A New Chapter in Scottish GinAs told by Lara Williams, Distillery Manager at Stirling Gin Distillery.
Published: 12th November 2019
For many, creating a great Scottish Gin recipe means seeking guidance from a trusted distiller to help with distillation while they build a brilliant Scottish Gin brand. For most, the last piece of the puzzle is to one day establish and open their own distillery. In ‘A New Chapter in Scottish Gin’, we meet Scotland’s gin brands who have recently opened their own distillery or are in the process of moving so we can learn more about what it means to them and their business.
Co-founders June and Cameron McCann have been on this journey since they distilled their first experimental Stirling Gin in 2015 on a small 2.4 litre copper still called Jinty. The gin proved so popular that they ended up having to bring in a bigger still before eventually demand far outgrew their production capacity. Having a distillery to call their own in Stirling, which could be used for distillation, tours and a chance to create employment in the local area, was always part of their long-term plan for the brand and business.
Housed in the historic building, known locally as The Old Smiddy, and within short walking distance of the world famous Stirling Castle, their distillery is finally open to the public and so we headed to the historic city of Stirling to catch up with Distillery Manager Lara Williams, to learn more about the story of Stirling Gin.
How did the Stirling Gin journey begin?
Stirling Gin was created after Cameron and June McCann wanted to celebrate their 26th wedding anniversary a little differently. At the time, they owned the Stirling Whisky Shop and were running the Stirling Gin and Whisky Festivals and when they realised there was no gin from Stirling, they knew what they wanted to do. On a walk with their beloved dog Kinchie, they passed the myriad of nettle plants in the Stirlingshire countryside and decided that this had to be their prized botanical. 50 recipes later and Stirling Gin was born.
At what stage of your Scottish Gin journey are you now?
We have just opened our distillery on Lower Castlehill in the city of Stirling and it has been a monumental move. After four years of contract distilling with both Makar and Kinrara, it is unbelievable to be making our own gin in the city that inspired it. We are definitely growing into the new space and are welcoming more and more people every week from all over the world. Located under the castle, we have a lot of passing traffic and it’s amazing to see how happy people are to find us. We offer three tours seven days a week and a gin school every Saturday where people can design their own gin and learn how to distil on their own mini still. With our own full-size still, we are also able to start working on limited edition seasonal gins so we can offer more to the gin market without over-saturating our product list.
Has everything gone according to plan?
As you can probably imagine, building an entire distillery in a falling-down, Victorian-era temperance hall wasn’t the easiest job. With putting in utilities, installing a mezzanine level, incorporating doors where there were none before, pouring concrete everywhere and landscaping the backyard, it’s been an enormous challenge. And a lot of red tape to get through. We were passionate about renovating a building of interest rather than simply taking over an industrial unit, so we were prepared for a much more difficult build. However, there were more teething problems than expected. And it was made even harder as we wanted to keep the aesthetic of the building while also being able to have a modern still room with all the necessary accoutrements. However, we really couldn’t be happier with the result and we’re so incredibly proud of what we have created, especially as we are reviving a beautiful piece of Stirling’s history in the process.
What does this new chapter represent for your business?
With a distillery and visitor centre, we can welcome tourists and share our gin-making journey in a way we couldn’t before. We also have total control over our products from sourcing the botanicals and the base spirit to exactly where we make our spirit cuts. This lets us truly reflect our tastes and style and of course we can be as wildly experimental as we like. It also gives us the space to make other products down the line, such as rum and whisky. Having a physical space to welcome guests gives us the opportunity to run educational classes and host other brands for tasting evenings and samplings and we love being part of such a warm and welcoming environment as the Scottish drinks industry.
What was the motivation for this move?
With so many gins on the market, especially in Scotland, we really felt that what would allow us to stand the test of time was having a distillery where we could make our own products and offer tours and events. Contract distilling gave us a terrific leg-up into the industry but we always had our eyes on our own production and for us, it was a necessary next step in the business’ life. Without it we wouldn’t have the opportunity to look at making Stirling’s first whisky! We were also passionate about boosting Stirling’s already healthy tourism industry by offering another activity in the city centre.
Will this move effect your gins?
When we took over distilling our own gin, our head distiller tweaked the botanicals and experimented with a slow run until he had made the perfect Stirling Gin. It is even crisper and greener than before and along with this came a rebrand of our bottles. We have ditched the hand-applied labels and are printing directly onto the bottle. The design is much more modern but we have retained the Wallace Monument on the back of the bottle – our roots are very important to us. We always made our gin liqueurs so their production is unchanged but the distillery has allowed us to release Stirling Distillery’s second gin, the Battle Strength. The most significant effect will be our ability to release short-run products for our members and experiment with new recipes with a view to releasing a wider selection for the future.
What does the short and long term future look like for Stirling Gin?
In the short term we are focused on building the reputation of our tours and tastings in the distillery. Stirling is one of the best places to visit in Scotland for history and we are close to some incredible natural environments, making it a great hub for travellers. By offering another attraction in the city, we are hoping to compel more long-stay visitors, which will inevitably lead to more business for local cafes, pubs and restaurants, hotels and B&Bs. We love Stirling and have always been great champions of its charm. In the long term, we are planning on developing the business even further to include the production of malt whisky. This is obviously a huge and very exciting undertaking and there will be many steps along the way to this goal. In the meantime, we have been developing some liqueur recipes for the Chinese market and this will be a great start to our export plans once the distillery is more established.
What does the term Scottish Gin mean to you?
You’re opening a can of worms with that one! For us it’s relatively simple – if you’re calling yourself a Scottish Gin then you should be distilling, bottling and packaging in Scotland. We don’t expect base spirit and all botanicals to be coming from Scotland – where on earth would one get cinnamon, for instance – but the spirit should absolutely be created by people living and working in Scotland. In general, there needs to be more transparency in the Scottish gin industry as misleading consumers really isn’t acceptable and this area is a very good place to start.
You can learn more about Stirling Gin here.