The Gin Cooperative Q&AYour questions answered.
Published: 22nd November 2018
We recently asked our social media followers to submit their questions about The Gin Cooperative and Scottish Gin. We’ve picked out the questions we felt would be of interest and shed more light on The Gin Cooperative, who we are and our gin journey, why we established The Gin Cooperative and what we think about some of the topics surrounding gin.
How did you come up with the idea of The Gin Cooperative? (A. Smith)
Natalie: The idea of a business related to the story of gin was something myself and Martin had discussed back in August 2013 when we were on holiday in NYC. We’d travelled the length and breadth of Manhattan for five days, plus been over to Brooklyn and Williamsburg checking out some amazing pubs and cocktail bars. Everywhere we went, the bars had a decent selection of Scottish spirits and in most cases the staff struck up a conversation with us about Scotland.
We were sitting on the patio at The Hudson Hotel, enjoying some early afternoon gin & tonics and had a good chat with the bartender about Scotland, whisky, gin and more. It was kind of surreal to be sitting at a well-respected hotel bar, and here we were drinking a Scottish Gin – in 25 degree heat – in New York! We made our way through some more gins and thought about a book that encompassed all the gins in the world that would be a gin drinkers go-to guide for a year.
Over the last 15 years, we reckon we’ve tried over 500 gins. Gin has been our go-to spirit for a long time now but we never really delved below the surface. We drink gin, we enjoy gin, but we never looked further into the category or wider drinks industry. Martin had done some design work for some food and drink clients, but as gin drinkers, we never felt the need to widen our understanding of gin.
Over the last five years we started to see a lot of new Scottish Gins coming to market and we found ourselves drawn to these. Although we were enjoying these Scottish Gins, we wanted to learn more about them so we could understand more about the people and background behind the gin we were buying and enjoying. I think because we’re both from design, art and marketing backgrounds, from a branding and packaging point of view, our interests were twofold – we loved the gin and visually we loved the brands. It was around 2015 we started to look at how gin was being made, where it was being made and by who. We did our homework so we could better understand who was behind the bottle we’d just spent £35.00 on.
Fast forward to the end of 2017, and I found myself at a crossroads after 15 years working in oil & gas. We had a bit of a lightbulb moment one evening in December. I was chatting with Martin trying to figure out what I could do for a career or if I should set-up my own business, something that I could put all my energy and dedication in to, that would let me be creative and something I could apply the skills I’d learnt over the last 15 years.
As we sat drinking our gin & tonics, things just snowballed. We loved gin, and in particular Scottish Gin, but felt there was an opportunity to do something that would support the story of Scottish Gin, the gin makers and the brands. We wrote down some ideas… How could a company add value to the story of Scottish Gin? How would a business do this? Would it be commercially viable?
Within 2 days we had a business name, a business strategy and Martin had designed a logo. Initially, Martin would run the project part-time alongside his main graphic design business, and I could help build it up over time with the plan to eventually (and hopefully) leave the oil & gas industry and run The Gin Cooperative as a full-time business.
I loved the idea of establishing a business that focused on supporting Scottish Gin makers, that could help educate the consumer, and that could play a role in how Scottish Gin was being discussed and positioned on social media and online. Things quickly changed and by the middle of December, I’d handed in my notice and was unemployed for the first time in my life. From the age of 14 right through Uni, I’d worked part-time jobs and I’d been fortunate that pretty much from day one of leaving art school, I’d found work. Hard work isn’t something either myself or Martin are afraid of so I knew together, for better or worse, we could make The Gin Cooperative work.
As excited as we were, finding yourself on Christmas Day with two kids under three years old and a mortgage to pay meant for a few sleepless nights!
And so at the start of January 2018, I registered The Gin Cooperative as a company and with fingers and toes crossed set to work. At this point, we’d not spoken with anyone in the gin or drinks industry about our idea for a business. Now, most folk would say this goes against the rules of establishing a business – you need a business plan, you need to do market research, you need to validate your idea will work. I opted for the non-traditional route and packed in my career, set-up a business and became a company director – it was terrifying.
Martin: We set to work trying to speak with the right people. We spent the first four months of 2018 talking with Scottish Gin makers, brand owners, distillers, the on and off trade, spirit related organisations and more. It was 16 hour days every day for 4 months, pulling together and creating content.
It took time, writing individual bios for all the gin brands, plus writing the descriptions for all the gins in our directory and seeking official written permission to use gin makers images and logos. We also spent this time speaking with some of the best bars in the world, premium tonic producers, and more, to see if they wanted to feature officially on The Gin Cooperative website and work together to create some collaborative content.
