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2021: A Year in Scottish Gin - The Gin Cooperative

2021: A Year in Scottish Gin - The Gin Cooperative

For many Scottish Gin producers and brand owners, 2021 was a re-run of 2020. The pandemic and Covid still loomed, largely hampering and obstructing opportunities for growth with key hospitality sales channels closed. The pandemic was further compounded by the labour shortages across the drinks supply chain including haulage and goods imported to the UK from the EU. However, as we mentioned in our review of 2020 last year, Scotland’s gin makers and brand owners are not afraid of a challenge. We believe they can overcome anything that’s thrown their way but there’s no denying 2021 was once again a challenging year for all drinks producers.

One positive was that some live events managed to go ahead for certain periods of 2021; life and business felt ‘normal’ on occasion. The Gin to My Tonic Show in Glasgow went ahead along with a number of other drinks and business events including the in-person Scottish Gin Awards 2021. Scottish Gin brands and hospitality also continued to grow their online events including tutored tasting events and home cocktails from some of the world’s best bars.

As we start 2022, we’re optimistic and hopeful that this year will be the year the Scottish Gin industry can find stability so producers and brands can refocus their energies on new opportunities along with other plans that have been put on hold due to the uncertainty of the last two years.

We want to say a big thank you to our members who have continued to support us when times were tough. Your trust in us as a business showcasing your brands, stories and Scottish Gins means a lot. We are a small family business and do work hard to make sure consumers and trade have access to the very best Scottish Gin content and we will endeavour to showcase our members and the wider Scottish Gin category as the gin category that consumers should have at the top of their list to discover.

We also want to give thanks to all the businesses across the world of drink, food, hospitality and of course our friends and collaborators in the gin community for supporting, inspiring, collaborating, sharing and being part of what we do.

2021 Scottish Gin in numbers

Creating and managing the world’s largest A-Z directory of Scottish Gin allows us to log the Scottish Gins released in any given year. The data helps us look at which gin styles proved most popular, new brand launches and more. Looking at our data as of 1st of January 2022 for the previous 12 months, some Scottish Gin facts include:

New gin and brands included Tipple Gin, Shipyard Gin, Sky Garden Gin from Dark Art Distillery, Foghouse Gin, Arrochar Alps Gin, Fassfern Distillery, Great Glen Distillery, Isle of Coll Distillery, Loch Goil Gin, Precision Spirits and many more. The trends for 2021 show a smaller number of new gin brands launched but an increase in the number of new Scottish Gin expressions. For the first time in 3 years, the number of London Dry gins released was higher than any other gin style including Distilled and Flavoured, a positive sign of the time and investment by distillers and brand owners focusing on their production process and quality.

Dark Art Distillery based in Kirkcudbright, Dumfries & Galloway opened its doors and launched the signature Sky Garden Gin. Pic: The Gin Cooperative Aberdeen based Tipple Spirits launched their signature Tipple Gin in 2021 after delaying the original launch in 2020 due to the pandemic. Pic: The Gin Cooperative

UK Gin Sales

Looking at the data from the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), it’s no surprise to see gin sales across the on-trade down by nearly 50% compared to the previous year. Sales in the on-trade channel reached £647 million in the 12 months leading up to July 2021. In the same period in 2020 in-premises gin sales were £1.1 billion. Lockdowns, restrictions and consumer confidence all impacted the hospitality sector who had already come through 2020 after a year of uncertainty and additional pressures of the ever changing Covid guidance.

The off-trade however saw an increase of 30% to £1.3 billion in the year to 27 March 2021, equal to 80m bottles as consumers turned to online, buying gin from the comfort of their own home or opting for the familiarity of shopping at their local supermarket and shops.

The popularity of Flavoured Gin showed no signs of slowing down with an estimated 40% of all gin sales being Flavoured Gin, equal to around 30 million bottles. This has been the trend since Flavoured Gin was first mooted when Diageo launched Gordon’s Pink Gin in July 2017.

Exports were also down since the start of the pandemic with the first 6 months of 2019 yielding £332.6 million worth of juniper spirit exports. Compare this to the first 6 months of 2021 and juniper spirit exports were at £215 million.

Collective gin sales in 2021 were down, as many in the industry predicted they would be. Focusing on the Scottish Gin category, some smaller brands and producers benefitted and had challenges in equal measure. Many with their smaller overheads and smaller volumes were able to adapt quickly, especially the producers who had a strong cash flow and assets available to help them adapt. The smaller brands who had established a large number of sales channels including local, regional and UK wide distribution and listings with wholesale, were able to move some volume throughout 2021, but without question 2021 was a year of uncertainty for Scottish Gin across the board.

