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Emma Hooper – Darnley’s Gin

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14/01/2019
Written by Gin Foundry

We had a catch up with Darnley’s Gin Brand Manager Emma Hooper to get the inside scoop on what it’s like to be a part of the huge Scottish Gin tourism industry.

Gin Foundry: Brand Scotland is a big part of life for gins produced north of the border. Have you felt the love since moving production north?

Emma Hooper: It’s been uplifting to see how we have been embraced by those local to our distillery. The family behind Darnley’s Gin have roots in the area going back centuries so it’s been a real homecoming for them especially.

The Scottish Gin category is booming and we are now part of a growing Gin trail where people can stop by, speak to us and see where and how Darnley’s is made. This, paired with a full event calendar of shows and tastings, has given us a real boost both here in the UK and in the other countries we sell to.

Of course, there’s that sleepy little Scotch industry creeping around in Scotland, too. There must be quite a lot of cross over and something of a halo effect from the Whisky. Are you finding that fans of one are discovering the other and vice versa?

That has always been the case for us as our sister brand, Wemyss Malts, launched in 2005 so we often take a bottle or two of our gin to Whisky shows or share an event stand with them. When we opened Kingsbarns Distillery making single malt in 2004, we set our sights on the cottage tucked behind it to open a gin still house. Now we are very much entwined; people may visit one not knowing the other is next door and add on a tour with lunch or a coffee in between!

And how are the tours going? How many people are visiting each month?

The gin distillery was designed with tours in mind; we have a large viewing window so people can have a tasting while production is happening so the two don’t need to clash. The contrast of the two spaces is great as one is very much the nuts and bolts of making gin and the other is warm and comfortable with a bar and lots of gin to try.

Our tour guides run four tours per day in high season and we get around 1k visitors a month, having St Andrews nearby and the world famous golf courses means we get a lot of tourists. November through to March is naturally a bit quieter which is when we see more locals and around Christmas and New Year is when they bring all their visiting family and friends!

You’ve recently added a Gin School too. How long has that been in the works?

When we were in the early planning stages with the architects we knew we wanted to keep one of the smaller rooms in the cottage as a break away space to have at least one mini still so we could work on NPD or use it for events.

We want people to ‘Discover Darnley’s’ and our main tasting room works by the room evolving and revealing more as the tour goes on. We wanted this sense of fun and discovery to continue so we had the idea of the door to our gin school being disguised as a wall panel so you wouldn’t know it was there until it’s opened. Our visitors’ faces when we reveal a room full of shiny copper stills are brilliant!

Amazing! And do they get to have a go on the stills?

We wanted to give people the experience of distilling their own gin, so they each have their own mini still to work on (or they can do a shared experience). They choose from over 40 botanicals to create their recipe, some of which we grow in our cottage garden, or they can bring their own from home.

Our distiller and gin school team guide them along the way; they learn about production, the Darnley’s Gin story and of course sip on a few G&T’s while their own bespoke gin distils. After the two and a half hours is up, they’ve got their own bottled, labelled one-of-a-kind gin to take home.

Your distiller sounds like a busy boy. Can you give us an introduction to him?

Scott Gowans is our Head Distiller, he is an alumni of the Heriot Watt Brewing and Distilling Course in Edinburgh and has worked for several beer and gin companies.

Unlike most new distilleries where they don’t have a product yet, his position is unique in that he wasn’t starting from scratch with recipes; he had three existing gins to recreate as faithfully as possible with new equipment and a copper still.

Saying that, he has had a chance to build a gin from scratch, hasn’t he?

Yes! Very Berry is our new limited-edition gin and the first in the ‘Cottage Series’ created by distiller Scott. It is inspired by the botanicals that grow wild around the Darnley’s Gin cottage in Fife. A keen forager, Scott found rosehip growing around the boundaries of the distillery and worked with a local fisherman who farms sugar kelp just off the coastline. The signature botanicals – elderberries, rosehip and sloe berries – have been chosen to create a rich fruit intensity while salty notes from the sugar kelp seaweed balances the sweetness. It’s great with Indian tonic and a handful of red berries and we’ve recently discovered the joys of mixing it with grapefruit soda.

That sounds great. It’s good to be able to evolve as a brand, particularly when star local botanicals are a selling point that shows no sign of abating any time soon. Scott must have been thrilled with the opportunity?

Oh, definitely. It’s been important to Scott that he puts his own stamp on Darnley’s and for us to get across the setting of our distillery and where our gin development happens. He spent a lot of time in the Fife area growing up, so there’s a nice parallel that he’s now creating gin recipes using those local ingredients he’ll have been familiar with as a child.

Wonderful stuff. So is the series going to be a big part of your 2019 plans?

2019 will see the second release in our Cottage Series range, and we have a few more diverse projects for next year that are in the early discussion stages. One of my main focuses is developing the event program for the Darnley’s Distillery tour space through private and bookable events, and adding to the Gin School classes, all of which will enrich the Darnley’s experience giving visitors a reason to come back again and again.

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