Discover Scottish Gin

Our People

Meet some of the team at Highland Liquor Co., makers of Seven Crofts Gin.

Published: 23rd January 2021

For The Gin Cooperative, great Scottish Gin is in equal measure about the people as it is the actual gin. Our exclusive ‘Our People’ editorial feature series finds out what life is like working for a Scottish Gin business. The distillers, the brand ambassador, the social media manager, the office admin, the handyman, the cooper, the shop assistant, the delivery driver and more. It’s these dedicated, passionate and hardworking people we will meet over the course of the series that will provide a unique insight into what working for a Scottish Gin business is really like.

In our latest Our People feature, we meet the team behind the Highland Liquor Co. Based in the picturesque coastal town of Ullapool on the north west coast of Scotland, Highland Liquor Co. produce a range of Scottish Gins influenced by the local area and the town of Ullapool. With its distinctive green, tall and slender bottle, their signature Seven Crofts Highland Gin quickly gained a loyal group of gin drinkers with its classic London Dry gin profile and beautiful packaging. The team recently released the second core Seven Crofts Gin named Fisherman’s Strength, a navy strength dedicated to their very own fishing community of Ullapool. They have experimented with a number of limited and special edition gins, most recently Ullapool Gin, which is available exclusively from their online shop and the Highland Liquor Co. independent bottle shop in Ullapool. We caught up with the Highland Liquor Co. team to learn more about life inside a growing and successful highland distillery.

Helen Chalmers, Co-founder

Responsibilities

Robert and I officially founded the Highland Liquor Company together in February 2018, although the plans were laid years before. Since then, we have worked together on the development of our brand and the product range, with the help of our distiller Ben. I look after the finances and general administration of the business, such as correspondence with HMRC and working with our suppliers and distributers. We also run the Arch Hotel and the Highland Liquor Company Bottle Shop in the village, both just a few streets along from our house – so I spend a fair amount of time between the businesses and our different teams.

What does a typical day look like?

There is no such thing as typical day in our house, but it always begins with two hours of chaos with our little ones, Alfie and Ella. When Ella is at nursery, I head to the office and work through emails, calls and enquiries that are outstanding meanwhile dealing with any major incidents that occur during the day, of which there tends to be many.

What’s the best part of your job?

One of the best parts of my job is getting to speak to so many different people who visit Ullapool and the HLC Bottle Shop. I also enjoy connecting with other amazing Scottish businesses, like some of the other drinks companies that we stock in the shop. As frustrating as I often find it, I do enjoy the satisfaction of record keeping and organising the mountains of paperwork involved in running a business. Of course, getting to enjoy the occasional Seven Crofts is a bonus, too!

What’s unique about your place of work?

Working from home surrounded by crazy children was quite unique until lockdown and everyone started to experience it. I do love how connected we are in the village and being able to go from the house to office, to the distillery in minutes. 

Robert Hicks, Co-founder

Responsibilities

Like Helen, I am involved in all aspects of the business but primarily coordinating the production schedule with Ben and our wider sales strategy with Louis, as well as general enquiries and leads. As the co-owner, my main role is building relationships with our customers and distributors and following up any business opportunities that arise, recently we have had significant interest overseas and it has been very humbling to see Seven Crofts so well received around the world. 

What does a typical day look like?

After sharing a few hours of chaos with Helen and the kids in the morning, I usually spend the day running around the village between the businesses. This often involves trips between the distillery and shop to top-up stock and put together orders. I do the occasional shift in the shop in the evening as well, and love having the opportunity to speak to Ullapool’s visitors about our gins. Then, once the kids are in bed, I try to respond to the many emails in the inbox which can often last until the late hours, which anyone who has tried to reach me will attest to.

What’s the best part of your job?

Bringing together like-minded and enthusiastic people as part of the HLC team. We are all on the same page in our aim to grow Seven Crofts into a brand that can be enjoyed around the world. The best part of the job though, is certainly enjoying our gins and any new products that Ben has been working on, preferably in a martini or a G&T. 

What’s unique about your place of work?