The smaller producers who have focused and invested in growing their local sales channels to local retailers and businesses also benefited as consumers turned to supporting and buying local. Some of the smaller brands were able to highlight their location and ties to the area and help reinforce the ‘buy local, support local’ message. Once again it comes down to the objectives and goals for each individual producer and brand.

The overall picture for 2021, while proving challenging given the uncertainty of Covid and issues with supply chain, saw Scottish Gin as a category continue to maintain its global presence, with the super premium Scottish Gins placing in the top gin brands in the Drinks International Annual Brands Report for 2022, which is now in its 13th year. The Botanist Islay Dry Gin placed 3rd on the top trending gin brands list, with Hendrick’s Gin placing 5th. And although we don’t class Gordon’s or Tanqueray as inherently Scottish Gins, despite now being made in Scotland, Tanqueray placed 1st on the best selling brand list, Hendrick’s placed 4th and Gordon’s 9th. Tanqueray also placed 2nd of the top trending gin brands list.

The Drinks International Annual Brands Report pulls its data from a list of 100 of the world’s best bars, with owners, managers and head bartenders providing their accounts for stock purchased and other stats collated to create a snapshot of current trends across the on-trade sector.

The Gin Cooperative – membership

Our membership has consistently remained around the 80 mark since since 2018, with every member producing their gin in Scotland by a business based in Scotland that believes in and champions the Scottish Gin category. We’ve always approached what can be a touchy subject for some, ‘what is a Scottish Gin’ with a clear ethos that Scottish Gin should be made in Scotland by a business based in Scotland by people who believe Scottish Gin is a recognisable brand and spirits category.

Considering there are only two of us behind The Gin Cooperative, we believe membership not only offers value for money but collectively with our members, we are helping raise the bar for how Scottish Gin is presented to consumers. From our original photography and editorial to our distillery visits to capture content, International Scottish Gin Day and more, we can confidently say that The Gin Cooperative is the premium resource for all things Scottish Gin.

The Gin Cooperative – editorial and content

Our 2021 editorial schedule remained busy with 52 new features published on our website and various campaigns and content published across our social media channels. As most businesses will testify to with social media, posts can be hit or miss; something you believe will garner great engagement can go relatively unnoticed whilst a quick unplanned post can gain traction and lots of engagement. Our focus for our social media channels is to remain focused on quality, consistency and sharing the story of Scottish Gin.

It would be easy to fall into the trap of gin memes and quirky posts but for us, Scottish Gin should be positioned as something that is created with care, passion and skill; a premium product backed up with fantastic brands and creative, hard working people. A meme featuring a bunch of women drunk in the gutter shouting “it’s gin o’clock” doesn’t promote what Scottish Gin is about. Of course Scottish Gin should be fun but the content being published should not only add value to the term Scottish Gin it should also be underlined by a drink responsibly message.

The Gin Cooperative – shop

We opened the online shop with 130 products in December 2020 with the aim of not only supporting as many members as possible with direct sales, but also growing one the largest, carefully curated selections of Scottish Gin from an independent retailer. As at December 2021, we list over 270 products covering all styles of gin from producers and brands across Scotland – what we believe to now be the largest selection of Scottish Gin available online from an independent retailer. This is further supported by detailed profiles and tasting notes about the brands and Scottish Gins stocked in our shop, providing transparency and quality information for the consumer.

From the outset we wanted all our packaging to be 100% recyclable. Having already worked with the team at Flexi-Hex as a sponsor of International Scottish Gin Day, we knew their packaging solution ticked all the green credentials we wanted and looked fantastic, whilst keeping our customers orders safe. It’s been a real pleasure to work with them and see their business go from strength to strength.

As our shop sales grew throughout the year, it meant we were in a position to purchase stock directly from our members, where it made sense for both parties. Our Scottish Gin subscription also sees us buying our stock directly from our members along with the virtual meet-the-maker event; once again supporting, collaborating and showcasing our members stories, brands and products.

The Gin Cooperative shop features the largest online selection of Scottish Gin from an independent retailer. Pic: The Gin Cooperative The Flexi-Hex packaging system is 100% recyclable and uses the patented, honeycomb design made from paper, which is strong, adaptable, and biodegradable. Pic: The Gin Cooperative

We also launched our ‘A Taste of Scottish Gin’ tasting packs, which provide five Scottish Gin minis and tasting notes. It was one of the recurring discussions we had with consumers and fellow gin drinkers, was the chance to buy samples to try before committing to buying a full size bottle of gin. We saw this as a chance to create some unique tasting packs that could help consumers discover Scottish Gin and learn more about the brands.

