Big Beefys BiltongThe Gin Cooperative's Spirit of Craft editorial feature series.
Published: 29th May 2018
Our new editorial series Spirit of Craft takes a look at the diverse range of skilled artisan makers working across the Scottish spirits industry. Through our exclusive editorial features, we want to highlight the fantastic people and Scottish businesses operating in the gin and spirits world that don’t make gin or spirits, but have the same passion and dedication to their craft as the gin and spirit makers. We’ve seen first hand how these highly-skilled makers, designers and producers play a vital role in supporting and contributing to the spirits industry and all play a part in helping further Scotland’s reputation for quality and craft.
Big Beefys Biltong
Biltong is a South African delicacy made from dried beef. Biltong is said to originate from the time of the Dutch settlers who needed a way to preserve meat. By adding spices, herbs and botanicals, the meat was left to dry and with the use of spices, and often vinegar, kept the meat from going off. The Dutch introduced a variety of spices to the preservation process including pepper, coriander, and cloves, all of which are found in some gins.
It was a chance encounter by a Scotsman in New York – visiting a Canadian friend (there’s a joke or a Sting song in there somewhere) that led to an unlikely collaboration a few years later. A partnership that saw the combined efforts of two Scottish based artisan craft makers and resulted in a future King enjoying an excellent selection of Scottish Gin and Scottish Beef Biltong.
Colin Thain, the founder of Big Beefys Biltong, has worked as a chef for over 25 years and knows a thing or two about flavours, textures and presentation. With a passion for quality ingredients and knowledge of flavour combinations, Colin wanted to create Biltong flavours that would work well as a snack on their own or go well with a beer or drink.
Colin’s adventures in food have seen him travel across the globe visiting all manner of establishments from street food sellers in Asia to A La Carte dining in North America. Chances are Colin has seen it, tried it and taken note. And yet he hadn’t found a snack that would go well with his Gin & Tonic.
Working in some of the North-East’s most respected and loved restaurants and hotels, Colin saw the rise in popularity of gin. Being a spirit drinker himself and fan of craft beers, Colin enjoyed trying the new gins coming to market. Amongst the earliest Scottish Gins Colin enjoyed was Rock Rose Original Botanical Gin (to this day Colin’s favourite Scottish Gin is still the Rock Rose Summer expression along with Brooklyn Gin from the states).
It was while he was visiting friends and family in New York in 2009 Colin was introduced to Biltong. His friend’s father, Paul Geard, had lived and worked in Cape Town, South Africa, and over time picked up a few tips from the locals on how to make the best Biltong.
Upon his return home, Colin looked high and low for good quality Biltong and eventually settled on the notion that ‘if I can’t find it then I’ll make it’. In no time Colin had Paul’s daughter Theresa, who lives in Cape Town, send him a biltong dryer so he could create his very own artisan Scottish Biltong.
Colin had a few ideas of how Scottish biltong should be. It must be made using only the most beautiful cuts of silverside Scotch Beef. It must be prepared by hand and inspected before the drying process can begin. It must have a great taste and texture. Colin spent the next few months perfecting his recipes and honing the drying and curing times for the beef then launched Big Beefys Biltong. With his range of Scottish biltong, which includes original, chilli and honey mustard, Colin attended a number of farmers markets and foodie events. At every event his biltong sold out.
Big Beefys Biltong quickly gained repeat and loyal customers and saw Colin spending up to 18 hours a day prepping so he could fulfil his orders. With regular customers at both events and buying online from his web shop, Colin decided to try something a little different. With a love of Gin, Colin had the idea to try a batch of biltong that was marinated in Rock Rose botanical gin.
Colin said “I wanted to try something a little different and knew my biltong was a great snack that worked really well alongside a gin and tonic. I’d met the founders of Dunnet Bay Distillery, Martin and Claire Murray, who produce Rock Rose Gin at an event and really liked their passion and enthusiasm for Scottish produce. The finished biltong was great – it had the floral taste of the Rock Rose Botanical Gin but still had all the qualities of good biltong – texture and flavour. I sent them some samples to test and they really enjoyed it.”
“A while later Martin and Claire told me they had a special guest coming to visit their distillery to celebrate its one year anniversary and that they were putting together a very special hamper for their visitor. His Royal Highness Prince Charles Duke of Rothesay was the special guest. From what I heard the Duke of Rothesay had a great time sampling the Rock Rose Botanical Gin and the biltong. I also heard that Martin and Claire had a hard time keeping their dogs away as the smell of the biltong was driving them nuts! I always wanted to create good quality, hand crafted biltong that stayed true to its original idea of drying and curing the meat but let me use my knowledge as a chef to create delicious flavours and textures… and something I could enjoy alongside my gin and tonic”.
Big Beefys Biltong has been nominated for a variety of awards and is recognised as being amongst the best Biltong in Europe, produced outside of South Africa. It’s still prepared by Colin from scratch and is dried in the original biltong dryer he was sent from South Africa. Colin takes great pride in using Scotch Beef which is PGI (protected geographical indication) certified, meaning the beef used to make Big Beefy Biltong is from herds that are born, reared and processed in Scotland. Colin sources his beef from selected farms that demonstrate best practice regarding animal welfare and natural production methods, which ultimately creates the best quality beef.
You can learn more about Rock Rose and Dunnet Bay Distillers here.