The Wonderful World of Scottish Gin

Sean Murphy, Scotsman Food & Drink.

Published: 12th December 2018

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.

As a journalist for Scotsman Food & Drink, Sean Murphy has championed and supported Scottish food and drink for a number of years. Along with his love of Whisky, Sean has also witnessed the rise in popularity of gin and in particular has followed the rise of Scottish Gin closely. Sean recently released his first book Gin Galore: A Journey to the Source of Scotland’s Gin, which takes a look at fifty Scottish Gins, along with a plethora of Scottish Gin related info. We caught up with Sean to learn more about his Scottish Gin journey.

Tell us about yourself.

Well I got into whisky after moving back from Tokyo almost a decade ago and not having a clue what I wanted to do with myself, so I got a job with my cousin in the Pot Still (before my family owned it) and from there my love of whisky (and other drinks like beer) began to grow.

As luck would have it, I’d also been writing terrible stories since I was young and there came the opportunity to mix the two, at first it was just for fun but after a while enough people were appreciative enough of my writing to give me opportunities and, after going to college to get a journalism degree (where I was the oldest person in the class), I was able to land a job with The Scotsman.

How did you become involved in Scottish Food & Drink?

In 2015, the Scottish government decided to declare the Year of Scotland Food and Drink and to coincide with this, the paper decided to create a hybrid website that would be a focus for food and drink stories and thanks to my background in hospitality and occasional writing on whisky, my editor wisely (or perhaps unwisely) decided I was the perfect person to run the site.

Though my major focus was drink, over the next year or two I grew a bigger appreciation for something I already enjoyed – eating – and so I was able to apply my enthusiasm for both food and drink to creating stories for Scotsman Food and Drink. Thankfully, there seemed to be an audience, and thanks to a revolving set of guest writers, and most of my own work, we are now pushing close to 10 million page views for the site and it still blows my mind to think how quickly the site has grown.

What does a typical week look like?

Emails, lots and lots of emails. Oh, and usually being chased up by PR staff members and my editor on the phone. Luckily this usually is broken up with face to face meetings with new producers and the focus of our stories, as well as the occasional press trip where I get to go round the country learning about this wonderful industry and reaffirming my opinion that we really do have something special in this country that’s worth shouting about.

How do you keep on top of what’s going on?

Social media, emails, PR, word of mouth… you name it, I probably use it. Probably the hardest part of my job is keeping on top of everything that’s going and finding time to somehow get it up on the site. The gin industry in particular nearly gave me at least three major anxiety attacks when trying to keep up with how many new producers there were for my first book, Gin Galore, which when I was first asked to write, I thought it would be relatively easy to do. I was very, very wrong.

What are the perks of the job?

The people, I come from a pretty huge family and have always taken a special delight in being around people, meeting them and getting learn about their lives and their personal stories. It sounds really contrived but I’m always fascinated by most people that I meet and so it’s usually fun doing a job that involves a lot of networking.

Also, as journalists, we get access to a lot of really, really cool things and sometimes it can be easy to take it for granted. Luckily, I usually maintain a childlike glee for most things, for instance, a few months ago, my editor couldn’t go to an event so I went in his place, which meant that I was flown from Glasgow to the new Macallan distillery by helicopter with a lot of other journalists who were massively above my pay grade. I still get ripped in the Glasgow office for it, and there are more than a few jokes about ‘my airs and graces’ but I can assure you I didn’t take it for granted for a second and find traipsing around on muddy farms in the rain to chat to farmers just as exciting.

What are the pitfalls of the job?

Being a journalist can be stressful, and in the current climate, it can be hard to be enthused about the media industry as a career. I sometimes think I missed out on the golden years, particularly when you watch documentaries like the Paper Thistle but then I remember that I quite like my liver and can barely write well while sober never mind after what the older heads used to call a “liquid lunch”.

What does the term Scottish Gin mean to you?

A gin that is made in Scotland, and that can be contract distilled and cold compound too.

What do you think is the ‘next big thing’ in the world of Gin?

Let’s see, we’ve had pink gin, fruit gin liqueurs, glitter gin… I think I’ll play it safe and say mixers? I think though most people love tonic, not everyone does and sometimes it can be a barrier to someone entering the category. It’ll be interesting to see what other mixers become common over the next few years for drinking with gin.

Also, I kind of hope it becomes more acceptable to drink gin neat, I’m a huge fan of just trying whichever gin I’m drinking with just a little ice and maybe a slice of lime (or even without those things) before I add a mixer.

Oh yeah, and of course my book, Gin Galore.

What are your personal top five recommendations for Food & Drink experiences in Scotland?

Top five? That’s a little constricting is it not?

Ok here goes:

1. Visit Speyside at least once in your life, and take a designated driver with you. You won’t believe how many amazing whisky (and now gin) distilleries there are within such a tight space.

2. Spend a weekend in Aberdeen, it’s a city with an incredible food and drink scene that doesn’t get shouted about enough (Eat on the Green in Udny is a particular highlight).

3. Enjoy a night out in Glasgow, seriously, we have an amazing food and drink scene with restaurants of every style like six by nico, Gamba, the Spanish Butcher, Paesano, the Finnieston… the list goes on. Don’t forget to have a dram or two in the Pot Still and the Bon Accord before hitting Bath Street for a late night beer or two.

4. Go to any of the islands (I don’t care which one), all of them are amazing and are well worthy of your attention for both their seafood (Mull and Skye) and their spirits (Islay, Orkney and Arran for whisky and of course Harris and Shetland for their gin).

5. Learn all about gin making and foraging with tours at places like Crafty Distillery in Dumfries, Pixel Spirits in North Ballachulish, Colonsay Gin on Colonsay and NB in North Berwick to name a few.

What’s next?

Promoting my Scottish gin book mainly. I’m still unsure how I managed to finish it but the publishers have managed to make it look amazing, so now it’s just down to getting it out there and telling people about it. Thankfully, that’s something I’m good at.

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