Talking Scottish Gin with The Gin Cooperative

International Scottish Gin Day is fast approaching, so I thought it would be a nice to get to know the power couple behind the event and learn more about The Gin Cooperative. Obviously, as with many things right now, COVID has caused some changes to their plans, but the show must go on… Both Natalie and Martin are in the fortunate position where they get to sample several Scottish gins and interact with the people behind each brand; therefore, they are my go-to people for (Scottish) ginspiration. As you may know, the Scottish Gin category has been growing rapidly for some years now; it really is hard to keep up at times. We can be thankful for The Gin Cooperative and people like Natalie and Martin to keep us updated and help us to navigate through the wide category.

What’s the story behind The Gin Cooperative?

Hello! The people behind The Gin Cooperative are me, Natalie Reid, and my husband, Martin Reid. You could say the story of The Gin Cooperative began many years ago, with dreams and “what-if” conversations around starting our own gin-related business at the same time as our love of Scottish Gin grew. We found ourselves gravitating towards more local Scottish gins, and we’d been disappointed to learn of a few gins, which we believed to be Scottish, actually made elsewhere.

As we paid more attention and took a keen interest in the production and brand stories of gin makers, we found the researching of brands and products quite time-consuming. There wasn’t one central resource or platform, with the most up to date information on Scottish gin. We definitely felt like gaps were missing from some of the stories; things we wanted to know that weren’t readily available. We talked about how great it would be to have one all-encompassing Scottish Gin directory and website dedicated entirely to Scottish Gin.

The Gin Cooperative Natalie and Martin
Natalie visiting a distillery in Edinburgh
Both photos by The Gin Cooperative

Then around three years ago, I came to a crossroads in my career in oil & gas. I took the opportunity to really evaluate what I wanted to do next. Around ten years earlier, I’d encouraged Martin to set-up his own design business, and now the roles were reversed. He convinced me that the best thing I could do was to start my own business based around something I was passionate about. And so, our pipe dream become a real-life plan! It was a huge risk, especially with a young family, and it has certainly not been easy, but it’s the best “job” I’ve ever had! With Martin’s background in design, advertising and photography and my all-rounder experience (art graduate, sales, marketing, HR), we decided we had the skillsets to create something different and exciting. Something that added genuine value to the Scottish Gin industry and the producers within it.

We spent a long time researching, talking to gin makers, visiting distilleries, and gathering content; all the while self-funding the website build with no income. It’s fair to say, as newbies to the industry, there was a degree of scepticism about what we were doing. But we knew we wanted to build a strong, positive voice and platform for Scottish Gin that showcased it as being a premium spirit made in Scotland. The Gin Cooperative never has and never will be about working with every Scottish Gin brand. For us as a business, it’s about working with, collaborating with and supporting like-minded business owners who believe in the term Scottish Gin. Who champion the industry and everyone in it, who are proud of their brands, businesses and see value in what The Gin Cooperative does and what it means to be a member.

After we launched the website, and people took the time to chat with us, meet us, understand what the ambitions and goals of The Gin Cooperative were, we began to see membership grow quickly. I think to a degree because we were not in the industry to begin with, it has let us do things our way without any preconceptions. It has meant we have had to gain the trust and respect of our peers and others in both Scottish Gin and the wider gin community. This alone has been, for the most part, a pretty special part of the journey; getting to meet, know and call a lot of really talented and nice people our friends.

Martin at a distillery
Credit: The Gin Cooperative

How does The Gin Cooperative work?

The membership is open exclusively to the gin makers who make their gin in Scotland. The commercial revenue generated form the membership helps us do what we do. It covers some of the operating costs of the website, including new development, and some other aspects of the business, like travel. Our members are invited to take part in features, and we shoot a lot of original photography to try and ensure our content not only looks good but is engaging and authentic. We currently have around 80 members, which we think is testament to not only what we’ve built but our members too. They’ve really got behind the idea of a premium resource for all things Scottish Gin that’s focused on helping the consumer learn, discover, and be inspired through what we do.

All of Scotland’s gin makers and brand owners who meet our criteria are featured in our A-Z of Scottish Gin. No one who meets the requirements was left off or ignored, even if they did not want to be a member. This was the right thing to do as we saw little value in punishing consumers or only providing half the story of Scottish Gin because a gin maker or brand didn’t want to be a member. 

As a business, we’ve got many exciting things planned, some on the back burner for now, some currently under development. But regardless of how The Gin Cooperative grows, our focus will always be on supporting our members and helping them tell their stories whilst continuing to showcase, promote, educate and inspire consumers to discover Scottish Gin.

Loch Ness Distillery

How long have you been doing this? Is it a full-time job for both of you?