Our shop has once again been a labour of love from the initial idea to launch and quick growth over the last 12 months. Every order is processed by us and all stock is stored and dispatched by us so we can keep quality control over the whole process from purchase to dispatch. We’ve got some exciting plans for developing products further in 2022 and can’t wait to show our members, customers and followers what we’ve been up to.

The Gin Cooperative – developing our capabilities and knowledge

2021: A Year in Scottish Gin - The Gin Cooperative

We’ve invested in photography equipment, including new cameras and a drone along with the relevant pilots licence, insurance and other paperwork required to commercially operate. We’re excited to grow our capabilities and how we capture the story of Scottish Gin and also develop our understanding of the gin and spirits making process along with the business side of the industry.

We also very much enjoyed a more active role in judging gins this year, taking part in a number of gin competitions as judges. Although we know what we like in a gin and can be subjective when it comes to taste, we’ve very much enjoyed developing our understanding of flavour and taste over the last few years with co-founder Martin passing his WSET Level 1 in Spirits and planning to undertake the WSET Level 2 in Spirits, followed by the Level 3 course.

WSET The Wine & Spirit Education Trust provides globally recognised education and qualifications in wines, spirits and sake, for professionals and enthusiasts. Pic: The Gin Cooperative We’ve continued to invest in the business during 2021 and looked at ways we can further our capabilities to capture the story of Scottish Gin through photography and video content. Pic: The Gin Cooperative

The Gin Cooperative – on the road

Our focus on creating original content to showcase Scottish Gin and our members brands and stories continued in 2021. Having visited close to 70 Scottish Gin distilleries over the two preceding years, 2021 was the year we’d planned to go island hopping and visit the west coast of Scotland. A week long tour of Scottish Gin distilleries and meeting the makers and our members was something we’d really been looking forward to. As with every other facet of life in 2021, we put our plans on hold but that didn’t stop us from getting out on the road when it was safe, sensible and legal!

Our visits to see our members provide us with a truly unique opportunity to capture our members distilleries and locations. Even since we started in December 2017, the Scottish Gin category has continued to grow and evolve at pace. New brands and new distilleries have literally launched or opened their doors nearly every month. We’re in a privileged and unique position to capture this growth, whilst building a rather large archive of original Scottish Gin content.

Arbikie

Known for their field-to-bottle approach that underpins the distillery ethos combined with innovation and sustainability, we were delighted in August 2021 to visit the team at the Arbikie Distillery in Angus. With the launch of their Nàdar Gin and Vodka, made using peas and both world firsts as climate positive spirits, we chatted with distillers Kirsty Black and Christian Perez about life in the distillery and gained some amazing insight into the field-to-bottle process.

The driveway leading to the Arbikie Distillery and the soon to be open visitor experience. Pic: The Gin Cooperative Natalie behind the scenes at the Arbikie Distillery capturing some video footage. Pic: The Gin Cooperative

Co-founders John and Iain Stirling also made time to chat about sustainability and the family legacy of the farm, now under the stewardship of the Stirling brothers. John gave us a guided tour around the distillery and the farm, highlighting the new visitor experience, the ongoing juniper plantation project along with the botanicals being grown in the super size polytunnel.

The new visitor experience was still under construction with John talking us through each area of the new experience including what will be an amazing balcony area providing panoramic views of the stunning Lunun Bay. We also got to meet some of the farm’s friendly inhabitants including the Highland coos!

Learn more about Arbikie here.

City of Aberdeen Distillery

As Aberdeen’s first and only distillery to operate a still, City of Aberdeen Distillery opened its doors to the public in December 2019. Featuring a gin school where guests can come along and distil their own gin, plus a range of Scottish Gin expressions, it was exciting for us as Aberdonians to see Aberdeen’s first operational distillery for 150 years. At the time of opening, we were invited by the co-founders to experience the new gin school, learn more about the business and sample their range of gins.

The refreshed packaging for the City of Aberdeen Distillery features key botanicals and tasting notes for each of their small batch Scottish Gins. Pic: The Gin Cooperative Chamomile Gin is just one in the range of Scottish Gins distilled at the City of Aberdeen Distillery, Aberdeen’s first distillery to use a commercial gin still. Pic: The Gin Cooperative

Based in one of the units located under the main railway line into Aberdeen, the distillery and gin school in the heart of Aberdeen was bringing distillation back to the city of Aberdeen. We caught up with Alan and Dan to see how they’d adapted over the last 18 months throughout the pandemic and learn more about their business goals post-pandemic.

Like many of the other newer Scottish Gin producers and brands, momentum was just building when Covid struck, resulting in plans taking a back seat and adapting to the ever changing guidelines. Even though they had to over come challenges, Alan and Dan were as enthusiastic and upbeat as the very first time we met them. We’re excited to see them continue to put Aberdeen on the map for Scottish Gin. With the release of their signature gin in the works, the silver city’s distilling scene is looking bright.