We also had the unenviable task of researching where Scottish Gins are made. For most it was straightforward, but for some it was a challenge. Where Scottish Gin makers and brands were unclear, or did not specify, where their gin is made, we decided it made sense to get confirmation in black and white from the Scottish Gin makers and brands that their gin is distilled in Scotland (in case we were ever audited by the Gin Police!) That alone was a full-time job, trying to speak with the right people and seek permission to be on our website! Besides hiring a private investigator, it was the best due diligence we could do, but we’re glad we did it. I think it helped Scottish Gin makers and brands understand that we were establishing a business based on integrity and this was more than just a hobby.
There were a number of brands we spoke with who were open and honest about their gin not being distilled in Scotland. It was a really difficult decision to leave these gin makers off the website. They all made really great gins but we felt it was important to set our stall out from the get go.
It was no small task, but one we threw ourselves into, as we wanted everything on the website to look the best it could, ensuring content was on-brand for the gin makers and that we did everything by the book, as not to infringe on any copyright. Our backgrounds in design and marketing meant we were well versed in copyright, and we wanted to make sure we sought permission from the gin makers to use their copyright and content on the website. We designed the site ourselves from scratch and enlisted Grant Rattray from Zulo to code it. I had worked with Grant before on a variety of projects, so we knew he was up to the task of helping us deliver a website that was functional and looked good across all screen sizes.
Every gin maker and brand agreed to be on the website from day one. We announced on social media that our website would be going live in April and ran some teasers on our social media pages. By sheer coincidence, someone else launched a Scottish Gin directory in the very same week our website was supposed to go live. Out of a sense of professional courtesy, we postponed the launch of our website by three weeks.
What is the primary purpose/job of The Gin Cooperative? (I. Kukkamaki)
Martin: The primary purpose of The Gin Cooperative can be broken down into a few key objectives that are at the heart of what we do as a business, a business that was established to help support the Scottish Gin sector and help share the story of Scottish Gin.
Educate the consumer
We wanted to provide the consumer with a high quality, informative website that they could use to discover more about Scottish Gin. We do this through the use of engaging, original editorial content including articles, news, photography and video. We have a pretty strict editorial policy, even though there’s just the two of us in the business. We felt it was important that anything we produce meets the criteria and must be non-sales led. We’re also very active on our social media pages and have quickly gained a growing and engaged gin drinking audience. We also share other Scottish Gin related content on our social media pages that we feel adds value to the story of Scottish Gin.
We also created some free downloadable resources for the consumer, which have proved extremely popular, including our free interactive Scottish Gin Map and our free interactive Scottish Gin Bottle Poster. These are high-resolution files our audience can download and take along to their nearest commercial printer. We’re working on some other great downloadable resources that we’re going to be launching in the new year.
Talk about gin responsibly and positively
Alcohol is a delicate subject, and with the number of rules and regulations surrounding it, from day one we wanted to make sure everything we do meets and exceeds the required standards. We’re careful in how we speak about gin as a spirit, and we only focus on the positives. We want to make sure how we talk about Scottish Gin on our social media channels, and the articles we create, captures the spirit of Scottish Gin. It’s a premium spirit made with care, passion and skill. It’s vital for the category that the consumer understands this when they read an article or want to learn more about a gin brand – the content being created should reiterate these skills and values.
Provide a go-to resource for the on and off trade
Our website first and foremost is aimed at helping the consumer discover what we call ‘the wonderful world of Scottish Gin’. Secondly, we’ve been contacted by more and more people from the on and off trade to say they’ve found it’s a great resource. We’ve also had some inbound enquiries from people looking to stock some of the Scottish Gins in our directory. We’ve had requests from businesses as far afield as Australia, Canada and California in the States, asking us to help them get Scottish Gin into their establishments. We’ve also managed to facilitate some pretty good orders for Scottish Gin makers here in the UK, from businesses in the off-trade who have discovered new Scottish Gin brands on our website.
We’ve also found our website being used by press and media organisations as a resource for information about Scottish Gin. We’ve seen a great deal of our original photos being used across various gin related stories in national press, which gives us a great sense of achievement. We’ve recently been in talks with a TV production company in the States who produce a fascinating TV series about food and drink, specifically ingredients, about an episode focused on Scottish Gin, which has been really exciting.
We take all of the above as a massive compliment that our website has a broad appeal and is being used at a go-to resource to discover more about Scottish Gin.
