Talking Scottish Gin

Scotland's gin makers put the questions to their peers in this virtual round of Scottish Gin.

Published: 14th January 2020

Mixing a little bit of fun with a little bit of insight, we enjoy a round of Scottish G&T’s with Scotland’s gin makers and brand owners as we let them ask their peers the questions in our ‘Talking Scottish Gin’ Q&A editorial feature.

To get the ball rolling we put the first question to Colin McLean, founder of McLean’s Gin.

What’s the most difficult part of the cold compounding process?

Colin McLean: “From a technical perspective, it has to be getting the balance of botanicals/flavours right. The application of heat during the distillation process increases the solvent properties of the ethanol, which in turn increases the ease of extraction of the flavour compounds and essential oils. With a cold process, the solvency must be controlled by botanical volume and timing.

“With the most common method of distillation; “One Shot”; all botanicals will go into the pot at the same time, however, with a cold process like compounding, timing is crucial. Our juniper goes in for the first for 24 hours; juniper berries have quite a thick outer skin that isn’t as easily penetrated as, for example, orange peel. The remainder of botanicals can spend up to a further 24 hours in our cauldron, but some as little 2 hours!

“From our experience, it’s much more difficult to get the quantities of botanicals right. Too much of anything and that one flavour can easily dominate, but too little and it won’t be adding anything to the liquid! Our Signature Gin with its prominent aniseed flavour is testament to this and if we were to re-develop our recipes with the knowledge and experience that we now have this one might be different, but we’ve decided to keep it this way as we quite like its “marmite” reputation. However, certain botanicals left to infuse for too long can definitely over-stew and can leave undesirable flavours. From our experience of working with both compounding and distillation, getting the right balance is much, much easier with distillation.

“A close second would be trying to change the reputation of the process – over the years compounding hasn’t always been looked upon favourably. There’s no way we can do this single handedly, but we’re always thrilled when people tell us how much they love the products we create. For Something Blue in particular, we’ve genuinely lost count of the number of people who’ve told us it’s their favourite gin *ever* at events, festivals, tastings etc. This offsets the negative press from some gin snobs who strictly see distillation as the only viable gin production method. As an aside, my own personal favourite Scottish Gin also happens to be a compound; Orkney Gin Company’s Rhubarb Old Tom!”

Colin McLean: “Jenny McKerr, founder of The Wee Farm Distillery, how do you manage to run a successful, functional distillery and look after three kids at the same time?”

Jenny McKerr: “I think a lot of working parents will be able to relate when I say ‘you just get on with it!’

“Our business includes the distillery, agricultural fencing contractors and the livestock on the farm. We have three daughters, Catherine (9), Mirren (6) and Corrie (2) and they are very much part of the business. They all contribute in their own way whether it’s discussing new gin liqueur flavours, helping make gift packaging, gathering sheep or mucking out sheds, they all get stuck in.

“Having the distillery on the farm allows me to work around the needs of the family. I’m quite often found on the nightshift making gin in my happy place with the rock tunes blaring!

“I honestly believe time is so precious and you either sit and watch tv at night or you get on and do something worthwhile. We are motivated to show our girls a good work ethic, get them involved in growing the business and teach them real skills on the farm.

“It also helps that making gin doesn’t feel like work as I absolutely love it! Luckily we are also surrounded by amazing friends and family who help us out too. Thanks for the question Colin and best of luck as you get ready to enter the crazy world of being a gin making parent!”

Jenny McKerr: “Stuart McVicar, co-founder of The Biggar Gin Company, what’s the biggest challenge in building a new distillery?”

Stuart McVicar: “I suppose the honest answer should be ‘I’ll let you know once we have finished it’. We are still mid build and hope to complete the distillery in early 2020.

“We decided to do a self-build when it came to the distillery, so were more invested in the project and had greater control over the finer details. This has slowed the process down but it will be worth it in the long run. The build itself brings challenges that any self-builder will face:

“All of these challenges are expected in a construction project and we work through them as they arise. What adds to the complexity is carrying out the self-build while also trying to run and grow the business:

“Throw in the necessary paperwork and processes that need to be put in place for a fully functioning distillery (licensing, environmental health, trading standards) and that all makes for a busy old time at The Biggar Gin Company.”

Stuart McVicar: “Alistair & Thomas Wilson, the co-founders and distillers at Isle of Skye Distillers, what are the advantages and disadvantages of working with a sibling?”

Thomas Wilson: “I think the biggest advantage is that we can make decisions easily as we are brothers and family. I know that Alistair will always give his honest feedback on ideas and will only go with things that he knows will be beneficial to the business. Ultimately, I know Alistair will always do what’s right for the business.

“The biggest disadvantage is that I’m always right and Alastair is always right but not at the same time obviously. Like most siblings, we can sometimes be at loggerheads over different topics. I think this is just part of any business but also working with your family; you care about the business, you care about the products, you want to make sure whatever choices are made are the right ones.”

Alistair Wilson: “Definitely one of the biggest advantages is knowing I can trust Thomas and rely on him. He’s 100% committed to the business and will always go the extra mile if needed. He’s my brother and business partner, we’ve both taken massive risks setting-up our business so together we share in the good and bad parts of everything.

“I think the biggest disadvantage of working with Thomas would have to be… knowing I’m always right! Haha! But seriously, because we work together, finding time for holidays and time off can be a challenge. We’ve got a great, small team of family and friends who help us out but it means one of us has to be at the distillery most days to handle production and day-to-day business operations, so making time to recharge the batteries can be difficult.”

We look forward to bringing you the next round of Talking Scottish Gin in due course, starting with Thomas and Alistair, who will be asking their chosen Scottish Gin maker their own burning question!

Learn more about McLean’s Gin, The Wee Farm Distillery, The Biggar Gin Company and Isle of Skye Distillers.

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