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 Distillery. 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 thoroughly tested our products in the market place, we have have built our own distillery to replicated the setup at Strathearn Distillery. In doing so we've avoided any issues with up-scaling or needed to change our recipes or process in any way.
Can you tell us more about the distillation process?
The process for making Colonsay Gin is fairly straight forward. We charge our 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.
Can you tell us more about the botanicals?
The seven botanicals we use in Colonsay Gin are commercially grown and procured from Europe. With production now firmly based on the island, we have signed an exclusive foraging agreement with the Colonsay Estate which allows us to commercially and responsibly forage for ‘hero’ botanicals that will form a key part of our future product line-up. However, you won’t see seaweed in our gin anytime soon, unless of course you can actually taste it in the finished product and it unequivocally adds something to the gin!
How would you describe your gin in 3 words?
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.
What's next - any exciting plans?
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.
Spirits wise, we are working on two new expressions. We continue our efforts to get a foothold in the US and Canada. Think that’s probably enough to keep us going!