Raise the profile of Scottish Gin
As everyone knows, the gin market is currently growing at an almost unimaginable rate, and sometimes it feels like there’s a new gin every day. We want to help tell the story of Scottish which we see, personally speaking, as being the best in the world. We want to help the consumer get to know the people behind the brands and understand the skill, passion and how the unique Scottish landscape has shaped the stories and the people behind the bottle. I strongly feel that Scottish Gin is here to stay and that, in a few years from now, regardless of where the gin category is, Scottish Gin will be considered a part of the Scottish food and drink offering in the same way whisky and Scottish Salmon are internationally regarded and viewed as not only products of Scotland geographically, but are of a high and consistent premium quality.
Treat all Scottish Gins as equals and peers
We want to talk about all Scottish Gins as being equals, but unique in their own right. From the small husband and wife teams making gin in their garage, to the larger gin makers who produce large volumes of gin. For us, they all have their own story to tell and their chapter in the story of Scottish Gin.
Collaborate and innovate
There are many great businesses, organisations and individuals working across Scottish Gin and gin as a broader category. Some are commercial businesses, some do it as a hobby, but one of the great things about establishing The Gin Cooperative has been the many passionate and amazing people we’ve met this year. From the gin makers themselves to shop and bar owners, bloggers, reviewers – right across the spectrum, there so many talented people contributing to the story of gin. We wanted to make sure that we did something that could highlight these fantastic people and seek to collaborate and work together. We do this through our editorial features including our ‘Spirit of Craft’, ‘Meet the Blogger’ and the ‘Wonderful World of Scottish Gin’ editorial series. We also created a ‘Raising the Bar’ editorial feature series where we speak with some of the world’s leading bartenders about their career in the industry and get their thoughts on Scottish Gin.
Scotland – a place like no other
We were also acutely aware of making sure we highlight Scotland as a tourist destination and where we could showcase and highlight Scotland’s food producers as part of the story of Scottish Gin. Where we can, we use landscape images of each gin maker’s geographical location on their profile page on our website. For most gin makers, their geographical location, and in some cases, local botanicals have profoundly shaped their gin – we wanted to highlight Scotland as not only a country that makes great Scottish Gin but also an amazing country to visit. We’re also currently developing some new editorial that looks at Scotland’s food and drink producers so watch this space for some really exciting new content.
Why do you think gin has become so popular? (L. Davidson)
Natalie: I think it’s two-fold. Firstly Gin is just an accessible drink that you can enjoy however you want. It can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it. From tonics and mixers to garnishes and more – there’s a gin & tonic out there for everyone. Secondly, I think it’s an exciting drink once you get into it. With so many brands to discover, there are thousands of gins on the market for you to try. It’s when you begin to try different gins, you realise they are almost all unique in their way, each with a story to tell.
Martin: I agree with Natalie about gin being an accessible drink, it’s just a very enjoyable drink. Of course we meet people who say they don’t like gin because of the taste. More often than not, this changes when they change or replace the tonic! It’s amazing to think gin was considered ‘Mothers Ruin’, due to its historical reputation as being a drink that caused havoc and mayhem amongst the poorer classes. It’s been exciting, as a long time gin drinker, to see gin slowly appearing behind bars and taking more shelf space in the shops.
I think a big part of the gin revival has been down to innovation and the range of gins available. Gin is now considered a premium drink. It comes in all shapes and sizes (that’s a discussion for another day) and the consumer has a greater selection of gins and brands to explore than ever before.
Gin has also helped create, in many cases, new jobs. It’s not always obvious when you buy a gin, just how many people and jobs that gin has helped support. From the glass manufacturer, to the designer who’s created the branding, the courier company who’s fulfilling the order. The supply chain of gin is a lot bigger than I think is sometimes given credit.
Is The Gin Cooperative a business? (S. Ford)
Natalie: The first six months of the business, including the cost of the website was entirely self-funded by ourselves. We believed in the principle of The Gin Cooperative and the objectives we set out to achieve.
You could say The Gin Cooperative is a membership-based business. Scottish Gin makers pay a small annual fee to be in our directory and have an all singing, all dancing profile page. As we develop the website, the gin makers who are currently working with us, automatically get all the latest upgrades to their profile. They’re also automatically enrolled in our plans for International Scottish Gin Day.
Martin, my husband and co-founder of The Gin Cooperative, creates a lot of the content including articles, photography and video. He doesn’t take a salary and isn’t a director. I say it’s his duty as a good husband (and designer). Martin knows the sofa isn’t too comfy! The business generates a small income for me covers the on-going cost for travel and development of the website.