Learn more about City of Aberdeen Distillery here.

Roehill Springs Distillery

Located about 20 miles from where we’re based is the Roehill Springs Distillery, operated by husband and wife Duncan and Shirley Morrison. We’ve had the pleasure of getting to know the couple over the last 2 years. Based on the family farm on the outskirts of Keith, Moray, Shirley and Duncan have been long time gin drinkers and with Duncan’s background in distilling, working for a distilleries in the Moray area, Duncan’s hard work has paid off with a number of prestigious awards and recognition for the Roehill Springs Distillery range of gins.

The signature Gin No.5 from Roehill Springs Distillery overlooking the Roehill Spring. Pic: The Gin CooperativeThe award-winning and evolving range of Scottish Gins from Roehill Springs Distillery, created by Distiller Duncan Morrison and co-founder and wife Shirley Morrison. Pic: The Gin Cooperative

We made time to visit Duncan and Shirley to learn more about some of the new products they were working on at the time including their Honeyberry Gin and Navy Strength. It’s just one of the many benefits of visiting our members in person, gaining insight into the brand and people and also being able to experience Scottish Gins before they come to market.

Learn more about Roehill Springs Distillery here.

Lost Loch Spirits

Another local distillery that we’ve visited regularly over the last three years is the Lost Loch Spirits Distillery beside Aboyne on Royal Deeside. The distillery sits on the outskirts of the Cairngorm’s National Park and from opening its doors in 2017 with the launch of Scotland’s first Absinthe and their eeNoo Scottish Gin at the start of 2018, the business has continued to grow at pace.

Lost Loch Spirits Distillery produces a range of spirits including Scotland’s first Absinthe, rum and Scottish Gin. Pic: The Gin Cooperative The Lost Loch Distillery has continued to expand with the addition of a spirits school in 2019. Pic: The Gin Cooperative

Haven taken over the other half of the industrial unit, they’ve created the Lost Loch Spirits School and expanded their capacity for research and development of spirits to support new brands with contract distilling. Co-founders Richard Pierce and Peter Dignan have kept pushing their business forward.

It’s been a pleasure seeing the distillery and business continue to grow, thanks in part to growing their team and not being afraid of a challenge. We remember meeting Pete and Rich at Gin North East at the start of 2018. Their eeNoo labels hadn’t arrived so they had to make do with some DIY labels for the launch of their new Scottish Gin. Of course these bottles were Batch 1 and most likely, for anyone who’s kept their bottle closed with the label in tact, will one day be worth something.

When we visited, Pete was stuck offshore on a boat in the middle of nowhere (the joys of being from the North East of Scotland where many of the jobs are in the energy sector), however we had a lengthy chat with Rich about the current state of Scottish Gin, the wider world of spirits along with discussing the future plans for the distillery.

Learn more about Lost Loch Spirits here.

The Wee Farm Distillery

It had been a number of years since our last visit to South Lanarkshire to see Jenny McKerr, the founder and distiller at The Wee Farm Distillery.So much had happened since our last visit in 2018. Distilling gin is just one of a number of things going on at the family farm. Owner Jenny McKerr and her family renovated an old building on site to create a Distillers Cottage, which boasts a gin tap, hot tub and a beautifully decorated interior with 3 bedrooms. Right next door is the Steak & Still Farm Shop, which is a boutique farm shop offering homegrown meats and a wonderful selection of local and Scottish produced food and drink. Jenny has also started her own fruit orchard, rears cattle for native Wagyu beef, manages the sheep farm, distils gin and creates a range of exciting liqueurs by infusing her gin with fruits, sweets and herbs.

Drovers Gin was the first Scottish Gin created by distiller Jenny McKerr and was inspired by Jenny’s background in agriculture. Pic: The Gin Cooperative The Distillers Cottage comes fully stocked with a range of The Wee Farm products including its very own gin tap. Pic: The Gin Cooperative

It was great catching up with Jenny and the team where we were given a sneak peek of the limited edition Clydesdale Gin, which was being packaged up in special ceramic bottles created by Rupert Blamire along with showing us the new, bigger still. From the our initial meeting, Jenny’s passion for producing Scottish Gin and food with care and time has never wavered and her perseverance has paid off with this truly special food and drink destination. The attention to detail and investment from Jenny and her husband Stephen is clear to see; in the renovation of the distillers cottage, the new shop and the upgrades to the distillery. Nothing rushed but everything done with purpose to add value to the story of The Wee Farm Distillery. We can’t wait to visit again in a few years to see how Jenny’s food and drink offering has grown.

Learn more about The Wee Farm Distillery here.

