Does it really matter……?
Charles Richard Gough, former Scottish International Captain, gaining 61 caps and inducted into his nation’s hall of fame. One of the best known defenders of all time, winner of 10 Scottish League titles, scorer of the only goal in a 1-0 victory against the Auld Enemy in 1985 and named in the Scottish Football roll of Honour in 1990. Born in Stockholm, Sweden, 1962 and raised in South Africa by his Swedish mother and Scottish father. Wait, hold up – you mean he wasn’t 100% Scottish? Why is he in our hall of fame? Surely he doesn’t deserve all this adoration and accolades! A fraud. A Con. The supporters have been duped! Or some would have you believe….
A recent article in much respected Whisky Magazine Cask and Still by Whisky writer and World Whisky Day founder Blair Bowman seems to have ruffled a few feathers within the Gin industry in Scotland, with claims that not all ‘Scottish’ Gins are pure dyed in the wool William Wallace style Patriotic born and bred products from North of the Border.
First thing is first, I don’t want to make enemies, this is simply a counter argument on the article which I feel paints a very harsh picture of the Gin Industry and has opened a can of worms that really didn’t require opening.
The claims are indeed very true. A lot of Gin labelled as Scottish fail to meet the SCDA standards for the Craft Distilled in Scotland label. One criticism of the article I must state right away is the lack of clarity the aforementioned article made of this accolade. The Scottish Craft Distillers Association have set up a system which states “Accreditation is designed to assure the customer that the product is a Scottish Craft Distiller Spirit. Scotland is synonymous with quality and SCDA want to protect small producers of craft distilled products in Scotland” Each qualifying product therefore gains a sticker for their product. The 100% Scottish product confirmation is there. The C&S article simply fails to mention, by design or no, despite gaining quotes from two founding members of the SDCA! Qualifying distilleries currently awarded the scheme are:
- Arbikie Distilling Ltd
- Crossbill Distilling Ltd
- Glasgow Distillery Company Ltd
- Loch Ness Spirits Ltd
- Shetland Distillery Company Ltd
- Spencerfield Spirit Co Ltd (Edinburgh Gin)
- Strathearn Distillery Ltd
- Summerhall Distillery Ltd (Pickering’s)
- Trossachs Distillery Ltd (McQueen’s)
Kirkjuvagr is an intriguing product, proudly displaying the sticker but not appearing on the SCDA website. So, of all the distilleries producing Gin in Scotland, are these the only ones purely “Scottish”, or are their others which fit the bill? And does it really make a difference?
Neutral Grain Spirit, which is the alcohol product bought in by the majority of distillers across the United Kingdom, is only produced in a handful of places, in Scotland only three do this. One of them is Brewdog’s Lone Wolf who, in a typically brazen parade of publicity discredited other small batch gin creators for not making their spirit from scratch, accusing them of merely ‘tinkering’ alcohol with flavour.
Forgive me if I’m wrong on the following two points, A) There would not be a gin market in Scotland for Lone Wolf to tap into and create a product were it not for the copious amounts of these Gin makers now producing. They have stepped into a ready made drinks category, made by the “little people” and set about trampling all over it in classic Brewdog style. The Craft (are they still craft? or mainstream? this alone confuses me) These Beer producers seem happy to help small companies when it suits them – Fierce Beer for example applaud the help they received in starting up – but are more than willing to slander an entire industry for a wee bit of publicity. It’s a shame as the Gin Industry in general seem very close-knit and helpful towards each other in creating this new craze, which has allowed the creation of Lone Wolf.
Point B) Neutral Grain Spirit is exactly that – Neutral. It generally makes not a jot of difference to the final product wether the Spirit is made at Haymans, Langley or Mars! It’s flavourless alcoholic spirit. Maybe the only different one could be claimed from Arbikie who make their spirit using potato, giving a slightly creamier texture. To create a NGS you need to distill at temperatures way beyond the capability of Copper Pot Stills, and invest in a massive Continuous, or Column still. Unless you are worth an estimated £1 billion of publicly invested money, you simply cannot afford this expense. It’s dirty, expensive and very difficult to perfect, so why go to all this trouble when the end product won’t be noticed.
It asks again, which I think was originally asked by Sipsmith Gin Distillery – is a Van Gogh painting still a Van Gogh no matter what Canvas he used?