We are a commercial business, and we have a responsibility to talk about Scottish Gin in a way that adds real value, that helps educate gin drinkers, and that helps position Scottish Gin as being the best in the world. We are accountable to our audience and the Scottish Gin industry; it’s a responsibility we take very seriously including how we underpin what we do with our ‘Enjoy gin and drink responsibly’ message.
Martin: Regarding our editorial content – it is created free from influence or third party editorial control. We ask those who take part to fact-check details, such as dates and numbers, like the volume of gin produced, but they have no influence or editorial control over the final articles we publish.
Part of our business plan was always to create some great, unique and original editorial content that would tell the story of the people behind the Scottish Gins in a non-sales or commercial way. We’ve been cautious to make sure that the content we create is about educating the consumer and not selling to the consumer.
We don’t get paid by any affiliates and we don’t have any pay per clicks on our website. We want gin drinkers to discover the many great Scottish Gin brands available, but discover them in a way that doesn’t pitch one gin against another or imply one is better than another. We do ask gin makers if they would like to take part in the competitions we run, but once again we lead these and brand them with The Gin Cooperative. It’s important for us we keep full control over the content and activities we undertake.
The Gin Cooperative is a business but it’s a business built on integrity, respect, impartiality, quality and the principal objective of promoting the story of Scottish Gin to an international audience – for us all Scottish Gin makers and brands have an equal role to play in telling the story of Scottish Gin.
What got you into Gin? (K. Hughes)
Martin: Being from a design background, I’d seen a lot of great advertising for gin over the years, in particular, Gordon’s Gin. Their advertising was famous in the 1990’s for the bold use of green and their simple messages, so I’d always been curious about the brand from a design point of view. It wasn’t until I met Natalie, and thanks to some of her family who were gin drinkers, I was introduced properly to a Gordon’s and tonic, that was around 2004.
Natalie: I think for me there are two things that got me into gin – Martin’s snoring was one… joking. For some of my family, gin has been the spirit of choice for a long time. I guess when visiting them we would sit on a Saturday evening and enjoy a gin & tonic. So over time I guess my taste for gin developed.
I think as you get older, your taste buds develop and change. Especially with the growth of the category, there seemed to be a new gin to try every time I was out with friends, so the appeal of being able to try new gins was exciting.
What are your connections to the world of distillation and the on and off trade? (K. Stewart)
Martin: Up until starting the business we knew no one from the world of gin but we knew plenty of gin brands. It’s part of the reason we’ve enjoyed what we’re doing – getting to meet lots of new faces, talk gin with people in the know and get to travel all over Scotland.
It’s fair to say we love Scottish food and drink and Natalie spent a number of her early years working in hospitality. I’d personally worked on a variety of design projects through my main graphic design business for many sectors, including the on and off trade, so had a good idea of the challenges these types of businesses encounter.
Natalie: Some have said “how can you talk about something you’ve never worked in for a living”? I would say the fact we don’t have historical links with the world of brewing or distillation or on and off trade puts us in a unique position and that we can approach everything we do with a fresh and unbiased stance.
We don’t have shares or commercial interest in the on and off trade, nor do we have any deals or contracts with any gin events or promoters. We don’t intend to make gin (outwith taking part in gin schools for fun and educational purposes!) or compete with the gin makers we work with. We don’t have any shares or contribute financially to gin brands crowdfunding, but will help support them by sharing their campaigns on our social media channels. We want to make sure our integrity and our impartial approach about how we talk about Scottish Gin, Scottish Gin brands and the industry, and that all our hard work and passion for what we do, can’t be questioned.
We feel this openness and transparency is essential. We don’t do any deals behind closed doors with any gin brands, and we don’t take advantage of working with gin brands to get free gin. For example, if and when we request a gin maker send us a gin bottle, it is so we can photograph it and create some original, fresh content for ourselves, and we make a point of stating we don’t need the gin, just the bottle! It’s almost sacrilege to fill a beautiful gin bottle with water, but we’ve done it.
Over the last nine months, we have been sent complimentary bottles of gins so we can photograph them and create original photography for use on our website and social media pages. When visiting distilleries, we’re sometimes gifted a free bottle to cover our cost of travel (we’ve driven over 6,000 miles so far this year visiting Scottish Gin distilleries), so we do appreciate it at the end of the day when a distiller gives us a bottle of gin home to enjoy.
What do you think Scottish Gin distillers could do differently? (M. Price)
Martin: That’s a tough question as I think Scottish Gin distillers do a fantastic job of producing genuinely world-class gins. I guess the packaging side of things, and this goes for all food and drink packaging, could perhaps look to reduce and possibly one day eliminate the use of single-use plastic.