McLean’s Gin

Having gone from cold compounding gin in a cupboard in his Glasgow tenement to setting up his gin lab at his new family home on the outskirts of Strathaven, Colin McLean has continued to refine his cold compounding process and also worked with a number of distilleries on the creation of a selection of distilled gins. Colin from the offset, even as one of Scotland’s smaller gin producers, has given us his support and shown a true spirit of collaboration. Always upbeat and looking to the future, it was good to hear Colin was updating his packaging, looking at streamlining his product range along with working with a number of local businesses and helping them develop their own gins, most notably The Jaunty Camper range of gins.

Colin McLean, founder of McLean’s Gin. Pic: The Gin Cooperative McLean’s Strathaven Hedgerow Gin uses a number of locally foraged botanicals. Pic: The Gin Cooperative

The medium-small size producers have had to adapt quickly and Colin was no different. Working with a number of bars, Colin created a range of pre-batched cocktails throughout the pandemic and launched McLean’s Gin tasting packs along with an original garnish spray. We’ve always admired Colin for his love of flavour – bigging up the Tonka bean and why it was illegal in some countries or talking about his walks up the local country lanes avoiding tractors looking for hedgerows, which can be sustainably foraged. Always a story to tell and a project to work on!

Learn more about McLean’s Gin here.

Inspirited

We chatted with Lawrence Nicholson, co-founder of Inspirited in 2019 about the unique capabilities of the one-of-a-kind gin still along with the plans for the business. It was a unique offering where gin drinkers could configure their own gin recipe online through the Inspirited website and thanks to some of the unique features of the still, different gins could be produced in the same spirit run.

Inspirited Original was the first core Scottish Gin release from the Inspirited Distillery. Pic: The Gin Cooperative Inspirited co-founder and distiller Lawrence Nicholson takes Martin through some of the botanicals featured in the Inspirited range of Scottish Gins. Pic: The Gin Cooperative

Fast forward to 2021 and Inspirited were producing a core range of award-winning Inspirited Scottish Gins. It was good to get Lawrence’s perspective about the growth of Scottish Gin, where Inspirited fitted in and to see the still in action. Lawrence also told us about his own background and the family business, which provides specialist electrical and engineering services covering maintenance for distilleries and breweries.

With the success of their core range of Scottish Gins, Lawrence told us of the plans for future growth including a new distillery space and visitor experience. It’s a consistent story we’ve heard since starting the business and one that always excites; seeing brands not only grow but also look to invest in the future of their business and reaffirm that Scottish Gin is here to stay.

Learn more about Inspirited here.

Biggar Gin

We first met brothers Stuart and Euan McVicar at the Scot Gin Fest in Inverness in June 2018, which now feels like a lifetime ago. Since coming on as members, we’ve kept up to date with the brand’s growth and have very much enjoyed seeing the Biggar Gin story unfold. It was 2019 when Stuart mentioned that they hoped to start work on building their own distillery on-site beside Euan’s house. With a variety of botanicals already growing on the property and nearby, it made perfect sense for Stuart and Euan to build their own distillery from the ground up, rather than renting a property and having to fit in a distillery.

Co-founder and distiller Stuart McVicar shows Natalie around the new distillery and grounds. Pic: The Gin Cooperative The new Biggar Gin distillery is home to a number of traditional fired Alembic copper pot stills used to distil the Biggar Gin range of Scottish Gin expressions. Pic: The Gin Cooperative

With the foundations laid in 2019 and planning permission granted, building work continued into 2020 before everything came to a stand still due to Covid. Undeterred, the brothers continued to do what they could with the building whilst also cuckoo distilling at a nearby distillery when restrictions permitted, which operated the same Alembic stills that would eventually be used in the Biggar Distillery.

Stuart and Euan have continued to grow a loyal fanbase of gin community supporters and customers with their Biggar Strength Gin, a firm favourite with many. Along with the original signature Biggar Gin and Biggar Strength Gin, the brothers also released a Biggar Plum Gin that uses locally grown fruit, which is a seasonal release each year. With the release of a new cask aged gin and a few other exciting projects on the horizon, it’s great to see the new distillery space will not only provide a place where visitors will be able to learn more about the brand and Scottish Gins, but also provide a distillery space where the Biggar Gin story can continue to grow.

Learn more about Biggar Gin here.

Kelso Gin Company

It had been a number of years since our last visit to the Kelso Distillery, home to Kelso Gin Company founded by Oliver Drake and Andrew Crow, so when the opportunity to visit came up, tied in with a visit and stay in St Boswells in the Scottish Borders, we made the most of our time when we visited.

