MANY a dram will have been sipped over the weekend as Burns Night was celebrated worldwide. But while whisky may be Scotland’s favourite tipple, it is that most-English of drinks – gin – that is hot on its heels north of the Border.

Two-thirds of the UK’s gin is produced in Scotland; gin exports were worth nearly £400 million between January and October 2016, and total gin sales broke the £1billion mark last year.

So what was the catalyst? Well, it appears we have the HMRC to thank for the boost in craft distillers in Scotland. HMRC changed stance on still sizes, and was prepared to consider granting licences to distil spirits on stills smaller than 18 hectolitres. This, says Simon Fairclough, was the game-changer for budding craft distillers.

Scotland is a now a driving force in the gin industry, according to Fairclough, who is managing director of Glenshee Craft Distillers in Perthshire. He hails the forming of the Scottish Craft Distillers Association in 2014 as the launch pad for wannabe distillers, helping them grow the industry. Since then, more than 20 craft distilleries have opened and there are more than 100 different expressions made in Scotland.

There is even a Scottish tourist gin trail, created by the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, to showcase a selection of gin distilleries and bars.

Fairclough also founded Gin Club Scotland in 2014, with a mission to bring artisanal gin to the masses. It was the world’s first touring gin club – running tasting sessions the length and breadth of the country – and beyond – featuring 100 or more different gins, ranging from locally made, small-batch craft gins to imported brands.

“The future of gin in Scotland is bright. The number of craft distillers is rising in tandem with consumer interest in the category. Like whisky buffs, gin-lovers are promiscuous – building collections to represent different flavour profiles, provenance and brand stories. So, from a demand perspective, there’s every likelihood that domestic sales of gin will continue their upward trajectory,” says Fairclough.

Liam Hughes (above), chief of Glasgow Distillery Company which makes Makar gins, said: “Scotland obviously has a track record of producing high-quality spirits, so it is no surprise that as the interest in gin has risen, some of the best gins on the market have come from Scotland. Allied to that, we have an in-depth talent pool coming out of Heriot-Watt University, which has established itself as the premier distilling university globally.”

With more than 30 gin producers in Scotland and more due to open does the Scottish gin market face saturation? Hughes doesn’t believe so. “The future is very bright for high-quality products with provenance,” he adds. “Consumers want a connection with what they are drinking. Inevitably there will be winners and losers over time and possibly some takeovers or mergers, but the market has a long way to go just yet.”