It would be amazing to see Scottish Gin one day be plastic free. No plastic in packaging and no plastic straws used in photo shoots or promotional materials which would be a great example to others that it can be done. Plus it might just make your gin taste a little bit better knowing it’s plastic free.
We’ve made a conscientious effort to make sure all the photos we take for our cocktails and simple serving suggestions don’t use plastic straws. Single-use plastic is having a terrible effect on the planet. Anyone who’s been on social media will more than likely have seen any number of videos that show how our plastic use is impacting the environment and mother nature.
Natalie: There’s also the question of someone finally establishing a business in Scotland to produce neutral grain spirit (NGS/GNS). As far as we know, there is no one producing commercially available, excellent quality NGS, in Scotland. It would be great to see all Scottish Gin makers using Scottish made NGS that could potentially reduce production costs for the gin makers and also significantly reduce the collective carbon footprint as NGS wouldn’t be travelling from other parts of the UK or in some cases Europe.
Every gin maker we’ve spoken with about the subject has said they would purchase Scottish made NGS if it was commercially available. I think there is a unique opportunity for a Scottish NGS producer, both commercially and for a chance to play a genuinely innovative role in the story of Scottish Gin.
What’s your favourite non-Scottish Gin? (E. Harris)
Martin: We estimated between us over the last 15 years myself and Natalie have tried over 500 gins. I wouldn’t say I have a favourite, but there are a few that I’ve thought ‘that’s a cracking gin’.
Four Pillars Sheraz was something undeniably different but still gin. Innovative and delicious – a gin that stood out for all the right reasons. Martin Miller is a modern classic in my book. A superb gin, a great back story and a gin that’s full of character. Adnams Copper House Dry was another pleasant surprise, and so was Whitley Neil when it first came to market. Both different gins but both very enjoyable. There are some other gins well worth a mention Dorothy Parker American Gin, Bulldog London Dry Gin, Monkey 47, Oola Gin and the classic Brooklyn Gin.
Natalie: I’d have to go with Martin Miller. Alongside Hendrick’s, it was amongst the first non-household name gins I tried when the brand first launched. It was just an excellent gin. That was circa 2005 and it’s one of the few non-Scottish Gins we keep well stocked. Great flavour profile and just a lovely, lovely tipple. I was surprised to find out later that it had been out for nearly six years before I’d tried it.
Besides gin, what else do you drink? (J. Stewart)
Martin: I still love a pint of Guinness Extra Cold or the occasional craft beer. There are some craft beers I can drink and enjoy and others that don’t do it for me. A dirty secret is I still enjoy a cold pint of Tennent’s lager, and I’ve never been able to drink Whisky. I also enjoy a Mount Gay Rum, especially when it’s part of Natalie’s Granddad’s secret family rum punch recipe. I’m slowly getting into cocktails, I love an Amaretto Sour, a Sezerac, French 75, Gimlet and more.
Natalie: A glass of fizz never goes a miss! I do enjoy my cocktails when I’m out – Amaretto Sour, Bellini, Espresso Martini. I also enjoy a Baileys and Snowball at Christmas, don’t judge!
What was the first gin that made you think ‘wow’? (P. Lorimer)
Natalie: There have been many gins that have made me say wow, but the first is difficult to remember. I tried Monkey 47 for the first time and was impressed; served with tonic and some slices of apple. I also remember the first time myself and Martin got a bottle of The Botanist. It was in the original rectangular bottle.
Martin: There have been a few for me, but I remember trying Hendrick’s Gin for the first time in 2005 on a night out and the barman asking if I would like a sliced cucumber. At first, it seemed like a novelty (and I did get a few raised eyebrows from my mates), but by the end of the night, several of them were drinking Hendrick’s Gin, tonic and cucumber. At the time, it was unlike anything else. I think the whole package – the bottle design, the botanicals, the serve, all helped it stand out from the established gin brands at the time.
Do you have a favourite Scottish Gin? (J. Thompson)
Martin: There are so many great Scottish Gins, and as I’m yet to try them all, I would be lying to say I have a favourite. The one thing that continually amazes, although I’ve seen first hand how much care and hard working goes into making a gin, is that every Scottish Gin I’ve tried has been great. I think this level of quality and being able to maintain it, shows the standard that Scottish Gin is currently at, including new gins coming to market made by makers who are not from a traditional distillation background… it’s impressive to see (and taste!).
