Below Edinburgh’s boutique Rutland Hotel in the city center lies a clever pun of a bar. Fittingly, it invites its guests to “disappear down the rabbit hole”, a reference to a cherished children’s story that spins a few puns of its own.
The Heads and Tales Bar, Edinburgh’s newest gin joint, refers to the two parts of distilled spirit that aren’t fit for consumption: the head and the tail. Obviously, the bar’s owner, Bruce Hamilton was more interested in telling stories than a weak, discarded spirit. And like many characters in Alice in Wonderland, an experience at Heads and Tales is a bit mad, for when you sip from your “drink me” glass and begin to look around, you’ll notice there is much more to your surroundings than just a bar. The venue also houses the Edinburgh Gin Distillery, home to the eponymous gin.
Edinburgh Gin is a product of the Spencerfield Spirit Company which sits on the Spencerfield Farm just over the Forth Road Bridge from Edinburgh. Distilleries have existed on the plot since 1795 and it has been producing two whiskies - Sheep Dip and Pig’s Nose - since as far back as 1970. It wasn’t until the late noughties that Spencerfield owner Alex Nicol began producing Edinburgh Gin, which has since added Raspberry and Elderflower to its product line.
From the cozy lounge chairs at Heads & Tales you are introduced not only to bartenders like Emma the Puerto Rican Batgirl, but also to the stills, Flora and Caledonia. The pot and column stills hail from Germany and more specifically, Carl Artisan Distilleries and Brewing Systems near Stuttgart. Each still produces a gin of unique flavour allowing the distillery to experiment and create products of distinct natures.
Despite Heads & Tales sharing a bunny’s abode with the Edinburgh Gin Distillery, the bar remains democratic in its drink offering, stocking a wide variety of gin and listing thirteen gin cocktails on the menu made with different brands. The expert staff concoct a new menu every season and the gin cocktails, as well as the seven cocktails with others base spirits, are all created in-house. The staff also makes syrups and infusions with local ingredients to spice up their cocktails just as Edinburgh Gin’s signature botanicals such as pine, heather and milk thistle come from Scotland.
For the curious gin drinker, the distillery organizes distillery tours including the chance for visitors to make their own gin for a mere £75. You can also join the Gin Club which, on Sunday afternoons, hosts a variety of events including food pairings suggestions, cocktail masterclasses and talks on the history of gin.
When you’re next in Edinburgh, prepare yourself for a little madness and wander down the rabbit hole. What awaits you is a gin wonderland.