Come December 2020, as a business; we’ll be three years old. I’m the sole director, and it’s my full-time job. But in reality, Martin is definitely my business partner and co-founder. I guess you could say that officially Martin is a volunteer as he doesn’t take a salary from the business, despite working full time for me and running his own design business. Like so many, we’ve definitely had to make sacrifices in our personal and family life as a small start-up business, but we love what we do and wouldn’t change it for the world.

Martin from the gin cooperative
Natalie Gin cooperative
Both photos are by The Gin Cooperative

What qualifies as Scottish Gin? What are the criteria for brands that are featured on your website when it comes to the origin? 

We believe Scottish Gin should be distilled, rectified or cold compounded in Scotland. Not from a base gin but from a neutral base spirit. We also believe the business should be based and operating out of Scotland, and they should believe in and champion the term Scottish Gin. We don’t think that a Scottish Gin should have to contain 100% Scottish botanicals, or a base spirit made in Scotland from Scottish grown crops. For the select few that deliver on this, it’s definitely something special. But for us, it is about where the creative process happens. The distillery making the gin should be in Scotland.

The people behind the business or brand should recognise that Scottish Gin is a term that should mean premium and that they’ll do what they can to nurture and protect that term. Both through how they themselves talk about Scottish Gin, how they present their products but also how they conduct themselves as a business.

Arbikie Scottish gin

We strongly feel that those who market their product as Scottish Gin but do not make their gin here are misleading, at best. Even the simple use of what, on the face of it, is an innocent hashtag #ScottishGin, by a brand producing their gin outside of Scotland, is confusing and dishonest. Frankly, they’re using the benefits associated with the term for commercial gain.

For me as a consumer, buying a pre-made gin base from outside of Scotland, putting it through an additional process and/or bottling it here in Scotland doesn’t make it a Scottish Gin. Some brands claim to be honest but often bury the facts of their production methods in their website. And yet some brands make it crystal clear their gin in made outside of Scotland, putting it front and centre on their website and in their communications. Up-front honesty and transparency are vital in any industry, and it’s frustrating that this subject is an ongoing issue that never really goes away.

What do you like most about the gin industry in Scotland?

I would say the diversity, in brands, products and people. We all know that there are a lot of people out there drinking gin and as they say, “different strokes for different folks”, which really applies to gin as well. Of course, we totally respect what gin is and its juniper prominence. But it’s just a fact that things move forward and in this fast-paced, consumer-driven market, the balance of quality, value, choice and differentiator is there to be struck, and no two producers have the exact same formula!

We love the fact that Scotland is home to global brands like The Botanist, Caorunn and Hendrick’s. But we also love the fact that we’ve visited distilleries in sheds, industrial estates and railway arches. Each of Scotland’s gin makers has their own story to tell, and we want to help share it. It would be easy, especially on social media, to do nothing but share other people’s content. There’s a lot of great content about gin and Scottish Gin out there, but for us we wanted to have ownership and control over the content we publish and share – original, engaging, adding value to the brands and products featured. Really capturing and telling the true story of Scotland’s true gin makers and brand owners.

It’s also worth mentioning the people. I know it sounds super cheesy to say, but we’ve come to think of many of our members and others in the gin community as friends. With a young family, super busy work lives, living in a small village and now lockdown, we find ourselves chatting to producers and other friends from the gin community more than some family members! We are incredibly grateful for that.

Gin drinkers in Scotland

International Scottish Gin Day got postponed this year – How does ISGD differ from last year?

Originally scheduled for August, we postponed in March time, soon after lockdown occurred, which we still believe was the right decision. We hope to push the date to later in the year (Saturday 24th October 2020) means businesses operating in the on and off trades have had more time to plan, to review, to adapt to all the operational changes. ISGD 2020 offers a chance for retailers to welcome customers to their shops to learn more about the Scottish Gins they stock. We hope it can provide some opportunities for retailers to explore some digital tasting events as well, which seem to have proven very popular since the start of the pandemic.

We also hope bars and others in the on-trade and hospitality will use the day as a valued means of generating footfall for their businesses. A special ISGD Scottish Gin cocktail, a Scottish G&T tasting flight, a tutored tasting with a Scottish Gin brand ambassador… There’s no limit to the possible ideas, and we hope to see a number of venues embrace ISGD 2020 and use the day to help generate revenue for their businesses and create a positive Scottish Gin experience for their customers.

We’re also looking forward to seeing Scotland’s gin makers publish a variety of content, provide exclusive ISGD 2020 offers and celebrate across their social media channels. We know a number had planned to host events at their distilleries but with the ongoing changes, we’re unsure how many of these types of events will still go ahead. However, with the growth and success of online events, we are looking forward to seeing some live distillery visits and tours, tasting events and more. 