Natalie: I’m yet to taste a Scottish Gin that I wouldn’t drink! With so many Scottish Gins to try, I think we’re on Scottish Gin No. 120, and it’s safe to say we’ve got at least another 100 to try! When you consider there are many limited edition gins, specialist gins produced for hotels, bars and shops, the Scottish Gin journey is one that continues to grow and continues to excite. Even trying a Scottish Gin that’s been on the market for a while is still fun and something myself and Martin both enjoy.
What influences your gin choice? (C. Brown)
Martin: That’s a good question. Being an Aberdonian, I’m expected to say cost, but the cost is the last thing on my mind when choosing a Scottish Gin. I like to try new gins that have a good story behind them. That might be in the form of the people who make the gin, the botanicals, or a historical influence or connection. I’ve found myself at the pub a few times with my mates explaining where the gin they’re drinking is made and by whom.
Natalie: I have to agree with Martin. I like a good story, and I like good people. I think this plays a massive role in influencing my gin choice. If I meet nice people, I want to support them and buy their gin. The gin, of course, has to be great, but the people and the story for me often make a good gin an excellent gin. I also keep an eye on social media to see what gin is being talked about. We’re lucky we’re focused on Scottish Gin, but there are lots of great gins being made all over the world. There are so many great gins on the market and all good quality. There’s never been a better time to be a gin drinker.
What do you think ‘sensible drinking’ and ‘enjoy responsibly’ actually mean? (L. Mitchell)
Natalie: I’ve seen a shift in recent years of people’s views of alcohol. Perhaps it’s just that I’m a bit older and wiser than I was a few years back, or maybe I go to bars where the patrons are of a certain age! On a serious note, sensible drinking for me means knowing when you’ve had enough and having friends who are not afraid to tell you when you’ve had enough. We know first hand it’s easy on a night out to get carried away! However, alcohol should be consumed in a way that means you can go out (or stay home), have a good time and get home safely at the end of the night.
As for The Gin Cooperative, all our activities are underpinned by a critical message of ‘Have fun and enjoy gin responsibly’. As a business that seeks to help tell the story of Scottish Gin, we understand that we have a responsibility to our audience and the general public to ensure that we encourage a sensible and educated attitude towards alcohol. With Gin’s old reputation of being associated with Mother’s Ruin, many, many businesses, organisations, individuals and others have worked extremely hard over the last 60 years to shift opinions of gin and reposition it as a premium, crafted spirit that’s made with skill and care.
Martin: In my younger days it often felt like there was no such thing as moderation on a night out. I turned 18 in 1998 and for the next ten years, a regular night out would have consisted of pints of lager, Jack Daniels & Coke, Vodka Red Bull and a lot more. When I look back at my attitudes towards drink compared to now, I’d like to think, with age, your taste buds (and common sense) towards alcohol matures.
Even compared to 20 years ago, pubs and clubs, club culture and nights out have changed. I think it’s partly down to on trade having to try harder to get the footfall, especially traditional pubs and traditional locals trying to attract new, regular customers, trying to bring in new blood. It’s been great for us as gin drinkers to see a more comprehensive selection of gins appearing behind the bar of many establishments. It’s also been pretty cool seeing new specialist gin bars popping up and adding to the story of gin. The likes of Gin 71 and 56 North are two of particular importance to the story of Scottish Gin. I know James at 56 North has been very supportive of many Scottish Gin brands, helping champion them at the bar and helping support the story of Scottish Gin through other activities, including attending and talking at events and taking part in gin debates.
Young people seem to be a bit more aware of alcohol and what they’re drinking, I think partly due to the price point of some drinks – if I’m spending money on a drink I want to know what it is I’m drinking and make sure I’m getting my money’s worth. I’ve seen young people asking about the provenance of gin, about the origin of wine, and what hops are used in a craft beer. I think more and more drinkers are educating themselves on what they’re drinking so they can make informed choices.
As for the term ‘sensible drinking’ and ‘enjoy responsibly’, it means many things to many people, but for me it means drinking and knowing my limit, telling my mates I’m going home and sticking to it and not ‘one more for the road’. I’d rather wake up the next day and not be scared to look at my bank account and think ‘I had a perfect night’ rather than the age-old ‘I’m never drinking again’. Have fun, know your limited and don’t be scared to go home early on a night out, no matter how much pressure your mates might put on you.
As Natalie said, as a business The Gin Cooperative takes its responsibility of promoting and encouraging sensible drinking seriously. One example of this is where we run competitions to win more than one gin; we have a postal schedule we stick to, that ensures the prizes are sent out individually and one week apart. We also have a variety of links on our note ‘A Helping Hand’ on Facebook. With more awareness of the pressures and strains of modern day life, mental health and well being are discussed more openly and honestly. The links in our article link to a variety of organisations and charities who are there to help anyone who needs a friendly ear to listen.
