A Gin is Born

Peter Dignan, Lost Loch Spirits.

Published: 15th May 2019

We take a look at the world of contract distilling in our new editorial series, A Gin is Born. We speak with Scotland’s contract distillers to understand their process, involvement and go behind the gin still to find out the benefits and pitfalls of contract distillation.

Can you introduce yourself and tell us about your business and background?

My name is Peter Dignan and I’m one of the founding partners of Lost Loch Spirits. We are based on Royal Deeside on the outskirts of Aboyne, Aberdeenshire. I work in the oil and gas industry but during the downturn I decided to turn a passion into a business. With my business partner Richard Pierce we built the Lost Loch Distillery in 2017. We currently have three own-brand products and have the capacity to produce 100,000 litres per year across two stills.

What contract distillation services do you offer?

We offer recipe R&D, production facilities, bottling/labelling and storage plus shipping and packaging services. We also offer our clients the opportunity to get as hands on with the process as they wish. We believe in offering a home for a brand and our clients should be proud to say where their product is produced. We are also happy to share the knowledge and contacts we have amassed over the last few years.

What’s your process for creating a contract distilled gin?

Every client is different, some come with an idea and some require inspiration. We always let the client lead as it’s their product. The first thing we do is have a chat and work out what flavour profile they are looking for. From there we create a few different iterations of a recipe and start running/tweaking them until the client has a product they are happy with; the process then moves to up scaling then into full production.

What are some of the challenges you face when contract distilling a gin?

Not problems as such but when up scaling from the 2 litre run to a 400 litre run we find that some botanicals act differently due to the longer boil times. The more iterations we run the easier this becomes as when know how certain botanicals react during the upscale process.

What are the best bits about contract distilling a gin?

When you hit the sweet spot and you know you have just nailed the recipe, assisting people who have an idea realise that idea and getting to work with people who have a passion about what they are creating. It’s also a great feeling when you see the finished product on the shelf.

How involved are you in the development of the recipe for a contract distilled gin?

Every client is different but most of the time we are heavily involved with the development of the recipe. We always let the client take the lead in regards to the flavour profile they are trying to create and we assist in getting them to where they need to be.

Do you think contract distillation work has helped you develop your skills as a distiller?

Without a doubt, I’ve had the opportunity to run hundreds of different recipes and iterations which has given me the opportunity to see the distilled profiles of so many different botanicals. It’s all been in the name of R&D.

How important is contract distillation work to your business?

Contract distilling is important for us but it is only one aspect of our business. We only want to work with a limited number of brands/clients so as not to dilute the contract experience and service we offer.

Why do you think contract distilled gins are sometimes frowned upon?

I think that contract gins are often misunderstood. Often when people think of a contract gin they imagine a gin being produced on mass at an industrial distillery in England with no input from the brand owners. We find that most people want to get hands on with the production and clients spend lots of time with us at the distillery perfecting their gin. In my view a contract gin produced at a small craft distillery is no less an artisan product than an own-brand gin.

What advice would you give to someone who’s looking to get a contract distilled gin made?

Get your IP sorted and your domains secured before doing anything else. Shop around, the cheapest isn’t always the best and neither are the biggest. The most important thing is to be sure and drop us an email.

Do you think the consumer cares if a gin is contract distilled?

I think consumers care more about honesty. I don’t think they mind if a gin is contracted. People don’t like being lied to and they like to know the origin of the food and drink they consume.

Do you think all brand owners should make it clear where their gin is distilled and by whom?

Definitely; if brand owners feel they have something to hide they are probably producing their gin at the wrong distillery.

Many of the brand owners who have their gins contract distilled have long term plans to one day establish their own distillery. Would you say this is true of the brand owners you work with?

I would say it’s a 50/50 split. Building a distillery is a costly exercise and for some, being brand owners is more appealing than being distillery owners.

If a form of protection for Scottish Gin as a category is one day introduced do you think that contract distilled gins should be afforded the same protection as non-contract distilled gins?

Of course they should. If a contracted gin is produced and bottled by a distillery in Scotland, it should have the same protection as a non contracted gin.

You can learn more about Lost Loch Spirits here.

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