For the Love of Gin

James & Deborah Mackintosh, Mackintosh Gin.

Published: 14th February 2019

For The Love of Gin takes a lighthearted look at what it takes to work with your better half when you’re in the business of Scottish Gin. With a large number of husband and wife Scottish Gin businesses, we wanted to find out how they met and how they literally fell in love… with Scottish Gin! What are the ups and downs of working with your spouse? Who also happens to be your business partner… and co-founder. Who makes the tea… fetches the chocolate biscuits… who puts out the wheelie bins? What does it take to build a life together and take the bold and brave step to make Scottish Gin together?

Third to take part in the series, were James and Deborah of Mackintosh Gin. Having met at 13 years old, they’ve been together for nearly 30 years. Three grown up children later, they decided it was time to embark upon their latest life changing adventure together, gin!

Who are the people behind Mackintosh Gin?

Deborah: We are James Mackintosh and Deborah Bowie, we have known each other for over 30 years, James is my best friend & soul mate. I am a mature student at University and James works in the Oil and Gas Industry.

How did you meet and how did you come to start your gin making journey together?

James: I grew up in Dundee but moved to Perth in my early teens. I moved onto the same estate and went to the same school as Deborah. We had mutual friends in common and at 13 years old we both worked a Saturday job in the local fish and chip shop together. We started dating when we were 16 years old, fast forward 28 years, 3 kids and a cat later and we’re just as in love now as we were back then!

Work took us away from Perth where we spent almost 20 years working abroad and up in the Highlands and down in Yorkshire. 6 years ago, we decided to move ‘back home’ but weren’t quite sure if we wanted to move to Perth or Dundee, so we settled on moving to Angus where we found a place on the Dundee/Angus/Perthshire border that we fell in love with.

Our love of gin began when we moved back home and discovered the growing gin scene in Scotland. We were buying a bottle or 2 (sometimes 3 or 4!) a month and loved having friends round to taste them with us. It was whilst at the Wee G&T Festival in Perth in 2016 that we first discussed creating our own gin. We spent 2017 ‘talking about it’ and doing some research but it wasn’t until March 2018 that we decided to throw ourselves into it and we then spent the next 6 months researching, flavour profiling and label designing before officially launching in October 2018.

What does it mean to work with your significant other?

James: Working together seems natural to us and after years spent working away from home it is a joy to come together and share our passion. We both have the same vision for the brand and working together just feels right. It is an added bonus having the love of your life as your business partner as we both instinctively know what the other is thinking and that the decisions we make we’ve agreed on.

We get our daughters involved where we can and they’ve started acting as Brand Ambassadors, which they enjoy. When they are home, we have them helping out with some of the labour such as building and packing boxes, moving stock and loading/unloading the van, which they don’t enjoy as much!

Which particular attributes do you each bring to the gin making business?

Deborah: I have several years experience of working in the third sector and working in finance, so I look after that side of the business. I’m the cautious one and the one that puts the brakes on if James gets too excited and tries to take on too much! James is the creative side and the drive of the business, he looks after our social media and is the one answering emails and having coffee, sorry I meant business meetings with retailers and wholesalers!

James: I work in a Project Management/Health and Safety role in my day job and I’m used to working with and to regulatory standards, which easily transfers over to the business. Deborah is the brains behind the business, she is the sensible one who keeps me in check!

What are the pros and cons of working and living together?

Deborah: Working and living together has its advantages in that we can choose what we work on and at what time. We can work into the evening after dinner too without fear of upsetting each other. The downside however is that it is difficult to take a break from the business as the conversation often comes back to it!

What topics cause the most arguments in the business?!

James: We have not had any arguments yet whilst working together, but it is still early and new to us both. We tend to find that any disagreements are easily resolved or discussed another time. We both fulfil different roles within the business which reduces the need for any arguing. If anything, the work-life balance can be an issue as I’ll work 24/7, even when we should be spending time watching a film together!

What advice do you have for other spouses considering making gin together?

Deborah: Working with your life partner can be very rewarding, and if you are determined to do it then just go for it. It is a good idea to establish roles for each other within the business which you’ll naturally fall into quite early.

James: Embarking on this journey with Deborah has been the best thing I’ve done in my working career and I wish we had done it years ago. Be cautious, talk to other gin producers and do your research fully before you go for it though. There is very little in the way of profit and the time, effort and capital investment required is immense. This really is a business that you do for the love of gin, and not one that you’ll do to get rich.

How do you escape the topic (or making!) of spirits?

Deborah: We’re lucky as we both have other things going on. I’m busy with my studies whilst James still works away for periods of time. We also have our daughters and their lives to think about, but it is difficult to really escape the business. Life is pretty much all about the gin just now, but we wouldn’t swap it for anything. We both have motorbikes that we like to get out on which is a welcome distraction from everything in life!

What does the term Scottish Gin mean to you?

Deborah: This is a debate that everyone has a different opinion on. For us we would term a Scottish Gin as a gin that has been distilled, bottled and packaged in Scotland. For myself as a consumer, the most important thing is that the gin is a good quality gin.

James: I agree with Deborah, a Scottish Gin should be distilled and bottled here in Scotland, however we know that there are some who don’t meet this criteria just as there are others who far succeed it. Transparency is key though, the consumer will accept a gin that doesn’t meet these requirements if they are open about it.

What’s next for Mackintosh Gin?

Deborah: We will continue to grow the business by exploring further trade options. We would like to find a distributer to work with who will push Mackintosh Gin to both the on and off trade. We’re exploring export options and we’re in talks just now with an importer in the USA with a view of making this a reality.

James: We are developing a liqueur and a rum, which we hope to release at some point this year. Once we’ve released them, we will look to develop a Navy Strength Gin. We’ll be releasing 20CL and 5CL bottles soon as they are often requested. We would like to grow the business to a size where we could take an income from it.

You can learn more about Mackintosh Gin here.

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