The Wonderful World of Scottish Gin

Liz Robson, Ginspired Scotland.

Published: 7th July 2020

There is no doubting the world of Scottish Gin is truly wonderful and there are some fantastic individuals, businesses and organisations playing a part in telling its 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.

As Scotland’s gin sector continues to grow, more and more distilleries are looking at ways of incorporating visitor experiences, where people can enjoy a tour, take part in a gin school and make their own gin, or be taken through a tutored tasting by a distiller. As the popularity of food and drink tourism in Scotland continues to grow, we caught up with Liz Robson, founder of Ginspired Scotland to learn more about her business, her background and discover why she thinks Scottish Gin has an important role in Scotland’s exciting reputation as a country producing world class food and drinks.

Can you tell us a bit more about your background and how you got involved in the world of Scottish Gin and tourism?

I spent a few years working in hospitality and 20 years I worked with Diageo as part of their global marketing team for Scotch Whisky. My role was to head a team dedicated to designing visits to Scotland for trade customers and media groups from around the world, according to the needs of each market and each brand. It was an excellent way to get to know Scotland and to apply the rich heritage and culture to the visitor experience, bringing the brands to life that way. 

I especially loved that we had distilleries across most of Scotland, and so we could create itineraries with great diversity; perhaps entertaining customers in city centre Michelin starred restaurants on day one, and then landing them on a remote beach to cook fresh langoustines over an open fire on day two – creating magical occasions was always a highlight! 

I watched while Scottish Gin emerged as a category, and saw the range of geographies in play. To me, that meant an opportunity to showcase the huge variety of experiences available to visitors across Scotland, through the lens of Scottish Gin, and an opportunity to use my wide experience in whisky on Scottish gin. Scottish Gin & Tourism, a refreshing combination! 

What inspired you to set-up Ginspired Scotland?

As always, things seem to happen for a reason! A change of structure and reporting line meant I was ready to leave Diageo, but I couldn’t find something that excited me. Another change then meant a redundancy offer, which was perfect for me although bad news for many. That gave me the opportunity to re-design my working life and pursue some dreams! One of those was to set up an organisation to promote Scotland as a holiday destination through the lens of Scottish Gin. To make Scottish Gin more visible and accessible to visitors by gathering the relevant information they needed together in one place, and to guide them through the process to include Scottish Gin experiences in their holiday plans. And so Ginspired Scotland was born!

Do you think Scotland can be a leader in the food and drink tourism sector?

Very much so. In food, of course, we benefit from the global recognition of our clean fresh air, clear waters, and high standards in agriculture and animal welfare. In drinks, especially distilled spirits, there’s probably no other nation quite so synonymous with a single variety. We have a worldwide reputation as producers of the very best whisky in the world, and a heritage to beat any newcomers no matter what their credentials. Transfer that to gin and I believe that consumers completely understand that quality is at the heart of it all, and the knowledge built over countless generations of distillers is evident in every glass.

What’s the best thing about your job?

I love meeting new people and hearing their stories, but I get really excited when a gin producer is grappling with a problem and I can trawl back through my whisky years to help them to solve it. Whisky tourism is itself only about 30 years old, so it went through much of the same evolution as gin faces now. There’s no point re-inventing the wheel after all. 

The other ‘best thing’ is my team. I love working with my colleagues Sarah and Sally who bring so much enthusiasm, knowledge and capability to the table – best team ever!

What excites you about Scottish Gin?

The tremendous and endless variety on offer already, and the potential for so much more! Some expressions are driven by the location, some simply by the brand owner’s imagination or ambition. Gin is such a versatile spirit with a universal appeal across gender and age range, that the gin boom wave happening in many countries just now, will start to gather pace in second wave markets after that. With Scotland at the forefront of quality gin production, tourism can also benefit from the consumer’s desire to see the origin of their favourite brands. So, gin becomes another great reason for travellers to choose Scotland as their preferred holiday destination. To me, that’s a way of bringing additional value to the brands and to the country, so we should do it!

What do you think makes Scotland’s food and drink special?

I think it’s always been special, but its reputation was dreadful and we probably did little to address it until relatively recently. In terms of the larder available to us all, it’s amazing and still under-appreciated by many. We have great seafood, meat, game, charcuterie, dairy, fruit, cereals, veg, and our confectionery and bakeries are world class too. Some high-profile chefs and award-winning restaurants have really helped to put Scotland firmly on the foodie travel map, thank goodness for them!