Take one of Scotland’s most famous of Scottish Gins – The Botanist. Using Neutral Grain Spirit from Langley, England, but distilling on site in Islay at Bruichladdich distillery, with 22 island foraged botanicals. Bruichladdich currently employs over 80 people on the Island – so should they be discredited and brandished as ‘misleading’ as the article suggests? Are they not creating jobs from foragers to bottlers and labellers? I think they may well do.
So does buying in this NGS, or hiring a still from Birmingham or Warrington for the production make these Gin’s any less Scottish than Mr Gough? Wild Island Gin, from Colonsay use Birmingham for their base to distill their gin, the creators live on the Island of Colonsay, they forage 6 of the total botanicals there, the creation of the gin happened on the island – and this is the important part – the creation of the gin happened there. Forgive me again, if I’m wrong, but I was ‘created’ in Scotland. If I moved to Australia and lived there – does that mean I’m no longer allowed to call myself Scottish?
Blair touches on the Whisky Industry in his article. Scotch Whisky uses Barley from all over the UK, American Oak, European Oak, Mills from Leeds and the majority of distilleries are now owned by Japanese or American companies, yet because all the ingredients are brought together within our borders we legally call it Scotch, when in actual fact it’s only the creation of the product that is guaranteed to take place here. Let’s not get started on the unmentionable addition of caramel colouring. If the SWA really were as clear and rigid as Blair suggests, why can countries such as Germany demand it’s inclusion is highlighted and Scotland doesn’t need to? Is this not misleading, unclear, evasive? Why is it one rule for the massive, historic, multi-billion pound whisky industry and another for the young, fledgling up-and-coming gin industry?
From a sales point of view, yes, the customer likes to know what they are getting. We, as a company try to be as clear as possible. If I know where a gin is distilled I’ll inform our customer. Nine times out of ten this won’t impact their decision to buy it. If they taste it and like it, they’ll buy it. If they like the look of the bottle (probably made in France!) then they’ll buy it. It’s all about the final product, not the process it took to get there – although this is an interest factor, to me and the majority of the staff here, it’s not a decisive one.
Maybe a tweak on one or two labels is needed, but where do you stop? Gordon Castle doesn’t lie when it states that the gin is made using botanicals from their walled garden, it simply doesn’t state wether or not all the botanicals used are from their garden. They are not the only ones. Whisky has been doing it for years claiming trickles of streams are the source of water for millions of gallons of whisky. Yes they do use the original water source but that’s not all they use. It’s an ideal. A romantic look at life. A marketing tool. It’s not a lie, it’s a play on words. Look at most of the gin ingredients of Scottish Gin, including those accredited by the SCDA. How many have citrus fruits lemon, lime, oranges etc – where are these grown in Scotland in the vast quantities required? It depends on how picky you want to be I suppose. Daffy’s make no secret of the fact they use Lebanese Mint, nor Teasmith using Ceylon Tea. Can Porter’s source Buddah’s Hand from Balmedie Beach?
I’ve stated before, I’m not here to make enemies, I’m simply asking if it really makes a difference? Teasmith Gin is currently our biggest selling gin in our shop, a fantastic gin with a local appeal. It was created not twenty minutes away from us in Udny and distilled in Perth. Does this mean the gin isn’t local to us? Of course not. The idea, the hard work, the history, inspiration and the creators are from Udny and are actively seeking a premises nearby so that they can expand and improve the business. They needed to ensure they had a viable product before going the full hog, and I’m sure will be forever grateful to all at Strathearn for their help. House of Elrick have plans in place to start building a distillery at Newmachar, birthplace of their gin. Why is it wrong to gain experience from the hugely traditional and long running spirit and gin creators from all over the world to perfect your product before going it alone? It makes absolutely no business sense not to go down this road.
Most of these guys, if not all, will be open and honest about their gin’s origin when asked. There’s no secret agenda, no cloak and daggers, no misleading. Look up a gin on a website and you’ll pretty much find out everything you need to know. Simply because they aren’t shouting from the rooftops about the origin doesn’t mean they are hiding it. Customers now have an array of options to find out information. Everything is at their fingertips and if they want to know something they will research it so why lie? That’s the ethos of us at the Inverurie Whisky Shop and so far it has worked for us.