What’s been your favourite distillery visit? (J. Blair)
Natalie: All the distilleries we’ve visited so far are unique in their way, and all have their own unique charm. I think the very first time we set foot in a distillery was pretty amazing. We went to visit the team at Blackford Craft Distillery, who are just a few miles from where we’re based, when we were first undertaking some research. We met with the owners Katie and Neil Sim; we had a cup of tea and a chat about family, gin, vodka and more.
Martin: There are so many great distilleries that been established over the last few years. There are a few that stood out – McQueen Distillery in the Trossachs was pretty special. It was terrific seeing the distillery in its current form and being shown around the new distillery space by Dale McQueen, who explained the plans for expansion. I was also very impressed with the Darnley’s Distillery at Kingsbarn. The entire site was just so well done. From the refurbishment of the old building, to the visitor’s experience, to how the story of the site was told. It was very well thought out and indeed well entwined into the story of the brand and spirits produced. Crafty Distillery was another distillery that caught my attention. A purpose built distillery housed in a new, modern style building but a distillery that was packed with character in a fantastic setting. The tree bar was really cool – a whole tree trunk varnished and used as a bar.
Pickering’s at Summerhall, Inshriach, Kinrara, El-gin Gin Distillery, Strathearn were all diverse in their own ways. As Scotland’s reputation for producing world-class gin continues to grow, the distillery experience is something that will play a more critical role. It’s great to have seen first hand that distillers and brand owners are investing in this aspect of Scottish Gin.
Will you do gin reviews? (H. Thornton)
Natalie: Simple answer is no. There are lots of great people currently reviewing gin, genuine people who have the training, palate and experience, or at least the passion and care. for the reviews they produce. I don’t think it would be right for us as a business to say we are impartial and then start telling our audience which gins we think they should be drinking. It’s such a subjective drink that an award-winning gin to one person might not be their cup of tea and yet a gin that’s been awarded nothing is their favourite. For The Gin Cooperative, it’s important that we remain impartial and don’t pitch one gin brand against another. We believe all Scottish Gins should be discovered in their own right.
Martin: There are a lot of great, genuine people adding value to the story of gin through their reviews and content. We’ve been lucky that throughout the last ten months we had the pleasure of meeting speaking with some talented bloggers, reviewers and people whom we know are reviewing gin because they’re passionate about it and genuinely love gin.
On the flip side, it sometimes seems like there are many people who claim the title of ‘Gin Reviewer’, yet when it comes to the actual review, it adds very little value to the brand. I think if you’re trying to make a name for yourself as a gin reviewer, you need to make sure the content you produce is not only of a high standard, but also helps educate the viewer and adds something to the story of the gin.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to make gin? (K. Littlejohn)
Natalie: I know for a fact I’m not qualified enough to answer that accurately, as neither myself nor Martin make gin. The one thing I would say, and it’s a recurring theme, is to be very careful with your business name and how you name your gin. Think about the long term and potential product range. Trademark issues are a common occurrence across all drinks categories, so do your homework and research before choosing your business and gin name.
Most importantly, focus on making a very good gin. Don’t be gimmicky, don’t make bold claims that you can’t back up. Consumers put their trust in what they see and read with their eyes so don’t use smoke and mirrors or half-truths. It will undermine what you’re doing if the consumer sees through the charade, and also you’ll most likely lose the respect of your peers. Be honest with your story, make a great gin and focus on quality over trends or fads.
Martin: From my background as a graphic designer, I would say make sure you have the right brand architecture in place. It will sound nerdy but look at your brand architecture like a family tree – your business name, and business brand (logo) sits at the very top, and everything else, including your product names, come under your business name. A strong identity for your distillery/company is important and try to avoid tying your company name to one specific drink type. It will ensure your name is flexible and can accommodate any new drinks you decide to make in the future.
How much free gin do you get? (K. Skene)
Natalie: We still buy the vast majority of gin ourselves. We’ve been lucky that as our reputation has grown and gin makers understand what we’re trying to do for the category, that from time to time we’ll get sent a new gin to photograph for our website and social media pages. If we’re visiting a distillery, we’re often given a bottle to keep so we can use it for photography and editorial. When requesting a bottle for use in our content, for example photography, we always make it clear it doesn’t need to contain gin – empty or water filled is all that we require. It’s a privilege and a genuine surprise when you get a package and open it to find a gin maker has sent you a bottle of their new gin to try, but as I said it’s not something we expect.
