Steven Duthie – Esker Gin
The Duthies should serve as inspiration for all Gin fans. They were so in love with the spirit they just decided to make their own, and they made one so good they couldn’t help but release it commercially… Almost a year on from the launch of Esker Gin, we caught up with co-founder Steven to see how life in the Gin industry is working out.
Gin Foundry: You started off as hobbyists, but things are growing quickly. How have the first 18 months in the Gin biz treated you?
Steven Duthrie: Having an interest in distilling and working with the small copper still, we always wanted our own distillery and it’s incredible to have that dream fulfilled. We’ve found people in the Gin business to be friendly, welcoming and have a general willingness to promote the industry as a whole. Esker Gin has been very well received and we’ve relocated our distillery into larger premises on the estate we source our birch sap from, which also lends to the provenance. It’s been a great experience and it’s an industry we’re really enjoying being a part of.
What inspires you as gin makers?
The endless possibilities, countless botanicals, varying distilling methods, and from that producing spirits we are proud of. There are some great gins out there and we always strive to compete with the best. Royal Deeside and Aberdeenshire are known for high quality produce so we feel we have a high standard to uphold locally, as well as further afield.
We feel that a great gin reflects the spirit of its maker in each drop. What parts of yourselves do you see reflected in your gin?
The creative and adventurous spirit – we love the fact that our gin has a distinctive flavour and with the silver birch sap, it is unique. Also, it’s not afraid to wear it’s heart on its sleeve – the fact it can turn opaque when it’s cold because of the high botanical content shows the quality and depth of flavour of what’s inside. With new recipes, we’re always pushing the boundaries. With Esker Gin we wanted to create a classic but modern gin with the flavours turned up a couple of notches. People really appreciate the fact that we’re Gin lovers that set up a distillery and made it ourselves right from the outset.
Can you talk us through an average day at the distillery?
A reasonably early start to get the still up and running. Some of the aroma of the spirit is already there due the maceration process started the day before. All the distilling, bottling and packing takes place there under the same roof so it can be a real hive of activity. We’re always developing new spirits so sometimes the small still is running too. The Esker Gin distillery is on a working highland estate so wildlife like pheasants and deer turning up outside the door are a regular occurrence. The castle is quite near the distillery in one direction and a stunning view up Royal Deeside on the other. It’s a great place to be and a nice balance to the sometimes manic work schedule.
As you mentioned – you went from Gin fans to Gin makers. We’re sure many people tell you you’re living the dream, but the day-to-day realities of running a business can be very different to the romanticised notion. What motivates you to push yourself?
The drive to learn the business inside and out. We’ve had the chance to learn from mistakes already… and I’m sure we’ll make many more along the way. We have the same pressures and hurdles as any other business but it’s a business that we love being in, so that makes all the difference. We want to be known as a producer of high quality, distinctive spirits that respect the heritage of the industry but who are also keen to push what’s possible.
What are the goals for Esker Gin in the coming year?
This is a very important year for Esker Gin. Following on from our new distillery we are working to increase brand awareness and accessibility of Esker Gin through more retailers, stockists and exporting. The gin market is huge and there a lot of opportunities at the moment, which we can be selective with. We have a lot of exciting developments going on including taking on more staff and discussions with buyers from other countries. We are also increasing our range with the launch of new products this year that we’ve been working on for some time. We believe a great gin takes time to develop.
We think so too, it’s a process full of highs and lows as well – what experiences as a Gin maker stood out for you as the best so far?
After two years of distillation experimentation with our small copper still, discussions about a name, how the branding would look, etc. seeing the finished product in the bottle for the first time was amazing. There are also people that we’ve worked with, produced gin for, and events Esker Gin has been a part of that have really been incredible for us. But actually having our own distillery on a highland estate, I still can’t quite believe it!
Finally – for any other budding gin maker out there – could you tell us if there’s anything you’ve learnt along the way that you wished you’d known when you started this journey?
There’re quite a few things, but I’d say the complications of scaling up production. As Esker Gin was created from nearly two years of experimentation on a small copper still, we were very familiar with the small scale process, and scaling everything up for the production still was much more complex and a whole new level of discovery. But I suppose that can only come from actual experience.
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