Ullapool is an amazing village and has been my home for over 25 years. People said we were mad to try and create a gin brand in such a remote location and indeed the odds were stacked against us, but we have been been lucky to have so much support from the people in the village. From the harbour master who allows us to store bottles in his warehouse (with the help of his forklift) to local artists like Charlotte Watters who designed the label for our Ullapool Gin, it truly has been a team effort. One of the most rewarding aspects of setting up the distillery and bottle shop has been to see the landscape of Ullapool change and to contribute to creating jobs and opportunities in the North West Highlands. 

Ben Thomson, Head Distiller

Responsibilities 

My role within the HLC team is as the distiller, so I am responsible for all aspects of production at the distillery in Ullapool. The job is varied, but of course involves distilling, bottling, and packaging our gin. Cleaning and record keeping are the less satisfying but most time-consuming parts of the job. I have also been fortunate to develop the HLC products as well as some one-off collaborative projects.  

What does a typical day look like?

We have a unique distillation process for Seven Crofts that took over a year and 96 different iterations to perfect. A typical week in production would begin on a Sunday evening when I charge the stills and allow the juniper to steep overnight before the distillation begins on the Monday morning. Our 100 litre copper pot stills are named after my wife, Ruth, and Robert and Helen’s daughter, Ella. 

I get into the distillery around 9am to start the stills after taking Tina, my Black Lab, for a walk. On Mondays and Tuesdays, we distil identical 100 litre runs, before distilling the heads and tails of those previous runs on Wednesday. The  distilled spirit from the three distillations is then combined and diluted to bottling strength and the rest of the week is spent bottling and packaging; one batch of this size creates around 600, 70cl bottles. 

What’s the best part of your job?

The most satisfying part of my job has been developing Seven Crofts and really nailing down the distillation process to create a consistent and reliable method. It took a long time to perfect the recipe for Seven Crofts, so it is very rewarding to see the product growing and receiving such great feedback. Our 5 star Difford’s Guide review was a particular highlight for most of the team. I must say my favourite aspect of the job is developing new products and creating new recipes, such as our collaboration with the Isle Martin Trust to create a gin using botanicals exclusively grown on the community owned island. 

What’s unique about your place of work?

I think the community spirit in Ullapool is totally unique and the people from around the village have been very supportive of the brand form the outset. In terms of the distillery, ours is such a small batch process and the fact that every single bottle passes through my hands several times is pretty remarkable. 

Louis Wright, Brand and Sales Development Manager

Responsibilities

Unlike the rest of the HLC team, I’m based in Edinburgh and represent the brand throughout Scotland and the UK. Primarily, my role is to work with accounts across the on-trade and retail sector to help grow Seven Crofts, so it is mainly a sales role. I also work closely with the team in Ullapool on brand development and over the last year I’ve spent a bit of time helping Ben in the distillery. 

What does a typical day look like?

I work from my flat in Edinburgh, so most days start with working through emails and catching up with the team. Then, I usually set off for some planned account visits and meetings. In normal times, this would involve a weekly trip to Glasgow and possibly another city in Scotland, although I’ve been naturally been limited to Edinburgh of late, and even more limited to the flat. Another important part of the job is to represent the brand at tastings and events or staff training sessions – these would often be weekend or evening activities so the days can be really varied, although these mostly take place online at present. 

What’s the best part of your job?

At risk of sounding somewhat unprofessional, the best part of my job is spending time in some amazing bars chatting to talented bartenders. I’ve been passionate about spirits for years and I love discussing that with likeminded people. Bar takeovers and activations can be some of the best nights spent with other hospitality workers. It’s a massive loss with the industry closures and I can’t wait for everything to be back up and running again. 

What’s unique about your place of work?

In normal times, my place of work varies from day to day, which is fairly unique in itself. I feel very fortunate to live in a fantastic city like Edinburgh but also to have the opportunity to travel to Ullapool and spend time with the team there. I really appreciate the balance of life in the city with life in the highlands and back home in Orkney. 

You can learn more about Highland Liquor Co. here.

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