The Crown Man, a travelling medicine man who toured the Borders offering the ailing, the weary and the lovelorn 'little brighteners' from his leather Gladstone bag. Pic: The Gin Cooperative The Kelso Gin Company gins take inspiration from local folklore and history to create a range of Scottish Gins that use a base alcohol made from organic grain. Pic: The Gin Cooperative

The two friends have certainly been on a Scottish Gin adventure together since they launched the business in 2017. Using local folklore, stories and legends as the basis for their brand and Scottish Gins, Ollie and ‘The Crow Man’ Andrew have continued to grow their distillery and range of Scottish Gins.

Always a genuine pleasure to chat and work with, Ollie and Andrew take great pride in their gins using an organic grain neutral spirit, which although more expensive, they believe is the right choice for their gins having tasted and tested various grain neutral spirits before settling on an organic one.

True to form and within minutes of arriving, Ollie and Andrew had poured us some gin and tonics and Andrew donned the Crow Man outfit for some impromptu photos around the distillery. Safe to say there were some strange looks from onlookers as Andrew appeared from the bushes dressed in his full plague doctor costume and started darting around the distillery grounds. Scottish Gin and laughs are never in short supply at the Kelso Gin Company.

Learn more about Kelso Gin Company here.

Pickering’s Gin

The Botanical Engineers welcomed us back for a long overdue catch up. We met up with Rachel Thomson, the new brand manager to learn more about the new tour experience, which opened up shortly after our last visit. Rachel took us around the new tasting area and what can only be described as a dedicated museum to the history of Pickering’s Gin. Adorned with pics of staff past and present, and the many mystical and wondrous inventions from the mind of Marcus Pickering – anyone for a Martini made by a gramophone? Pickering’s Gin bar in a suitcase? Safe to say this is a fun room to experience, learn and enjoy a Pickering’s G&T and discover more about the brand and their range of Scottish Gin expressions.

Botanical Engineer, co-founder and head distiller Matt Gammell. Pic: The Gin Cooperative Pickering’s Gin is made at the Summerhall Distillery, which was formerly known as the Old Dick Vet, Edinburgh’s veterinary school. Pic: The Gin Cooperative

Next we caught up with one of the main Botanical Engineers, Matt Gammell, co-founder and head distiller to hear how the Pickering’s Gin journey had been impacted by Covid and issues with the supply chain. Matt explained that the business, like most others, had continued to adapt, jump through the many hoops, veer off path and do whatever was needed to keep the gin flowing and their staff busy – not an easy prospect when the likes of the Edinburgh Fringe festival, which brings in massive footfall to the distillery and Summerhall site, had been cancelled for 2020 and paired back for 2021.

Regardless, the distillery was operating at full steam ahead working on the big Christmas rush for the ever popular and original gin filled Christmas baubles along with work on a new Scottish Gin expression for a new client. Matt explained that as a business, they had worked round the clock to keep their supply chain moving with glass bottle shortages and other hurdles. Never afraid of a challenge, having already built their own distillery, engineered their stills with bespoke water baths and plumbing, Matt and Marcus got inventive and made the last 18 months of lockdowns and restrictions work.

Learn more about Pickering’s Gin here.

Holyrood Distillery

The Holyrood Distillery was another new distillery in Edinburgh that was riding on the wave of momentum, having opened its doors in 2019 and looking forward to its first full year of being open the public with its refined sensory experience setup to cater to high footfall, then Covid threw a spanner in the proverbial still.

Height of Arrows is the latest Scottish Gin expression from Holyrood Distillery. Pic: The Gin Cooperative The Holyrood Distillery produces both Scottish Gin and a range of new make spirits and whisky. Pic: The Gin Cooperative

With a changing of the guard with the departure of Ollie Salvesen and Jack Mayo, both of whom had helped us understand more about the distillery having visited the now defunct Holyrood Shop back in 2018 before the distillery was finished, we were greeted by new Head Distiller Marc Watson.

We knew Marc from his time at the John Crabbie Distillery, where he was responsible for product development of the range of gins and whiskies. We caught up with Marc earlier that year at the Scottish Gin Awards judging event in Edinburgh, but it was nice to see Marc back in the familiar setting of the Holyrood Distillery.

The gin distillation room was undergoing renovation work and the sensory room was being completely overhauled. Marc explained how the distillery’s range of gins had been stripped back from the original four gins, to one signature gin. Height of Arrows Gin was created to stand up in a G&T and work as a cocktail gin, with the focus on juniper and mouthfeel using only three botanicals in the recipe; juniper, sea salt and beeswax.

Marc talked us through the plans for the distillery and rebuilding the visitor experience along with developing a new distillation space where the focus would be on product development. When we originally visited in 2019, the distillery felt like it was a visitor experience first and foremost with the distillery sitting in the background. This time around, it definitely felt first and foremost like a working distillery with the tours and tastings forming part of the larger distillery experience.

