Growing with GinJenny McKerr, The Wee Farm Distillery.
Published: 18th March 2019
Our Growing with Gin editorial feature series looks at the growing number of Scottish Gin makers who have diversified their business or changed their career path to seek new opportunities in the world of Scottish Gin. First in the series we meet Jenny McKerr, farmer and distiller at The Wee Farm Distillery, which is based in South Lanarkshire.
What’s your name and what’s your background?
I’m Jenny McKerr and I’m originally from Paisley. I went to SAC Auchincruive to study agriculture and worked on farms across the U.K. and NZ before taking on a career in the Scottish beef industry for 13 years. I’m an operations manager at heart and love nothing better than getting involved to produce the most premium products. I’m married to Stephen, he runs his own agricultural fencing business, and together we manage a small beef and sheep farm that we were fortunate enough to buy two years ago in South Lanarkshire. We also have 3 daughters that keep us on our toes.
What made you want to start up a distillery and make Scottish Gin?
I believe you spend too much time at work to do something you don’t enjoy and decided my dream job title would be Gin Farmer! I love the Scottish food and drink industry and felt we had more to offer from our wee farm. So I found myself a distilling mentor and started converting a former milking byre on the farm in January 2018 into what would eventually become The Wee Farm Distillery.
How has farming influenced your Scottish Gin?
I wanted to produce a gin that celebrates the spirit of Scottish farming and also compliments Scotch Beef. We added pink peppercorns, allspice, heather and thistles to our gin recipe to enhance the food pairing qualities. We recently launched our Farmer Strength Gin which is bottled at 57% abv – it will keep you warm from your head to your toes! In April last year, I was trying to bring the sheep indoors through the heavy snow whilst considering brand names for the gin we were in the process of developing. It was baltic, miserable and the ewes were lambing. It was then that it occurred to me about the resilience of farmers, who without question prioritise their livestock over a lifestyle. Drovers Gin was born alongside several lambs that night!
What are some of the challenges you encountered whilst establishing your distillery?
The biggest challenge that I have faced is persevering through the licensing and paperwork requirements of running a distillery. As a one woman business, I can’t delegate the dull bits. I’m solely responsible for everything and need to keep on top of it all. That and the pipes occasionally freeze, which stops me from running the still!
Other than gin what other produce do you make on the farm?
We are first generation farmers and don’t have a footprint to follow as to how we manage our farm. Therefore we have began our shorthorn x wagyu beef breeding programme as well as rearing Scotch lambs from the hill ground. We also produce gin based liqueurs from the distillery and have produced over 40 flavours using traditional methods.
Do you think diversification for farmers is important?
I think diversification is essential to sustainable farming whilst food remains too cheap in the U.K. There’s so much opportunity to run a diverse rural business that doesn’t have its entire profitability affected by the weather. Scottish farming has an amazing story to tell and diversifying into food and drink tourism can bring consumers direct to the farm. There’s no better way to sell your produce!
Do you think more could be done to help farmers diversify into the spirits category?
Each farm is unique and there’s lots of support to diversify, lead by Scottish Government. Diversification needs to be into an area that the farmer is passionate about. I’m sure they’d be plenty of farmers keen to get involved further in the spirits category!
How important do you think Scottish Gin is as part of Scotland’s bigger food and drink offering?
I don’t see the demand for gin slowing down anytime soon. There’s a massive opportunity for distillers to collaborate and take Scottish gin worldwide into premium markets. Gin has the potential to pair with certain foods to create Scottish gin dining experiences therefore I think the opportunities are huge within the food and drink sector for the gin category.
What do you think makes Scotland’s food & drink special?
We’ve got the landscape and nature’s larder but there’s more to it than that. There’s the people, passion and pride that goes into producing Scottish food and drink. We have a brilliant culture in Scotland, that if we commit to doing something, we will put everything we’ve got into making it the best. You can’t compete with that mindset, that’s what makes our industry special.
What do you think makes Scottish Gin ‘Scottish’?
Simply made in Scotland is Scottish enough for me.
What other food & drink producers in Scotland do you admire?
There’s so many great producers! The ones that really stand out for me are Craigie’s Farm shop for successfully diversifying, Brewdog for relentless growth and Arbikie for adding value to their farm produce and owning their supply chain.
Where would you like to see your farm and distillery in 10 years time?
I would like to see our farm as 5 star rated on Tripadviser for attractions in Central Scotland. Visitors will be able to source premium meat, gin and learn about food production. We will be able to offer accommodation for visitors who want enjoy a Scottish food and drink experience. Our 30l still Morag will be retired and we will be running a 200l still to keep up with worldwide demand for Drovers Gin. We will grow botanicals and fruits sustainably on the farm for gin production and wild garnishes. Top chefs will source their beef, lamb, venison and gin from our Wee Farm in Climpy.
You can learn more about The Wee Farm Distillery here.