A day in the life of...Walter Micklethwait, Inshriach.
Published: 24th November 2018
Our exclusive ‘A day in the life of’ editorial feature series provides a short and snappy insight into a day in the life of someone who works in the Scottish Gin sector. This might be a distiller, shop owner or bar owner, but all play a role in the story of Scottish Gin.
Third in the series is Walter Micklethwait of Inshriach. Walter is a man of many talents. Builder. Sheep Herder. Chef. Joiner. Driver. Costume Designer. Cocktail Slinger. Dad. Forager. Festival Organiser. Drinks Maker. Hot Tub Technician. Shed of the Year Winner. Yurt Fixer. Nestled on the Inshriach Estate in Aviemore, the Inshriach Distillery is like no other distillery in Scotland. A visual treat for the senses, the distillery is part of the ‘shed’ that Walter built himself. The ‘shed’ was crowned ‘Shed of The Year’ in 2015 by George Clark, architect and TV presenter on Channel 4 . Walter produces Inshriach 43% Original Speyside Dry Gin and Inshriach 57% Navy Strength Speyside Dry Gin. Besides his signature and navy strength gin, Walter also contract distills a number of other Scottish Gins.
Walter and his family run a number of businesses on the estate, including the estate’s guest house Inshriach House, a number of quirky off grid camping facilities including a Yurt, a 1954 Fire Service Lorry converted to accommodate a double bed and sitting room, a modernist Bothy, which was part of the Bothy Project and more.
Walter is humble, genuine, fun, talented, hard working, creative, and as our mums would say, ’a good egg’. With a busy working estate to take care of, along with a growing family, we caught up with Walter to discover what a day in the life of Walter Micklehwait’ looks like… and it did not disappoint!
Sometime between 3am and 5am.
I wake to the sound of snorting. The twins are now 4 months old. I pretend to be asleep while Lizzy feeds and cleans and heroically deals with whatever has happened in the night.
Sometime between 6am and 7am.
Nellie is 2 and has started singing in the next room. ‘Blah blah black sheep hab you any wooo.’ A pause. ‘Daddeee. Daaaaddeeee.’ The day is officially underway. Even though we have nearly three hours in hand we are probably going to be late for nursery.
Coffee and Porridge. Cook lunch for Nellie. Package up any gin that sold yesterday. Lizzy attempts to finish a haircut while Nellie is distracted by her porridge. Nellie insists on dressing herself and appears ready for school as a cross between batman and a bunch of flowers. Still with half a haircut. She refuses to wear shoes again.
All three kids come with me for the school run so Lizzy can take the dog out and and check on the sheep. We have 150 blackface on the farm but that’s a bit much so we are rationalising the flock. Yesterday we took 40 sheep along on the school run, then went on to a sale in Dingwall. Then came home to find the gin for delivery was still on the kitchen table.
Morning meeting. Inshriach is first and foremost a hospitality business. The main estate house sleeps 18 and we use it for holidays, a smattering of weddings, quite a few photoshoots and an increasing number of workshops and retreats. We also have 2 yurts, a shepherds hut and a converted army truck. Then there is the bothy project doing weekly artist residencies and we have a little cottage on Airbnb. If all that is working properly I get to do something gin related. Dan and Claire live here and deal with the changeovers in the woods. Today, on a Thursday in November, there are only 2 but mid summer we might change the house on a Monday morning and still have 6 others to do, all by 3pm. That’s heavy but there might be nothing the next day. This week we have an easy crowd of friends in the house but they want to use the hot tub by the river at 6pm and then come for a gin tasting at 7.30pm before a chef in the house does dinner at 8.30.
10.30am – 10.50am
Meeting over, Claire and Dan head out to do changeovers so I pump the hot tub full from the river and set the first fire to heat it.
This is my 4 hour window. After 3 years of subcontracting our bottling I decided to build my own bottling line in an old wooden stable down on the farm. The first hammer was swung in May, 6 weeks before the twins arrived, and the building completely disintegrated. Between the business and the kids and everybody downing tools for 6 weeks to harvest Juniper we have somehow replaced the whole frame, had larch cladding milled, put on a new roof and it’s now insulated, breathable and nearly water tight. We are onto the last of the wiring, exterior lights, burglar alarm, cooker, gas, plugs and switches, interior cladding and plumbing but I have picked up some sexy mid century enamelled industrial pendant lights for the inside so I’m probably going to do those first. It’s going to be the nicest room on the estate. This represents investment and a plan and the future of the distillery. We will make it a bonded warehouse but it also means I can do liqueurs and absurdly short runs with whichever ingredients we can pick. We already make 2 gins for other people who are both much better at marketing themselves than we are. There are plans for 2 more.
Break for lunch and a bit of twin time having spent an hour looking for cable clips and wondering whether imperial and metric threads can be made to work together. I tell myself I am coming up with a plan but have actually achieved hardly anything.
