My Scottish Gin JourneyCarol Jackson, Ellis Gin.
Published: 12th April 2021
You have a great idea for a gin but don’t own a gin still or distillery so how do you make your dream a reality? In My Scottish Gin Journey, we speak with the Scottish Gin brand owners who have created their own Scottish Gin brand and established a business but have collaborated with others to help bring their gin to life. Often this includes seeking the help and guidance of a distiller and use of a gin still for distillation, advice on legal regulations surrounding the production and sale of gin and a whole lot more.
We recently caught up with Carol Jackson, founder of Ellis Gin, to learn more about her journey into the world of Scottish Gin. Always upbeat, fun and never afraid to create the Scottish Gins she wants to see, enjoy and experience, read on to learn more.
When did you first have the idea to make a gin?
My first dip into the market was to create a premium Ready to Drink product using my own small batch craft gin. I saw a gap in the market in 2016 – recognising that whilst you could buy Gin in a Tin – there were no premium products on the market. At the time, Fever-Tree and other premium tonics were becoming more readily available and there was confusion around the ‘Perfect Serve’. So in February 2017, we introduced Gin & Mix.
What was your process for creating the flavour profile?
I worked with a distiller and producer to create the first iteration of Ellis Gin. My specification was that I wanted a ‘back to basic but very tasty, citrusy London Dry’. It was a great experience, testing and eliminating samples and we were able to create the perfect flavour after only 2 iterations. This is the gin we used in our Gin & Mix range.
When I was ready to launch Ellis Gin, I knew I wanted to introduce a flavoured gin initially as this was and continues to be an ever increasing popular category. After sampling a number of variations, we loved two flavours and found that our Butterfly Pea and Scottish Bramble Gins were colour changing – so we introduced them with that USP.
In June 2019 we joined the Pink Gin gang as the flavoured gin category continued to show no signs of slowing and we wanted to create a gin that provided the gin drinker with not only a carefully crafted ‘Pink Gin’ but one that visually excited. With more and more flavoured gins being paired with other spirits and cocktails, we wanted a gin that was full of flavour and a lot of fun. We opted to add a rose gold shimmer to our Pink Gin, and to be fair we recognise this is not for a gin for the gin connoisseurs, but we wanted to create a gin that was fun, tasty and looked great in a cocktail. Never judge a gin by its cover is our motto.
In late 2019, we once again looked to expand our range of gin expressions with a fourth Scottish Gin. We wanted to develop a citrus gin that still had the classic gin botanicals but with a hearty burst of citrus. The result was our Lemon Gin, which we had originally planned to launch in early 2020, but we ended up doing a soft launch of our Lemon Gin during the first lockdown before an official launch in August 2020.
What’s your role in the distillation and production aspects of your gin?
I use a ‘Contract’ distilling model – I provided my distiller with my requirements for the gins and we worked together to develop and sign off the recipes for all my range. When the batch is distilled I then bottle, heat seal and label each bottle of gin. To be honest, this is the easiest part of the business. The harder part is the sales, marketing and running the business! Especially in such a saturated market. Like many other small business owners, every day is a learning day.
Can you tell us a bit more about your business name, packaging and branding?
Our gins are called Ellis Gin, named after my daughter (who loves this but it’s not so popular with my son!!) We also numbered our gins to allow us to show roughly when the gins were distilled.
My intention on launching Ellis was to introduce a ‘softer’ brand to the market. Introducing colour and fun whilst still remaining serious about the products being top quality Scottish Gins. This is something that my distiller is also very passionate about.
What are some of the benefits of having a contract distilled gin?
The obvious one is that I do not have the background, training or technical expertise in gin production. I learned this during my corporate career – it is best to identify your weaknesses and build a team that have these strengths. I have a fantastic relationship with my distiller and we work really well as a team to make a high quality product.
What are some of the disadvantages of having a contract distilled gin?
Stock control can sometimes be difficult. I need to be on top of stock levels, over our 4 flavours, and make sure we can anticipate sales to ensure we don’t run out of stock.
What have been some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
To be honest, as a small business owner, every day has different challenges. I think the secret is not to be overwhelmed and to think things through very carefully. Obviously 2020 has been a life changing year. I think surviving and indeed thriving in this climate shows the resilience of some of the smaller brands within the industry. As the vaccine rolls out and we start to see the hospitality industry open up, it will be interesting to see what shape this takes and the changes that will ultimately occur.
What are some of your best bits on this Ellis Gin journey son far?
I do love the face to face events, although recently they have been replaced with virtual events. I love the interaction (and banter) with our customers.
What are the long term goals for your gin, business and brand?
We have an ambitious plan to grow the brand and I’m excited about what 2021 will bring. However, we will be very cautious and supportive when the time is right to approach the bars and restaurants that stock Ellis Gin, as they have a lot of things to consider as they begin to rebuild.
Do you think the consumer cares where the gin they’re buying is made?
I think there are different types of customers who we must cater for. Some ‘gin connoisseurs’ do care but new customers are more interested in the taste and packaging and the branding.
Do you think more could be done to help Scotland’s gin makers and brands?
I think there should be more recognition of the challenges for some of the smaller brands, especially recognising that we can’t compete with the larger brands on price, getting on to Supermarket shelves for example. It would also be good to see a review that could help some of the smaller brands grow – looking at licencing, assistance with exporting as some examples.
Would you like to open and operate your own distillery one day?
No – it is not my intention to open my own distillery – the model that I operate works well for me.
So what’s next for your brand and business?
We have Ellis No.1 to launch and will look at options to do this later in 2021. When restrictions are lifted, I will be looking for larger premises and growing our team. And lookout for some unique Ellis products later in the year. We are very excited about 2021!
Learn more about Ellis Gin here.