Scottish gin selection
Credit: The Gin Cooperative

ISGD 2020 is also completely free this year. Last year we charged a small fee for bars and venues wishing to be officially involved, really to try and cover some of the operational costs of the website build and development, which we self-funded. For this year, we’ve also created more marketing materials for the on and off-trade to use. These are available to download for free and can be used to help promote their ISGD 2020 events. These include pre-designed posters, social media graphics and more.

We’re super excited to welcome back several returning sponsors like JFS Botanicals, Image On Glass, Rankin & Sons, Scottish Gin Awards along with some new sponsors including VetroElite, Flexi-Hex and our official tonic partner, Schweppes. And of course, we’re delighted to have the support of our official supporters. We always wanted ISGD to be a platform that showcased not only Scottish Gin but also some fantastic accounts and people from the wider gin community. We’re humbled to have the support of so many people, businesses, bloggers and others who we respect and see adding value to the world of Scottish Gin and wider gin industry.

We were blown away last year on social media when our phones started to ping, pretty much every minute as people started sharing their content and posting about ISGD 2019. We hope ISGD 2020 will be the same and everyone who enjoys gin will join us online and help showcase Scotland’s brilliant range of brands and gins.

Pickering's gin

Have you managed to secure some international visibility for ISGD now that many bars have limitations when it comes to organising events and hosting groups?

We’re confident the international visibility, in terms of coverage and digital content on the day, will be good. We collaborated with some world-class bars for our inaugural year in 2019, but it didn’t make sense to commit to new international partnerships in 2020 when there were so many unknowns about COVID and restrictions. We’ve touched base with the international bars we worked with last year, some of whom are able and ready to run events, menus or promotions around Scottish Gin again this year, which is fantastic. 

Pre-lockdown, our strategy was to engage with more domestic bars and retailers for ISGD, but for obvious reasons, the lockdown has slowed down our efforts and dulled business owners’ enthusiasm. However, as things stand, we believe the promotion of Scottish Gin themed ISGD events could drive additional footfall into bars and retailers for the day or weekend. We have a lot of work to do over the next few weeks, but we’re confident it will still be a fantastic year for ISGD.

Caorunn G&T serve

What is your favourite gin cocktail?

For myself, it must be the Negroni. In fact, I would say it’s my favourite cocktail full stop. The French 75 would be a close second. Martin generally opts for a classic G&T but strictly speaking his favourite cocktail is a Bramble.

I wouldn’t dare to ask your favourite Scottish gin, but perhaps you can let us know the flavour profile you prefer (citrus, fruity, savoury…) and maybe a few brands you have enjoyed this past summer?

You’re right. I don’t think either of us could ever narrow it down to one favourite. Martin still enjoys a coastal gin, i.e. with a maritime taste, whether that be from seaweed or botanicals picked from coastal seashores and hedgerows. He returns to Harris gin frequently but has enjoyed sampling Tyree, Barra, Shetland Reel Ocean Sent and Lussa Gin again recently. I would say I’ve enjoyed exploring the Navy Strength category this year. We’re close to publishing a dedicated Navy Strength Scottish Gin editorial feature, as a follow up to our Old Tom one from last year and it’s a really interesting and underrated gin category in my opinion. Some amazing ones I’ve sampled of late include Darnley’s, Biggar, Rock Rose, 1881 and I’m looking forward to trying Pentland Hills next!

Credit: The Gin Cooperative

Do you still see growth in the Scottish gin market? Is there room for new brands?

We absolutely see growth in the Scottish Gin market. We keep a close eye on numbers and trends. Interestingly, the number of brands year on year in going down, but the number of expressions continues to go up, with existing brands increasing their product range to meet continued demand for choice. And in reality to keep shelf space in a very competitive market. There’s definitely an increase in the number of contract distilled brands and speciality/house gins coming to market too. I believe there is still room for new brands, but I would like to see it slow down. And most importantly, I would like to see the quality at the heart of everything produced here.

Something we anticipate more of and excites us is new Scottish Gin experiences. Despite the number of distilleries, the number of experiences, like tours, gin schools and special events is low in comparison. Given that tourism, food and drink are all massive sectors for the Scottish economy, and it just makes sense for producers to offer experiences or collaborate with other like-minded businesses to provide unique and quality food & drink experiences.

Don’t forget to share your ISGD photos with us using the hashtag #ISGD or #ISGD2020! As an official supporter of the ISGD, I will be running a Scottish Gin giveaway on On the Sauce Again Instagram page later on this month. I will also be sharing more information about some of the Scottish Gins I’ve tried recently.

If you have any questions about Scottish Gin or The Gin Cooperative, please feel free to get in touch with me, or contact Natalie directly.

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