12.30pm – 12.45pm
Walk off lunch by heading out down to the Spey. It is my turn to stoke the hot tub. Dan and Claire are still out on changeovers.
The salvaged larch cladding I am using for the interior turns out to be the perfect length and a beautiful colour even after 3 years in a field. Result. This spurs a rush of activity and I cut the timber to size for one interior wall.
I have fed the cables for the cooker and water heater and my kitchen is full of mid century lights – in pieces. I have ordered chains and ceiling hooks and apple green chandelier wire and a burglar alarm.
Down tools and go to the nursery to pick up Nellie. The last of the Rosehips are spot on ripe outside the nursery so I grab a bag full before Nellie finishes. This time last year the security people for the hotel next door reported a homeless man acting suspiciously in the bushes outside the nursery. Now they recognise me. I think the kids ought to be out picking things just so they engage with their surroundings. Nellie knows the difference between a Rosehip and a Raspberry and that mushrooms can give you a bad tummy.
Get home just as the guests for the yurt arrive. Shuffle seats so that myself, a couple, three dogs, a 2 year old and a bunch of bags can get in the land cruiser. Explain the bathroom and the kitchen and the distillery and the shop and the firewood as we pass through the yard. Get to the yurt, talk through the finer points of the sauna and the woodburner and politely ask that they don’t set fire to our saucepans. They are nice folk so I suggest they join in the gin tasting later on. While I’m out there I fire up the hot tub again.
Drop Nellie with her Granny and head back to the yard knowing I have until exactly 5pm to make some headway. Tidy the bar, put the lights on, check the music and the mixers and glasses and cocktails and the ice situation, move some pub benches around, and put the burners out. The distillery won Shed of the Year back in 2015 but it has come on leaps and bounds since then and is now a weird wild west looking set up with the still room, a speakeasy of a gin bar, a saloon with a piano and then a ridiculous shop. Around the yard is a collection of old cars and trucks (I have banned myself from touching any of them until the bottling room is done), a stage, and all manner of projects, materials and machines. It’s now an amazing and atmospheric setting for a party and they range from the short and impromptu (this evening) to venue rentals, barbecues and open days for 150 people with music and food and lots of set dressing. I’m only actually making gin on average 5 or 6 days a month so this helps it pay its way, and it’s pretty much the only promotion we do.
4.20pm – 4.50pm
I fire into the bottling room again and purposefully decide that moving tools around is the best use of my time. I pledge that tomorrow will be more constructive.
4.50pm – 5pm
Check the hot tub one last time. It’s hot.
5pm – 7pm
Tea time. Story time. Bed time for the kids. Its noisy and busy and hectic and will be for the foreseeable future. Lizzy has done an amazing job of getting the twins into some sort of routine so we now have everyone in bed by 7.30pm but they always have some surprises up their sleeves, or up their noses.
7.20pm – 7.30pm
Pause. Sit down. Breathe. Silence. The dog barks and I curse his insensitivity.
On a normal day this might be time to do some admin, or admit defeat and resort to Netflix. I just changed labels and am trying out smaller bottles and hoping to have new products ready by Christmas so I might have a couple of hours of coordinating, accounting, chasing up orders, figuring out boxes, designs, barcodes, deliveries and bits that need ordering for the bottling room. Plus trying to sell enough gin to pay for it all. Sometimes I cover the kitchen with sticky fruit instead. As a tiny operator I am not a priority for any supplier so often I just have to wait. I have no time whatsoever to do sales and I’m not very good at it so I’m always delighted when the gin sells itself and a decent order comes in.
Tonight it’s time to get back to the yard. It’s dark and the bar looks amazing with the lights on and the copper glinting in the half light. Thankfully nobody is here yet so I can tinker with some things, stick some jazz on and light the fires and candles.
The first hot tubbers come out of the darkness all up for a gin. I have some liqueurs to try out tonight, one made with Berberis and another with blackberries, cherries, blackcurrants and honey, and an infused gin with strawberries. This is my consumer testing session before I work out how to put them into production. Like the gin, everything in the liqueurs is either grown in the gardens here or within a few miles. I think I have the recipes figured out now. It’s fun tonight, jazzy and full of laughing and the gin goes down easy. Everybody knows the place already so I don’t spend a lot of time explaining the stills and the process and the ingredients. It’s different every time.
A bit later than planned the party winds itself up. Its a weekday for me and they are already late for dinner. I stand back and survey the scene as smoke curls up from the dying fire through the fairy lights, I slowly clear up outside but will deal with the bar tomorrow. I have had a gin or two and have a warm glow of pride at how it all looks and for the sheer entertainment this place has the capacity to bring.
I don’t think there is anywhere quite like it.
I’m going to bed.
A big thanks to Walter and his family for their hospitality and providing a unique insight into what it takes to run a family business in the Scottish Highlands.
You can learn more about Inshriach here.