Where do you see The Gin Cooperative in 5 years time? (G. Anderson)
Martin: We see the next five years as a critical time for Scottish Gin brands. With talk of a gin bubble, we want to make sure we’re in a position to evolve as a business and continue to support Scottish Gin makers and brands as the category and industry changes. We’ve got many things in the works, for our website and some other exciting things we’re keeping under wraps, but I’d like to think we will continue to have an engaged and significant social media audience, along with continuing to produce excellent quality editorial content. Based on the feedback we’ve had so far, we’re starting to earn the respect of the Scottish Gin makers and brands as they see how we’re talking about Scottish Gin and how we’re presenting it to our growing audience.
Natalie: Regarding our audience, we’ve far exceeded our expectations for our website traffic with the site getting between 12-15,000 unique visitors monthly since it went live in April this year, so we’ve been blown away by our analytics. We’re also delighted with our growing social media post reach, which across our combined channels reaches over 120,000 people per month.
For example, when you look at our likes to posts ratio and how long we’ve been established, we’ve got a fantastic level of engagement. Martin will sometimes go full nerd with his background in design and marketing when he looks at the analytics, but as long as we’re in a position where we’ve earned the right to have a voice in Scottish Gin, are continuing to add value and produce content that’s original, unique and of a high standard, then I’m happy.
It’s amazing to think that we currently have 67 Scottish Gin makers signed up to a premium profile. It would be great to think that in 5 years time that number could be doubled. There’s a few gin makers who haven’t came on board yet and the door is always open, but we’re delighted with the feedback we’ve had about our impartiality and standard of the content we create.
Considering the website only went live in April, we’ve had an amazing uptake from the Scottish Gin makers. I think it’s also testament to them that they’ve come on board and want to support us so we can give the consumer more avenues and opportunities to explore and discover Scottish Gin.
We’ve resisted the temptation and offers to add advertising to our website – we want to make it a genuine experience for the visitor, so we’re keeping the site advert free. Where we’ll be in 5 years time is a good question. I’d hope in 5 years time that International Scottish Gin Day is a firmly established day in the calendar that is seen as a chance to speak and tell the world how great Scottish Gin is. As for The Gin Cooperative, it would great to be in a position where can continue to play an active role in supporting Scottish Gin makers and brands, both firmly established brands and new brands, continue to help educate the consumer and provide an excellent resource for the on and off trade.
It’s difficult to say where the industry will be but regardless, as long as people are making Scottish Gin, we will do our best to make sure we’re telling their story and helping people discover Scottish Gin.
What do you think makes you different from other similar gin related businesses and organisations? (A. Fischer)
Natalie: I don’t see other organisations or individuals who talk about gin as competitors or rivals. I think there’s room for all types of businesses related to gin and I think there are a lot of great people doing a lot of great work to help raise the profile of gin. For the other individuals and businesses like ourselves, I think it’s in our collective interests to ensure we’re all adding value to the story of gin for the consumer and the gin brands we talk about. It can only be a good thing for the gin category and that’s what we’re focused on.
As for what makes us different, I’d say I’m lucky to have Martin in the business. We’re in a position where we can create all our content in-house. Everything from the graphics we create for our competitions and promotions, to photography, videography and editorial. It gives us full control over what we put out and I’d like to think it’s of a very high standard, going by the feedback we receive.
Martin: I think our marketing and branding perspective when it comes to content perhaps makes us different. Our approach is always focused on, What value will this content add? Is it engaging? How does it help the consumer? We’ve pushed back on a few things we’ve been sent as we didn’t feel it really added value or met our editorial criteria, so I guess we’re very selective and careful about not just our own content but also the content we share on our social media channels.
As Natalie said there are a lot of people all contributing in their own way to the story of gin, which can only be a good thing. The more chances the consumer has to understand and learn about gin the better.
How we speak about Scottish Gin is a reflection on us so we want to make sure we use the right tone of voice and that visually we really showcase the gin brands in a way that is on-brand and in keeping with their story.
Saying all of the above, I don’t always get it right. My spelling can leave a lot to be desired so Twitter is my arch nemesis and sometimes my downfall. When will they introduce the ability to amend a Tweet haha?!
When all is said and done, The Gin Cooperative is about supporting and telling the story of Scottish Gin. It isn’t about myself or Natalie. Granted, we are the people behind the business but the business is about Scottish Gin, telling and sharing the story in a way we see as adding value to the category and to the people we work with.