We also noted and chatted with Marc about the distillery shop, which not only features a range of Holyrood Distillery products but also listed other locally produced gins and spirits. Marc told us he was proud that Holyrood Distillery were able to showcase other producers from the area and highlight Edinburgh’s growing range of crafted gins and spirits.

Learn more about Holyrood Distillery here.

The Steading Bar

With hospitality venues putting the focus on safety first for customers and staff, our normal capacity to organise photoshoots at venues was curtailed once again in 2021. Fortunately there was a period where we were able to visit The Steading Bar in Strathdon. With an amazing array of spirits and a vast selection of Scottish Gin, this venue is a hidden gem in the North East of Scotland. We were given free rein to use this fantastic venue as a backdrop for a photoshoot where we captured some new Scottish Gin content and cocktails. A big thanks to The Steading Bar team for their warm welcome and hospitality.

The Steading Bar, Strathdon. Pic: The Gin Cooperative A selection of cocktails and serves in our new Libbey Glassware. Pic: The Gin Cooperative

Events

In-person events in 2021 felt like a luxury, having spent a lot of 2020 in lockdown with many having to do the dreaded home schooling along with working from home, which for some was a revelation and for others a revulsion. For us, it was business as usual being a home based business and having survived home schooling, we very much looked forward to the return of in-person events.

Although we’d taken part in a variety of online events including the first virtual cèilidh with the team at Isle of Harris Distillers, Bruichladdich Time Travellers Fèis Ile event, various Negroni Club and Martini Club online events, where we got to sample and meet a variety of international gin producers, all in all, 2021 was a fantastic year for virtual events. We also had a request to setup virtual gin tastings in our local area with friends and neighbours taking part in tastings and meet-the-maker events.

Trying the Botanist Cask Aged Gin as the team at The Botanist talk through the tasting notes as part of the Bruichladdich Time Travellers Fèis Ile 2021 event. Pic: The Gin Cooperative The Gin To My Tonic Show Glasgow 2021. Pic: The Gin Cooperative

With restrictions lifting, we saw confirmation that live and in-person events would be going ahead including the Gin To My Tonic Show in Glasgow. The Gin To My Tonic team returned to Glasgow for the third time with their always excellent show format, which saw a variety of gin producers and brands gather to meet gin drinkers and showcase their spirits. We were delighted we could attend and used our limited time to catch up with old friends and some of our members who were exhibiting. Testament once again to the co-founders Em and Paul that they managed to put on another fantastic show under the circumstances.

As our understanding of cocktails has grown, more so in the last few years as The Gin Cooperative has grown, we’ve been able to enjoy a number of classic cocktails, new cocktails and some pretty unique riffs on the classics. We’ve very much enjoyed getting to know other spirits and brands through our journey into cocktails along with chatting with bartenders and being part of various cocktails clubs.

We were humbled when Negroni Club UK, founded by SaraJane Eichler, invited us to be part of the 2021 Negroni Advent. A number of people and businesses were invited to submit their pre-mixed Negroni, which would feature in the 12 day advent. We created a Makar Cherry Chocolate Negroni which featured Makar Cherry Gin, Scottish made Valentian Vermouth Rosso, Campari and a dash of cocoa bitters.

The 2021 “Negronivent” was organised by the people behind the UK’s Negroni Club and included some amazing gin and spirits being made by established and up-and-coming UK based distillers. Pic: The Gin Cooperative We opted for a traditional Negroni but with some decadent Christmas touches, including a Luxardo Maraschino Cherry garnish. Pic: The Gin Cooperative

International Scottish Gin Day 2021

Saturday the 2nd of October 2021 was the third annual International Scottish Gin Day (ISGD). Having moved to the first Saturday in October back in 2020, the day saw a number of Scotland’s Gin makers and brand owners open their distilleries and provide their audiences with discounts and offers. The day also saw bars around the world raise a glass in celebration, showcasing the Scottish Gins featured on their back bar and provided a platform for the gin community and consumers to celebrate Scottish Gin. A number of retailers also ran online and in-store promotions across their Scottish Gin stock. Be sure to mark Saturday 1st of October 2022 in your diary for International Scottish Gin Day 2022. Learn more about ISGD here.

Mackintosh Gin collaborated with Martini Club UK as part of their International Scottish Gin Day 2021 celebrations. Pic: The Gin Cooperative The Rock Rose ISGD 2021 Competition invited bartenders and mixologists to create their own Rock Rose inspired cocktails. Pic: The Gin Cooperative

Judging and Awards

There’s no denying judging gin is hard work. It’s a daunting process, especially when you know that behind most of the gins being judged is someone’s hard work, literally someone’s livelihood and that your score and feedback does matter. We’d have to say the judging side of the gin industry isn’t for the faint of heart.

