What made you decide to create Colonsay Gin?
We’ve always wanted to live on an island off the west coast of Scotland, so when the opportunity arose in 2007 to buy a house on Colonsay, we jumped at the chance. Little did we know then, that it would take us almost a decade until we finally moved in!
2016 saw us move from Oxfordshire where we’d lived for over 30 years to our newly completed house – Tigh na Uruisg – on the island of Colonsay. Neither of us saw this as ‘retirement’ and both of us by then had developed a keen interest in all things gin, thanks in the main to attending various gin festivals, tasting events, workshops, and of course amassing a collection of gins from around the world. We saw an opportunity to not only start our own business but also make a contribution to, and be a part of, the local community and island economy.
What made you decide on making a traditional, juniper-forward gin?
From the outset we were absolutely clear that we wanted to create a true gin and not be part of the current (possibly short lived, who knows?) trend for an ever more obscure mix of rare, hand foraged, or sea dived botanicals which in our opinion, more often than not, result in spirits that are not juniper led and therefore should not be classed as gin. Very pleasant as some of them undoubtedly are, they are not juniper forward, and are more in line with flavoured vodka than true gin. Hence, Colonsay Gin is; definitely juniper led, slightly stronger at 47% ABV to highlight the flavour profile, and as such, is our modern take on a classic London Dry style gin.
How did you get from the idea to the finished product?
Lots of hard work and sleepless nights is the short answer! Coming from Construction and HR backgrounds we had zero knowledge of the industry so we followed a recommendation from Olivier at the Gin Foundry and contacted Tony Reeman- Clark at Strathearn. Together we spent a few months refining our recipe, before reaching the correct flavour profile. It was always our plan – like many other start-up gins – to contract out our initial production. I marvel at those start-ups that spend huge amounts on premises and stills before they’ve actually got a gin that people like and want to buy!
Having now tested our product in the market place and had great reviews and customer feedback we can now proceed, with some confidence, to the next stage of building our own distillery. Strathearn, with their track record and craft distillery credential were an ideal fit. Whilst all the recipe work was going on, parallel activities of brand creation, artwork, bottle choices, label design, and logos, were also progressing. We were also welcomed to the world of Copyright and Intellectual Property Rights, and very quickly found ourselves having to fend off a competitor’s cease and desist letters! Talk about a baptism of fire!
What are the distillery and distillation process like?
We're pleased to report that we have received planning permission for our distillery here on the island, so work is now under way to make that a realisation – no mean feat, given the logistically nightmare of building anything on an island! The likelihood is that full production will not transfer from Strathearn to Colonsay until the summer of 2018. We already have an ‘in principle’ distilling licence which will only be formalised on completion of the building works. We will replicate the still set up that Strathearn use to avoid any scaling or process variations that might affect the recipe.
The process for making Colonsay Gin is fairly straight forward. We charge our 100L copper still with Grain Neutral Spirit (GNS) and water to a percentage of approximately 48% ABV. The juniper berries are bruised and then combined with the other botanicals such as Angelica Root, Calamus Root, and Coriander. The botanicals are then macerated with the GNS in the still for 30 minutes. Once the botanicals have had this soak we then distill the gin very slowly, a normal distillation will take approximately 6 hours to complete. Once we have collected the finished spirit it is then held in a holding tank for 4 or 5 days to mellow out and blend all the distillate. At that point we then cut the gin to the required 47% ABV, and again let it rest for 24 hours.
How would you describe your gin in 3 words?
Proper Modern Gin
Premium Artisan Spirit
Sensationally Smooth Gin
Remote Hebridean Beauty
Juniper Juniper Juniper
What makes Colonsay Gin different?
We deliberately shun the quirky, possibly short lived trends, to concentrate on creating a modern classic. Those gin drinkers who are new to the spirit may well have been ‘seduced’ by all these fancy-dan flavoured vodkas – they need to try Colonsay Gin to find out what a real gin tastes like! And for all those seasoned gin drinkers – welcome home, your favourite onesie, slippers even!
What's your favourite way to drink your gin?
High ball glass, ice, Fever Tree Premium Tonic, garnish with orange peel, until, that is, we discovered what happens when you have a slice of green chilli as a garnish instead of orange!
What are your favourite gins (other than your own of course!)?
Can you tell us more about your Gin Lovers' Retreat?
Tigh na Uruisg is quite a big house just for the two of us, so we thought we’d put it to good use! We’ve always enjoyed entertaining, so it seems the ideal mix when combined with our passion for gin. Tourism is a big part of the island economy and if we can add to those numbers who visit the island for the first time – and more often than not, fall in love with the place, and make return trips – then we will be helping the sustainability of what is a precarious island economy.
On arrival at Colonsay, you’ll be ready to immerse yourself in the remote Hebridean beauty of our island; untouched beaches, stunning scenery, rare wildlife, rocky shorelines and rugged cliffs. Intimate and unspoilt – nature at its finest. Then of course, there’s the gin. We have a collection of over 200 gins from around the world for you to choose from and, over the course of the weekend, we aim to help you try something new, revisit an old favourite or maybe even find a new one.
• Full board for 4 people for Friday to Sunday.
• Breakfast and a buffet or picnic style lunch on Saturday & Sunday, and dinner on Friday and Saturday. An early evening supper will be served on Sunday night prior to ferry departure.
• Two gin cocktail pre-dinner drinks per person on Friday night
• A pre-dinner, six gin tasting per person on Saturday night
• Any transport required – we would prefer if guests left their cars on the mainland so that they, not only save on the cost, but also help maintain the tranquillity of the island by not adding to the number of cars. We will pick you up at the ferry and transport you anywhere you want to go on the island.
• Ferry costs not included.
What's next / any exciting plans?
Well……obviously we are putting a huge amount of time and effort into getting the distillery building works up and running!
We have several new product lines about to come on stream. These are based on our artwork. We’ve had a huge amount of interest in our label design and also in advertising posters that we’ve produced, so we thought we’d offer them in our online shop. There will be two sizes of posters and a limited edition print run as well.
Spirits wise, we are working on two new expressions, which will be ready for the (shudder to mention the word in July!) Christmas market, together with a couple of seasonal, very limited run, specials.
We are also working on some new packaging solutions which we hope will appeal to our target audience, once again, in time for the numerous festivals and fairs we’re booked into in the run up to Christmas.
We continue our efforts to get a foothold in the US and Canada and we’ve just shipped out our first order to Spain. Think that’s probably enough to keep us going!