Scottish Gin Trade Hits New HighNeil Hardie
Just 20 years ago only two Scottish gin distilleries existed. Fast forward to today and you will find more than 60 throughout the country, with more expected to follow shortly.
With the rise in those producing gin, there’s also been a huge increase in the number of brands hitting the shelves of local bottle shops and supermarkets. From contract distilled gins to those churning out regular releases including new flavours, colours and strengths, competition for market space and customers has never been stronger.
The global celebration World Gin Day took place recently and saw juniper-spirit fans across the world toast the occasion with a tipple. While many would have usually been attending festivals and tastings, the day was filled with virtual experiences as a result of lockdown restrictions.
According to Scotland Food & Drink figures, the value of gin exported overseas from Scotland has been calculated at more then £400m, and estimates suggest that the UK accounts for more than 60% of world gin manufacture.
An industry so important to Scotland’s food and drink sector, gin distillers have had to continuously adapt, especially during these uncharted times.
The Scottish Distillers Association estimates that some 70-80% of UK produced gin comes from Scotland and that there are more than 60 Scottish distilleries producing gin, generating over 140 different brands.
Based on the coast of Angus, familyowned Arbikie Distillery recently launched a world first, creating a climate positive gin, Nadar. Gaelic for “nature” the gin has a carbon footprint of -1.54 kg CO2e per 700ml bottle.
Iain Stirling, commercial director, said sustainability and helping battle climate change was fundamentally important to the brand.
He said: “Our new Nadar Gin is the world’s only ‘climate positive’ gin and was created after of years of research and development with the world-class James Hutton Institute and Abertay University with our master distiller, Kirsty Black.
“Nadar is distilled from peas and is at the forefront of fighting climate change and biodiversity loss. It is world-leading and helps to keep the Scottish gin industry ahead of the global curve by producing a drink that helps to preserve the planet.
“At Arbikie Distillery, we want to be one of the world’s most sustainable distilleries hence our field-to-bottle approach to all of our family of spirits.
“We grow all of the crops we need to distil; barley, potatoes, peas or wheat, and botanicals such as lemongrass and limes, as well as juniper for distilling our gins. We distil the world’s only Rye Scotch Whisky, Highland Rye, using Arantes Rye grown on our farms. It’s the first Rye Whisky distilled in Scotland for nearly 200 years, so we are helping to revive an ancient product from Scotch Whisky history, too.”
Hoping to reveal their new visitor experience later this year, Iain is determined to ensure everything is in place to open safely once lockdown has been lifted.
He added: “We’re hoping to have it open by October. Our build has obviously been affected by the lockdown restrictions, but we’re very much looking forward to welcoming visitors.
“We’re very excited by the opportunity to be able to show food and drink tourists how we grow, distil, mature and bottle our family of sustainable spirits at Arbikie Farm.
“It adds a key jigsaw piece to our drinks business which we have been growing for the last five years, where our discerning customers can at last see exactly how we craft our spirits from planting and sowing, to harvesting, distilling, casking and bottling.
“We’re very accessible for domestic tourists, as well as the many overseas visitors who like to come and see firsthand how and what we do here.
“The future looks bright for the Scottish gin industry as Scotland produces 70% of UK gin and the demand for gin across the world continues to rise. We’ll all have to adjust to the ‘new normal’ but need to focus on the many opportunities that appear for us all. Consumers are becoming more interested in how their gins are distilled and from what, so the industry will need to follow this trend of traceability to ensure consumers continue to buy Scottish gins.”
Headed up by husband and wife team Martin and Claire Murray, Dunnet Bay Distillers in the Highlands is also focusing on the international market.
Experiencing a 600% increase in online sales in comparison to this time last year, Dunnet Bay Distillers have also managed to secure deals including one in Australia.
Claire said: “Demand is certainly there online. Our online sales have grown exponentially and our Amazon sales have really rocketed. We have managed to keep supplies going to Sainsbury’s but because we deal with a distributor we haven’t heard much from independent bottle shops.
“Australia has had a great interest. More and more of our normal export markets are now getting back in contact with us to get stocks in again. We have just sent orders to Italy, Australia, Thailand and Malaysia. We now export to 21 countries and hope to add Canada at the end of this month.”
Tourism also plays a bit part at the Highlands distillery, which welcomes tourists and locals alike, all keen to learn more about the brands it is home to including Rock Rose Gin and Holy Grass Vodka.
“Tourism at the distillery will change. Once people are allowed and feel safe to travel we will be delighted to welcome them back,” said Claire .
“We miss seeing our visitors and turning them into lifelong gin fans. Normally by this time we would be in full swing and welcoming people every day.
“I think the interest for Scottish gin is most certainly still there, though it is going to be tougher as our economy suffers.”
Mike Donald, chief storyteller at Isle of Harris Distillers, says the brand is continuously adapting to the situation.
With tourism a huge player in the island’s community, Mike is hopeful booking a staycation in the area or a Hebridean holiday will be on a lot of people’s post-lockdown bucket lists.
He added: “It is difficult to predict anything right now but most tourist businesses here are braced for the worst. Much will depend on government advice and to what extent travel restrictions will be lifted, obviously.
“The distillery will ride out the storm but we miss the social aspect of distillery life and welcoming new people through our doors. What the impact will be on the other local businesses remains to be seen. It will be very tough for most.
“Hopefully, next summer will see a ‘staycation comeback’, as people appreciate more than ever the peace and quiet of a Hebridean holiday.”