We’ve lost count of how many times someone has said, ‘that must be a brilliant job’. Yes there are worse ways to spend your time but it is hard work. It’s no easy task being able to decipher flavour profile after flavour profile and putting your own opinions of what you believe makes a good gin to the back of your mind to ensure you are being fair to the awards organisers and entrants. It’s also a greatly rewarding experience, being able to recognise quality and a flavour profile that raises an eyebrow and smile for all the right reasons.

We were delighted to attend our first in-person judging session as judges for the Scottish Gin Awards, with the judging taking place in Edinburgh. Having judged the previous years awards virtually, it was nice to see many familiar faces (once face masks were removed) and experience first-hand the judging process in action.

Natalie on stage to present the High Strength Gin of the Year Award to Beinn an Tuirc Distillers at the Scottish Gin Awards 2021. Pic: The Gin Cooperative Samples ready for review as part of the The Gin Guide Awards 2021. Pic: The Gin Cooperative

For the third year in a row, we were also sponsor of the High Strength Gin of the Year Award at the live event. It was a brilliant evening seeing the Scottish Gin industry come together to celebrate and recognise the year in Scottish Gin. Once again, KD Media, the team behind the Scottish Gin Awards, put on a fantastic evening and event that saw a number of our own members recognised for their brilliant business achievements and products. Read our Scottish Gin Awards 2021 round-up here.

This year we were also invited to be part of the judging panel for The Gin Guide Awards 2021. We’ve got to know Paul Jackson, founder of The Gin Guide, over the last few years and he’s always been someone we’ve admired and respected so we were thrilled when Paul asked us if we would like to be judges. We independently sampled, reviewed and profiled over 50 gins across the Distilled category. Having focused solely on Scottish Gin for the last four years, it’s always nice as gin drinkers to try something new, unexpected and exciting and the gins we judged certainly threw up plenty of surprises.

There can be cynicism surrounding awards in general, including gin awards. Certainly from our own experience of the industry, we see awards as a chance to let your peers and the wider industry see, taste and understand what you’ve created. For the categories that cover business aspects, it’s chance to talk about your achievements and promote the good things you’ve done in any given year. Winning an award does provide something positive for your brand to communicate to your audience and customers along with potentially providing a differentiator between your product and others.

Summary

Once again, the feedback and general discussions with members shows there’s not a one size fits all model for growth, with some producers strictly focused on regional sales in their local area compared with some brands who have had a number of successful export opportunities come to fruition. We believe any Scottish Gin brand that’s made it through the last two years is cause for celebration as we see established brands focus on producing premium, quality Scottish Gins and building recognisable brands.

There remains a cautious optimism across the Scottish Gin category with existing producers and brands consolidating their Scottish Gin portfolios with investment in rebrands and new packaging along with investment in their digital presence including their brand websites, e-commerce and social media channels.

Producers have also used the last year wisely to review their portfolio of Scottish Gins, with some products being discontinued. We see this as a trend that will continue into 2022 as brands seek to further promote and endorse the Scottish Gin expressions that sell and seek to pair back their offering. We also predict the trend of one-off and special edition gins will continue as Scotland’s gin makers and brands seek to offer something more limited and exclusive to the consumer.

We also predict there will once again be a number of new bespoke bottles hitting the shelves in 2022, as more brands invest in custom glass. With the likes of Vetroelite producing a number of new and eye catching Scottish Gin bottles for brands and the likes of Image On Glass investing in new direct to bottle printing technology, the capacity and capability to create something truly unique and original with packaging is a trend that’s encouraging and exciting.

Linlithgow Distillery launched their bespoke bottle in 2021 that incorporated local landmarks. Pic: The Gin Cooperative Orkney Gin Company launched their first distilled Scottish Gin, Aatta, in September 2021. Pic: The Gin Cooperative

As the global economy begins to recover and find stability, we predict that premium products and, more so, premium experiences, will be in high demand as restrictions lift and consumers with pent up savings look to make up for lost time. Scotland as a visitor destination along with its rich and diverse food and drink offering is perfectly poised to welcome visitors and showcase the very best of Scotland – including of course Scottish Gin and the many distilleries who now offer visitor experiences.

Within the world of Scottish Gin, we are in a unique and privileged position where we get to work with fantastic people and brands and showcase Scottish Gin. As a business, we don’t rest on our laurels and throughout 2022 we will continue to not only showcase Scottish Gin as a premium spirit made in Scotland but also look at new ways of supporting our members and the wider Scottish Gin category throughout the year.

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