The Wonderful World of Scottish Gin

David Hughes, The Gin School Scotland.

Published: 14th August 2019

There is no doubting the world of Scottish Gin is truly wonderful and there are some fantastic individuals and organisations playing their part in telling it’s story. Our editorial series ‘The Wonderful World of Scottish Gin’ shines a light on some of these individuals and organisations who share our passion for all things Scottish Gin.

The Gin School Scotland was launched in November 2018 by David Hughes, who has a background in spirits and hospitality, having lived and worked around the world specialising in hospitality, food and drink and the on-trade. The pull of Scotland was too much for David, which saw him return to Scotland to start a career at a Scottish whisky distillery before progressing to distiller. As a long-time gin drinker and admirer of well crafted spirits, especially the many fantastic Scottish Gins that make up the family of Scottish Gins, David saw an opportunity to create an experience for gin drinkers to help them understand and learn more about Scotland’s growing gin category.

Tell us about yourself?

Myself and my wonderful partner, Bobbi, live in Lamlash, on Arran with our 2 weans – Robyn, 4 and Alexander who is 2 days old (at time of writing)! I’ve been a gin drinker since I was 18 and a west end barman upsold me from a council G n T to double Tanqueray 10 and bottled (not draught tonic) cost me 12 quid, which was half my booze budget for the night but I loved it! I grew up in Milngavie but went to secondary school in Maryhill, meaning I was bi-lingual from an early age. First proper job was the “skybox” at Celtic Park on match days and the Walfrid restaurant through the week. From there I moved to the Chelsea Village Hotel at Chelsea FC and that’s where I realised that I had a talent for bar and restaurant work and the hospitality industry would allow me to travel pretty much anywhere I wanted to go. Since then I’ve been lucky enough to live and work in the Cayman Islands, Australia, Monaco, the Canary Islands and finally, after deciding to leave hospitality, I spent four years on the Isle of Jura, working at the distillery where I was both mashman and distiller.

What was the inspiration behind setting up the The Gin School Scotland?

Nightshift at Jura whisky distillery around 4am 3 years ago. My shift partner had been talking about Isle of Harris as he had been thinking of taking up a position there and we had been discussing the logistics of setting up a gin distillery. I had been watching the progress of a number of new Scottish gins and was keen to use my distilling skills to make my own gin. Fast forward 12 months and a lot of research I realised that Scotland already had dozens of world class gins being produced by small batch distillers but the recognition wasn’t there. I had been doing “fact-finding” in bars in Finnieston, Stockbridge, the Merchant city and beyond and with the exception of Harris, Botanist, Hendricks and couple of other big hitters, the public and (even worse) the bar staff were blissfully unaware of what was being produced right here in Scotland. So rather than produce a gin, I decided to use my unique skill set and The Gin School Scotland was born. Its mission is simple – Inform, Educate and Entertain with regard to craft Scottish gin.

What does The Gin School Scotland offer?

We aim to inform, educate and entertain and offer a range of services to the benefit of the distillers we work with and the public keen to know more about craft gins. For example, in the last couple of months we’ve hosted a superb mini festival with a number of our favourite producers here on Arran for World Gin Day, delivered a guest lecture covering cocktails, mixology and Scottish gin for hospitality students at Glasgow City College, held one of our signature G n Tees events at Bishopbriggs Golf Club and conducted private bespoke tastings with matched food at clients’ homes.

Do you think Scottish Gin needs some form of protection?

Absolutely, but it’s a minefield! For me Scottish gin should be just that: Scottish. I know it’s virtually impossible for the small gins to produce base spirit but after that the botanicals, the process, the company headquarters, the logistics should, where possible, be entirely Scottish.  Scottish gin already enjoys an excellent reputation worldwide for quality and innovation. Currently it is far too easy to reap the benefits of other people’s hard work by slapping a label on a bottle that isn’t by any stretch of the imagination, Scottish or indeed gin!

What excites you about Scottish Gin?

The innovation of our distillers. Not simply in terms of the incredible new liquids being produced but the new environmentally aware methods of production and of bringing gin to market too. I also feel a sense of pride in being a very small part of a process that I believe will see this country renowned for its gin in the same way its known for its malts and simply, it’s a real pleasure being in contact with the producers that I speak to day to day who, whilst being in competition with each other, are a real community.

Why do you think Scottish Gin has become so popular?

A number of factors have contributed, but quality and provenance are the main reasons Scottish gin is thriving – social change has seen consumers seek out quality rather than quantity and drinkers today have a real interest in how their tipple has arrived in front of them.

What does the term Scottish Gin mean to you?

A product that is made in Scotland, by people who live in Scotland, and should be Juniper led.

How do you keep on top of what’s going on in the world of Scottish Gin? 

Social media gives an idea of what’s happening and the Scottish Gin Society does an excellent job. I try to devote one day a week to “homework” and keeping up to date but it’s a full time gig in itself! When I get a minute I enjoy catching up with distillers, calling them up for a chat – to a man or woman everyone is happy to blether away and I think that’s one of the reasons that the Gin School Scotland has been a success – the personal touch.

Any special mentions or shout outs for people who have helped support The Gin School Scotland?

Jings, where to start! On a personal note my partner has been incredibly supportive but might just ditch me if I mention gin one more time over dinner. In a professional sense – James Sutherland has been invaluable with advice and it’s not unfair to describe him as a Scottish gin guru/evil genius figure and great fun. I will be eternally grateful to Colin McLean (McLean’s Gin), Mark Hazell (Bardowie Gin) and Stuart McVicar (Biggar Gin) who have backed Gin School Scotland from the beginning and for me embody the ethos of Scottish Craft gin.

What’s next for The Gin School Scotland?

We have a few new ideas soon to come to fruition – without giving too much away we are looking to take advantage of Scotland’s new “Gin Tourism” market, we will be expanding our G n Tees project and will continue to inform educate and entertain every day. We would have loved to be part of ISGD 2019 but obviously my young family came first this year. However, we’re looking forward to playing a part in next year’s bigger and better ISGD 2020!

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