G is for Gin (and Good)

Pentland Hills Gin.

Published: 21st August 2020

Our G is for Gin (and Good) editorial feature series looks at the Scottish Gin makers and brands who use their Scottish Gin for Good. Whether that be through supporting charity, sustainable practice, donating a portion of profits to good causes or helping the local community.

With it’s lush rolling landscape of rivers, rich farmland, forests and heather clad hills, there’s a lot of inspiration to be found in South Lanarkshire. It was a love of their local area, gin and a focus on changing careers that led husband and wife Phil and Tabatha MCree-Cox to explore the possibility of establishing their own gin distillery. A distillery and business that could draw on the local landscape for inspiration but also introduce ways of working that could help reduce the distillery’s carbon footprint along with looking at new processes that could help reduce waste, including the bottle and packaging. We recently caught up with Phil and Tabatha, the co-founders of The Pentland Hills Gin to learn more about their own G is for Gin (and Good) story.

What is your name and what do you do?

Tarbraxus Distillers Ltd makes Pentland Hills Gin. The company is owned and run by us, Phil & Tabatha Cox.

How did Pentland Hills Gin come to be?

We had an epiphany just after Hogmanay 2015/16 and decided that we wanted to do something different than continue to work for other people. Having decided that we would make gin, it was agreed that Phil would learn to distil it and Tabatha would undertake managing and selling the product (one of these 2 roles is a lot more difficult than the other!) From making this decision it took 2 years or so to create the necessary infrastructure, develop the gin and bring it to the market. The gin was first made available in November 2018.

What is unique about Pentland Hills Gin and Tarbraxus Distillery?

The Distillery is tiny and the gin is distilled in a 60 litre still called ‘Amy’. This small-scale production is at the heart of the sustainable approach that we take to making our gin. Our intention is to produce our gin in a manner that respects the environment in which it is created. To that end, everything is undertaken on a very modest level making use of the resources we have to hand and ensuring that our impact upon the environment is minimal.

Tell us how your distillery does ‘Good’?

The way that we make the gin and the manner in which we sell offers our customer a circular ‘ginconomy’. Our refillable bottle service is unique and allows our customers to continue to use their bottle for as long as they like. We are fond of saying ‘we’ll keep distillin’ as long as you want refillin’! One month you could be enjoying our signature gin then decide to refill with our new Navy Strength Gin. Customers can send it back in the original packaging and when it arrives we put it through the cleaning process, refill your bottle and etch the refill number on the bottom of the bottle and then pop your newly filled bottle out in the post. It means our bottle is multi-purpose and unless you accidentally smash it, it can last a very long time. But it doesn’t end there, we seek to recycle and reuse as much as possible when it comes to our packaging so even our gin boxes have been designed and manufactured to go backwards and forwards in the post and we reuse much of the internal packaging as well. So it’s really a bottle for life. A box for life. Or at least for a very long time before we need to send your gin out in a new box.

On the farm we use solar panels to support both the gin production and administration. Water also rises on the land and we use this to support our botanical growth and still cooling. Nothing much goes to waste at PHG, the botanicals left over from distillation are used in a variety of different ways, from making candles to being used in the smoking of meats and fish and we are working with The Queen Margaret University to see if this can be taken further. We have even taken to cutting our plastic Neutral Grain Alcohol container in half and using them as planters for our next botanical planting.

We also support a variety of good causes in our local area and charities that mean something to us. For example proceeds from the sales of our new Navy Strength Gin are donated to Royal Navy Benevolent Trust, as a lot of Phil’s family were in the Royal Navy. If you look closely at at our Navy Strength Gin, the symbol on the neck of the bottle is from HMS Electra, the ship that Phil’s Grandfather served on when it was sunk during the battle of the Java Sea in WW2.

Why was it important to build a sustainable distillery and brand?

We wanted our business to reflect the way that we live our lives in the Pentland Hills. Our daily lives are focused on the hills around us, we continually seek to enhance the environment, including planting new trees and establishing juniper on our land. In others ways, it is to make best use of renewable energy to power the work that we undertake. All these are little things, but they add up to us putting our hands on our hearts and being able to declare that what we do is based around sustaining the wonderful environment in which we live.

What’s the biggest highlight of the Pentland Hills Gin adventure so far?

We have watched the refill rate for our bottles steadily increase in the 14 months we have been trading. Last year 10% of our business was refilling the bottles. This year has been brilliant from the very start, 50% of January’s activities were refills, and it’s remained good even through lockdown. Covid 19 has put a bit of a dampener on our business, however, our great customers have been really quick to make use of the refill service, so it goes to show if you really do have to isolate, why not do it with a bottle of gin that the postie delivers!  At the Gin To My Tonic Show in early March our customers were handing bottles back to be refilled at our stand – they really get what we are doing and why it is so important – we love their support for our approach.

What has been the biggest hurdle you have had to overcome?

Persuading HMRC that the refill service was ‘doable’, as this was the first time they had come across this process.

What support would you like to see available for the Scottish Distilling sector?

A more focused appetite to support sustainability initiatives, including working with government over the development of appropriate policies to support this aim. 

What are the long term plans for the distillery and business?

We hope to achieve our maximum output at some point in 2022 (Covid 19 dependent). However, our 5-year plan would see 2000 litres of gin being produced annually within the distillery. Creating a limited number of additional gins is also in the planning and testing stages – watch this space!

What’s your ‘perfect serve’?

Pour over ice a measure of PHG, use a light, low sugar, tonic; something that won’t distract from the gin. Garnish with pink grapefruit and a mint leaf.

You can learn more about Pentland Hills Gin here.

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