The Future of Gin

Zak Shenfield, Head of Production at Strathearn Distillery.

Published: 5th December 2018

The Future of Gin is our latest editorial feature series, which asks Scotland’s gin makers and distillers their thoughts on what the future of Scottish Gin looks like. How important is sustainability, technology, geographical protection and provenance to them?

First up is Zak Shenfield, Head of Production at Strathearn Distillery. Zak has experience of making gin for a number of brands, including Strathearn’s Scottish Gin expressions, so we were interested to get his views on the future of gin.

What’s your name and what do you do?

My name is Zak Shenfield and I am the Production Director for Strathearn Distillery. I basically look after all things liquid.

Some have said we are currently in a gin bubble – would you agree or disagree and why?

Personally, I think we are in a gin bubble however, I believe it’s still growing and isn’t showing any signs of stopping yet. Sales are growing in the sector, social media is overrun with all things gin and people are loving all the new flavours and innovations that are on offer. It is a fun time for all things gin right now.

Where do you see Scottish Gin in 5 years’ time?

I see it bigger and better than it is now. I think we will have a better idea of what defines a Scottish Gin as well as have protection around the Scottish Gin sector as currently there are always debates about what aspect of a gin makes it Scottish.

What do you think the “next big thing” in the world of gin is?

This is a hard one as everyone is striving for something unique, some go for provenance, some for that one special ingredient that means something to them, but I think the big thing in gin will always be good quality traditional gin, that’s what has lasted for hundreds of years and that’s what will continue to last even if everything else starts to slow.

What would you like to see more gin makers doing in the future?

I would love to see more collaboration between distillers. Brewers are great at collaboration and they share ideas and techniques and come up with wonderful one-off beers for the loyal customers to try. It is also a great way of introducing your customer base to a new brand that you believe is as high quality as your own products. Distilleries have always been very secretive in the past and I believe this needs to change.

What are the long term plans for your business?

We will continue to grow and expand our business over the next few years to establish ourselves as one of the larger craft Scottish Gin brands. What is important to us at Strathearn is that more consumers become aware and appreciate the high quality of our gins and have wider access to them. We’re proud to be the original craft spirits distillery in Scotland, and we plan to continue to innovate and challenge what we can do.

Do you think technology will play a more important role in the distillation process?

I think for a lot of people technology is seen as a good thing in this industry, it helps streamline processes and aids with the consistency of products. However, it means less jobs in the local community and in my view a skill is lost. Most of the older generation of distillers that I have spoken to dislike the technology that is moving in because they have no one to teach and pass on the skills that they have. In certain aspects of the job technology is fantastic and makes life a lot cleaner and easier.

Can you give an example of innovation in your business?

We are Scotland’s original craft spirits distillery, being the forerunner of the new wave of distilleries now opening across Scotland. We were the first legal and commercial whisky distillery in Scotland not to have a spirit safe. We also use a caustic soda substitute for cleaning called Enzy brew. To most people this means nothing but to use a more environmentally friendly cleaning material is something we are very proud of.

Would you like to see a Scottish producer making contract NGS?

I think this would be fantastic but I think NGS is taken a bit far by some. For us, NGS is a blank sheet of paper for us to design on and nothing more. We want it flavourless and odourless so that when we add botanicals, they are what shine through. We buy NGS on a Quality vs Cost basis so if a Scottish producer can match our current quality and cost then yes we would switch to them as a supplier. If they could not match what we currently get then we would continue to use our current and trusted supplier.

Should gin makers have geographical protection for their gin?

Scotland should have geographical recognition and protection as Scotland itself is a brand. Sadly some “producers” have jumped on this and are using companies based in Scotland to promote a gin that has been produced elsewhere. Even if these gins are of good quality they are not Scottish and should not be allowed to pretend to be.

What support would you like to see available for the Scottish distillery and brewery sector?

I think our duty taxation system could be fairer to distillers in particular. Brewers already have a stepped tax system based on how much they produce yet all distilleries are treated the same and this makes it more difficult for the smaller companies to grow. We do understand how busy HMRC is and they do a very difficult job very well.

Are you finding gin consumers are more aware of provenance and want to know where a gin is made and who made it?

I think provenance is important to a degree as people want to know where a product comes from and that it is made in the correct way but I’d say a big part of what people want is to find genuinely honest and passionate people behind good quality brands… people who love what they do and come to work every day because they want to be there, not just because it’s a 9-5. If they can convey that to customers and get customers enthused and passionate about the brand, then you will have customers and brand ambassadors for life.

You can learn more about Strathearn Distillery here.

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