raise the profile of this habitat and hopefully generate funds to conserve it. The gin market is massive and particularly buoyant just now. The pinewood is rich in plants, many of which could form potential botanicals for a gin, not least the essential ingredient of juniper. We put the two together and the idea of Pinewood gin was born.

A still of gin, with botanicals floating on top of the liquid

Be-gin-ning development

Let’s face it: here at Mar Lodge Estate, we knew little about gin production! So rather than creating an onsite gin distillery, we thought it more sensible to work with a local distillery. They’d have the production knowledge and a firm grasp of the gin market. Glenshee Craft Distillers (who also produce Persie gin) were really keen on the idea and were highly supportive of the conservation work at Mar Lodge Estate – they seemed the perfect fit for our Pinewood gin.

The first stage was recipe development. Gin should contain juniper of course, but what other flavours from the pinewood did we want to include? Botanical selection was influenced by flavour but also by the availability of plants and the challenge of collecting them. We clearly didn’t want to impact on the populations of any of the plants on the estate. A range of potential botanicals were collected by Mar Lodge staff. These were then distilled individually at a micro scale, and only botanicals that had a great flavour were selected. This initial selection was then whittled down further to about eight, based on how abundant the plants were and the time required to collect them.

Simon from Glenshee Distillers then performed his distilling wizardry and came up with a gin recipe that produced a stunning, flavoursome gin that captured the essence of the pinewood. The final Pinewood gin contains wood sorrel and bog myrtle, which bring floral aromatics to the nose. Birch and Scots pine lend a herbaceous savoury body, while blaeberries bring a warming honey-rich sweetness to the taste. It’s a delightful gin with an important purpose.

The next challenge was to scale up and distil 60 litres and then 300 litres in the copper stills at Glenshee Distillers. With a concurrent process of bottle and label design completed, we now have a gin to sell!

Buy Pinewood gin and help to restore the Caledonian pinewoods

The world is in an environmental crisis but we can turn the tide by acting locally. If you value the Caledonian pinewoods of Scotland and appreciate the need to conserve and restore them for the future, please buy a bottle of Pinewood gin. Every purchase supports our efforts to protect the Caledonian pinewoods of Mar Lodge and restore them to their former glory. Pinewood gin can be purchased from the National Trust for Scotland online shop directly or by clicking below. It’ll also be available in Trust shops at various properties across Scotland, and we hope that it will be available in shops, pubs and hotels in the Cairngorms and further afield over the coming year.

Please recommend this fantastic gin to your friends, and please come and visit the glorious pinewoods at Mar Lodge Estate to see them on their road to recovery.

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