Meet the DistillerDuncan Morrison, Roehill Springs Distillery.
Published: 14th May 2021
There’s no such thing as a typical Scottish Gin distiller. The people making Scottish Gin are a diverse bunch from all backgrounds with their own ethos and approach to making Scottish Gin and spirits. In ‘Meet the Distiller’, we meet the people who make Scotland’s growing number of amazing Scottish Gins, to learn more about their background, their gin making process and more. From ‘Master’ distillers, who have been working in the world of distillation for years, to new distillers; each one with a story of their own to tell.
In our latest ‘Meet the Distiller’, we caught up with Duncan Morrison, co-founder and distiller at Roehill Springs Distillery. Located in the historic distilling county of Moray, Duncan along with his wife Shirley launched their signature Roehill Springs Gin No 5 in August 2019. We learn more about Duncan’s journey from life on the family farm, the world of whisky and eventually his own path into Scottish Gin and running his own small batch distillery on the family farm.
What’s your name and what do you do?
My name is Duncan and I am the Distiller here at Roehill Springs. I create the recipes, distil the gin, reduce it and bottle it. Labelling and wax sealing is a combined effort between me and my wife, Shirley, with an occasional hand with the labelling from our 5-year-old granddaughter, Maddi, who loves to help.
What’s your background?
I left school at the age of 15 to work with my father on the family farm at Newtack. About 18 years ago, with margins on the farm narrowing and with a young family to provide for, we decided to reduce the number of livestock on the farm and I took a job at W. N. Lindsay’s grain store in Keith whilst running the farm on a part-time basis. After 3 years at the grain store, I moved to work as a distillery technician, starting off at Glentauchers Distillery, a very “hands-on” distillery where the mashing and the stills are very much manually controlled. Around a year later, I was asked to go to Allt a’ Bhainne Distillery in Glenrinnes, which is a semi-automatic distillery with the stills being run by P.L.C. During my 5 years at Allt a’ Bhainne, I studied for and gained the G.C.D. in Distilling. I spent the remainder of my employment as a stillman at Glen Keith Distillery, when the company decided to upgrade and re-open the distillery after it had been silent for 14 years. I was fortunate enough to get a place on the team of 5 operators that would operate Glen Keith, which was now a state of the art facility in terms of energy efficiency and technology.
What spirits are you involved in making?
After 15 years of making malt distillate for the Chivas Brothers portfolio, I am now distilling gin for Roehill Springs’ growing portfolio. Our flagship gin is Gin No 5 and we also have Blue, which is a colour changing gin. We have a few ideas in the early stages at the moment including an Aquavit. Sometimes referred to as Scandinavian Gin, it is actually made just like gin, but with caraway instead of juniper berries. We are also looking at creating a fruity gin for those who like a flavoured gin and are currently working on a soon to be released Navy Strength.
What kind of research went into making Roehill Springs Gin No 5?
My time as a stillman and studying for the G.C.D. provided me with a fantastic opportunity to learn the practical history and theory of all things distilling. I learned to truly appreciate quality malt whisky and, though I do enjoy the occasional dram, over the years I developed a passion for gin. With so many gins coming to the market, I relished the chance to try a different one whenever the opportunity arose and with my distiller’s nose, I started to pick out the range of botanicals used in various gins and that was what inspired me to create my very own gin.
Do you get the opportunity to experiment?
Yes, I do like to experiment. As I mentioned, we hope to launch our Aquavit at some point in the future. It took a lot of experimenting to get a vodka-type drinking experience without being too bland. We are also in the midst of creating a fruit gin using only fruit and gin with no added sugar, which will be really good for making cocktails or drinking neat over ice.
What’s your No.1 rule when making spirits?
Patience – let the still run long and slow; let the angels dance till their heart is content. When God made time, he made plenty of it!
What’s the best part of the gin making process?
The warmth of the stillhouse on a winter’s day and the smell when the still is releasing the aroma of all the different botanicals. A heady concoction that fills me with pride as I wait patiently to sample my creation at the end of the run.
What’s the worst part of the gin making process?
One word – paperwork!
What’s your ultimate drink?
For a warm summer evening, Gin No 5 in a tall glass, large ice cubes, topped up with a basic, plain tonic to let the gin shine through – so refreshing.
On a cold winter’s night, a generous Gin No 5 in a whisky tasting glass with a spot of water. Cup the glass in your hand to warm slightly; admire the bead and the flavour swirl, just like a quality Speyside malt – nectar in a glass.
Tell us something we might not know about Roehill Springs Distillery?
We are very fortunate to have over 20 acres of mixed woodland containing broadleaf trees and shrubs including blackthorn, dog rose, wild cherry, elderflower, rowan, sloes and gorse to name but a few. Nature’s larder – a wildlife haven and a gin distiller’s paradise.
Learn more about Roehill Spring Distillery here.