Meet the DistillerSandy Morrison, The Pentland Still, makers of King's Hill Gin.
Published: 5th August 2020
Located on the edge of the Pentland Hills, you might be hard pressed in the first instance to find The Pentland Still Distillery, home to King’s Hill Scottish Gin. Working from a unit in the small town of Loanhead, on the outskirts of Edinburgh, founder and distiller Sandy Morrison recently released his new look King’s Hill Scottish Gin to much admiration and love. We recently caught up with Sandy to learn more about his background, his journey into distillation and to discover more about the ups and downs of being a Scottish Gin distiller.
What’s your name and what do you do?
My name is Alexander Morrison but I go by the name Sandy. Only the doctor or an angry mother calls me Alexander. I am the ‘mostly’ one man band behind King’s Hill Gin.
What’s your background?
I was groomed at the tender age of 17 for the world of Oil & Gas, I currently still work in a Control Room on an Oil Platform… controlling things. Believe it or not, there are many transferable skills, just on a slightly different scale and caliber. The flip side of this is I also have a lot of time off at home to pursue more exciting things. I am a one man band with a team of willing family members who, thankfully, take payment in Gin.
What spirits are you involved in making?
Currently I make our award-winning London Dry King’s Hill Scottish Gin and our Rhubarb & Amaretto Gin Liqueur. We also do limited releases for wedding favours, which so far are Sloe Gin and Red Gooseberry Gin, which I used at my own wedding, delicious if I say so myself.
What kind of research went into making King’s Hill Gin?
Plenty research went in during the development phase with lots of resultant sore heads both metaphorically and literally. As I was a gin distilling greenhorn, my methods were mainly trial and error. I approached it by deciding on which botanicals we can forage, in a responsible manner, local to our distillery. The process of trial and error then began on ‘Molly’, our 3 litre still. This is a very exciting phase and the moment of creating the first palatable liquid is really something special. I am quite selfish when it comes to creating my gin and went for a recipe that I was mad about personally, it makes it easy to be passionate about our product when I am its number one fan.
Do you get the opportunity to experiment?
Absolutely. This is the joy of having your own set up and still, plus being the owner. I love experimenting with ingredients I can find whilst out on a wander. I have discovered an app that identifies plants and berries for me by taking a picture, which is a complete revelation. I can now safely forage and gather new ingredients without the immediate threat of ingesting something deadly, well hopefully.
What’s your No.1 rule when making spirits?
I think I would say consistency is key. Being a ‘craft’ distiller allows us to get away with slight variations between batches but we do our very best to keep our products consistent, why change a winning formula I hear you say. It’s often difficult due to huge temperature swings between Summer/Winter, ingredient suppliers, how long we have left botanicals in the dehydrator etc.
What’s the best part of the gin making process?
I would have to say that moment we fill up the botanical basket with the more delicate botanicals for vapour infusion and slot it into Marion, our still. The ingredients below have been macerating over night and the botanical basket is the final cherry on the cake if you like. The smell that comes out of the still at that moment is something really special and never ceases to bring a smile to my face, or anyone in close vicinity really, it may be something to do with the significant alcohol vapour inhalation going on.
What’s the worst part of the gin making process?
This is an easy one… cleaning out Marion. She is particularly filthy after a shift of distilling. It’s hot, sweaty and nasty work but you have to take the rough with the smooth ae! I often salvage the spent botanicals for my garden. It breaks down into a great compost and is serious worm food, I have honestly never seen so many worms amongst my spent botanical compost, there must be enough alcohol left in there for them to be having a good party down there.
What’s your ultimate drink?
This entirely depends on my mood and setting! If I’m watching football in the pub it’ll be a crisp pint of Lager. If I am in the garden on a sunny day it’s the most famous cocktail on earth…a G&T (King’s Hill, Mediterranean Tonic, Grapefruit and lots of ice) and finally If I’m feeling a little funky I’ll go for the classic King’s Hill Bramble Fizz.
Tell us something we might not know about King’s Hill Gin?
What you guys don’t know in the gin game isn’t worth knowing! Although we take our name from a spot where the Outlaw King lost his estate in the Pentland Hills, there is actually a village in South England called King’s Hill. This can cause a little confusion at times, we even sent down a few bottles to their cricket club and received a cordial invite to their summer fete in return. I’m sure this would have been superb but it unfortunately clashed with another festival, maybe next year, post this pesky COVID.
You can learn more about The Pentland Still, makers of King’s Hill Gin here.