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Last Sunday was Scottish Gin Day. A decade ago, that probably wouldn’t have been much of an occasion but the last few years have seen a real boom period for local gins in Scotland.
One of these is Tyree Gin – run by my good pals from the band, Trail West: Ian Smith and Alain Campbell.
I decided to catch up with Ian for a wee interview to see how this relatively young business is getting on during the global pandemic.
Hello, Smithy! How exciting has it been to be part of such a burgeoning industry and when did you decide Tiree needed its own gin?
It’s brilliant to be part of such an innovative, diverse and co-operative industry. We have a keen interest in the island’s history and culture, and while doing some research we realised that the island had a rich and fascinating distilling history; Tiree was once a hotbed of distilling, both legally and illegally, and every farm on the island had at least one still producing whisky.
With the rise of smaller, craft distilleries within the UK, we thought that it was the right time for Tiree to re-establish its distilling heritage and, in February 2019, we were granted our licence to set up the island’s first legal distillery since 1802.
Tyree Gin marked Scottish Gin Day with Skerryvore piper Martin Gillespie doing a Facebook cocktail class! What gave you this idea and how did it go down? (The video that is; not the cocktails!)
Well, initially only one minute of the video uploaded (and we didn’t realise until the next day!) but once the full video was uploaded it was well received by both Tyree Gin and Skerryvore fans. Martin’s cocktail nights on Facebook had become pretty famous through lockdown, with first class craic and music, washed down with some cracking cocktails. His last one was in July and was filmed at our distillery so we thought a return appearance would be a great way for us to celebrate the day, within the constraints that we all face just now.
How has the global pandemic affected the business?
Lockdown started successfully for us. Although there was a lack of trade orders, with everyone confined to their homes with very little to do, our online sales were boosted greatly. As things started to open up, trade orders began appearing again and the online sales went back to normal but we had been working on our newest release, Hebridean Pink Gin, since before lockdown which helped to give the online sales another boost when it was launched in July.
Although we coped fairly well with lockdown, we were faced with one major setback: we had been granted an on-sales licence for our distillery at the start of the year and had planned on opening a shop on site along with tours of the distillery. Unfortunately, we had to put these on hold but we hope to go through with them next year if whatever restrictions we face at that time allow.
Tell me a bit more about the set up over in Tiree and about the unique challenges of producing and distributing from the island – particularly, again, during Covid-19.
It is a challenge to operate a distillery not only on a remote island but also in West Hynish, which is probably one of the most remote corners of the island. Some of the initial challenges we faced were no access to three-phase power (which meant our still had to be adapted accordingly) and the hardness of Tiree’s water.
During the strict lockdown (and for a while afterwards), the main issue was the impact it had on our suppliers. There were a lot of delays with deliveries due to some of our suppliers working with less staff or being closed completely. Additionally, a large amount of our own orders were taking a lot longer to arrive due to the strain on delivery services.
It was certainly a challenging time but we’ve been very lucky to be where we are while coping with the pandemic, and that has made those challenges that little bit easier to get through.