Refreshing waters of Peebles are just the (gin and) tonic

Refreshing waters of Peebles are just the (gin and) tonic

In the Victorian age, people travelled from all over the country to stay at Peebles Hydro – and now, it’s become an attraction all over again thanks to its wonderful waters.

Peebles Hydro has launched a new gin, distillery and school, using water from its own hillside spring water from the rolling Borders hills behind the hotel, known as Shieldgreen, which has been supplying the hotel for almost 140 years.

There are four 1881 gins available – named after the year in which the iconic hotel opened – in two sizes of 70cl and 20cl, including London Dry, Pavilion Pink and Subtly Smoked. The fourth gin, Navy Strength at 57% ABV is stronger than the others at 40%, and is named after the Dutch sailors of the 18th century who were known to drink gin for ‘Dutch courage’ before going into battle.

The water isn’t just used to create four new gins – it’s been used to create a quartet of accompanying tonic waters – Tonic 81. All using the same water source, these include Premium, Light, Pink grapefruit and Elderflower.

Stephen Leckie, chairman and CEO of Crieff Hydro Family of Hotels, said: ‘The water we have here comes down from the hills behind us, and we pipe it in and make sure it’s drinkable, before we put it in a tank. It can then be used for the gin and the tonic. It’s all the same water. We send off two tonnes of water, and it comes back as 10,000 bottles of tonic!

‘The botanicals come from our own garden at the front, but in order to call it gin, it has to contain juniper, which isn’t the most pleasant flavour on its own, so we can add other botanicals. That’s helped us create the four types of gin.

‘Navy strength is bottled at 57%, so it’s seriously strong. During wartime, naval officers would be given gin and the sailors got rum. The gin naturally combusts above 57%. It would be kept with the gunpowder because even if the bottles got broken and it went into the gunpowder, it would still go off when needed.

‘The smoky gin is proving really popular on its own as it’s something different.’

At the peak of the hydropathic movement, it was this water which drew people in from all over the UK for its healing properties.

The launch of the gin school and distillery, on the site of what was the hotel’s original swimming pool, makes Peebles Hydro the largest residential gin school in the UK. The school features 26 individual copper stills and glass jars full of botanicals, including those sourced within the grounds of the hotel itself.

A tour can be taken around the distillery, in which visitors can learn all about the history of Peebles Hydro, all things gin and can get up close to the school’s copper still which makes up to 220 bottles of 1881 gin every day. Following the tradition of naming the gin still after the distiller’s daughter, Peebles Hydro 1881 gin still is named ‘Felicity’ after the daughter of Peebles Hydro general manager, Patrick Diack.

Budding distillers can also indulge in their own unique gin distiller experience, in which they can enjoy a distilling class, creating and crafting their very own gin. The experience doesn’t stop there as the school will keep each person’s unique recipe on file – meaning they can reorder their very own gin as birthday presents, wedding favours or for special occasions.

Stephen Leckie, chairman and CEO of Crieff Hydro Family of Hotels

The 1881 gin has been created by distiller Emma Millar, a graduate from the Brewing & Distilling MsC course at Heriot Watt University, together with Jamie Baxter, who is owner of Craft Distilling Services and who launched his first craft distillery in 2006. Jamie has worked in the food and drinks industry for around 35 years and in 2017 was named by the Daily Telegraph in their list of the 50 tastemakers changing the way we eat and drink.

Stephen  said: ‘We’re delighted that our dream of creating a gin school and distillery at Peebles Hydro has finally been realised. We’ve gathered an extremely talented team of experts to make the 1881 gin a reality and I am very proud of the final product.

‘Whilst gin is soaring in popularity and distilleries are opening all over the country, what makes our gin unique is that it uses the same source of water from the rolling hills behind Peebles Hydro that made the hotel such a draw for people all over the UK nearly 140 years ago when the hotel first opened. We’re excited to be introducing the 1881 gin as our house gin across the Crieff Hydro Family of Hotels.

‘Within the company, we consume around 1000 bottles of our premium branded gin ourselves, but we need to sell another 199,000 through retail, wholesale and the hotels.

‘Those who have tried it say they’ve liked it because it’s something different, with some especially liking the smoky, and others going for the Navy Strength, as not many produce it.’

To find out more about the 1881 gins and tonic waters and for prices and to purchase, visit

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