What Scottish Gin experiences do you think people should plan to visit once things start to reopen?

As many as they can fit in! My ambition is that Gin Visits sit in the same space as Whisky Distillery Tours do now. That would mean that 20% of visitors who overnight in Scotland would visit one. It doesn’t feel like a big ask considering the appeal of gin is wider than that of whisky, but it’ll take a little while. If we can reach that goal the prizes are huge. Not just for the gin brands themselves, but for their local area, bringing spend and the potential to support employment in all surrounding hospitality businesses. What a fantastic legacy that would be! That ambition also replicates whisky in that many of those visitors wouldn’t necessarily describe themselves as gin fans first and foremost. They are simply including the experience in their holiday itinerary because Scotland has become known for its gin. That’s the way we get a mass audience face to face with our brands, and the opportunity to bring them onboard. This is a sector which can’t easily be reached in any other way, but this is where the numbers are. 

So, to answer the question (eventually!) I can’t be specific on the best experience to visit because it’ll depend on their whole itinerary and what space they have within it. All that I would urge them is to visit one, with an open mind, and then they’ll see what all the fuss is about. Oh, and to use our Gincyclopedia to plan their trip of course!

What do you think makes a Scottish Gin Scottish?

Without getting into the complexities of what is done to what and where (which clearly needs to be defined but not by me), I see a Scottish Gin producer as someone who creates the finished product here, using local ingredients as far as they can. Important too to use local labour and get the support of local stockists, but it doesn’t have to be swathed in tartan and images of bagpipes and heather covered hills. Again, if we use the example of Scotch whisky, there’s only a relatively small proportion of whisky out there that uses 100% Scottish barley, and that’s never been an issue, it’s more about the skills and knowledge of the maker. 

What do you think we do can to support Scottish Gin, Scottish food producers and the tourism industry in Scotland?

When you say ‘we’, I’m assuming that’s not just you and I! I think we all have a role to play in this and it can start young. Speak to a group of high schoolers and ask where they would send visitors to their local area and they’d struggle to come up with anything much. Show them the latest showreel produced by their local DMO and they’ll realise they haven’t visited half the places within reach of home, yet they’re probably planning to head off to Ibiza when they can! We can get a lot better at creating ownership and pride in our young people of the whole country. Not just for the benefit of tourism, but when you’re proud of something you’re much less likely to want to break it, litter it, or let it down in some way. It would be great if this could happen in schools, but parents and other influencers can lead by example too. Instead of automatically planning a holiday with an airport at each end, think Scotland instead. It then percolates down into choosing to buy local produce because we truly believe it tastes better and we want to support our Scottish producers, not just because it’s PC at present. With Brexit, lockdown, and goodness knows what other pressures just around the corner, a strong sense of national pride is going to be something that can really help multiple industries, and should be encouraged.

What’s next for Ginspired Scotland?

Well we’re keeping going during lockdown, doing what we can to support gin producers and the hospitality industry where possible. We had just started to recruit Members as lockdown hit, so we suspended Membership fees but continued to push ahead. We know the world will never be the same again, and some favourites of ours have already been lost, which is tragic. 

Where we think we can help is to encourage people to plan their next holiday, when it’s safe to do so, in Scotland. Whether it’s a weekend break or a two week blow out, we hope to give ideas and inspiration for every eventuality. We’ll be working on ‘Autumn is the new Summer’ as we’ll all be hoping to extend the usual holiday season as long as possible, and to gather new ideas for leisure activities during the winter months too, so those businesses which survive might claw back something from the quieter months. We’re concentrating those efforts on the UK market as that’s where the initial business is expected to originate, but we’ll also be working hard with our travel trade contacts to ensure Scotland is seen as a safe, clean, fresh environment to discover Scottish Gin in 2021/22 and onwards. 

We’ll re-start once the future looks a little clearer and we can confidently plan our way forward. But for now we’ll focus on supporting the category as a whole and to get closer to the goals we’ve set ourselves, ie to make Scottish Gin another compelling reason for Scotland to be a holiday destination of choice, and to give visitors the tools they need to find it.

Image Credit: All images ©The Gin Cooperative

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