From the garden shed to competing against the biggest names in craft gin, it’s been a whirlwind first year for The Garden Shed Drinks Co.
Firstly, can you take us through the journey of The Garden Shed Drinks Company– from the moment the idea came to you, until now?
Our journey began in August 2017 when our good friends Kirstin and Ruaridh Jackson moved in with us, having just returned to Scotland. Ruaridh had signed for the Glasgow Warriors and Ryan, who was also signed to the Warriors at the time, was coming to the end of his career following a back injury. Ryan, who was also completing his Environmental Science Degree got in contact with Paul Miller (owner of Eden Mill and sponsor of the Warriors) looking for inspiration for life after Rugby. Ryan ended up spending the day with the distillers at Eden Mill because Paul had subsequently forgotten about their meeting. He returned home that night feeling inspired and convinced us that we should make our own gin. We bought a half-litre copper still off Amazon the same evening and, as soon as it arrived, the boys began to play about. The plan was to try and create a garden inspired recipe (something that tasted like the garden) from ingredients we could find on our own doorstep.
In truth, we started out our experiments in the kitchen but the boys had stupidly filled the burner with paraffin which, as it turns out, doesn’t burn very clean! There was a ploom of black smoke and all the white counters had turned into more of a dark grey from absorbing all the soot after the boys had tried wiping them clean in a panic.
Needless to say, they were swiftly kicked out into the garden (it was a lovely summer so I didn’t feel too bad) and that’s where the idea of The Garden Shed Drinks Co. came from. A couple of months later, after some awful recipes, and some more technical pointers from the lads at Eden Mill, the boys finally perfected the recipe. Myself and Kirstin then began creating the brand image, logo, label, social media etc. In the meantime, we had been trying to get all the licensing in place to turn our shed into a mini-distillery however red tape made it virtually impossible. We then decided to approach Eden Mill again and asked if they would be willing to contract distill our recipe and they thankfully agreed.
Prior to this, we had set up our company with Companies House and sat down as a group to discuss what our core values would be. We wanted to be known for good quality, the journey needed to be fun, we wanted to have a reputation in business for being good to work with and, most importantly, we wanted to make sure we gave back in some way.
On December 20th 2017, we released our first batch of Garden Shed Gin which subsequently sold out shortly after Christmas. After the success over Christmas, we decided to do another batch in the New Year, only we doubled the size and to our surprise we sold out again in a short period of time. Things have grown fairly organically since then. With no real business plan, our initial idea was to supply a local gin to the Glasgow area and never even contemplated that we would be supplying our gin to business all around the UK, let alone exporting it several months later!
We entered our Garden Shed Gin into a blind tasting at the World Spirits Competition in San Francisco after one of the distillers at Eden Mill suggested we do it to get the experts feedback on it and, to our utter delight, received an email a month or so later confirming we had won a silver medal in our category. After that we entered into the annual Scottish Gin Awards and were shortlisted for both London Dry Gin of the year and Excellence in Branding. Sadly, we never came away with a win but it was an incredible accomplishment considering we were just four good friends (two aging rugby players, a landscape architect and me – a full-time mummy) with little-to-no experience in the alcohol industry, who were just having a bit of fun and somehow managed to create a gin that competed with the likes of large brands such as Eden Mill, Caorunn and Colonsay! We still do a little dance at small victories and occasionally have to pinch ourselves to make sure it’s all real! We still haven’t completed a full year of trading but we’re looking forward to what 2019 will bring!
All of the founders of Garden Shed have come from very different backgrounds, with yourself growing up in Zambia, Ryan in Malaysia, and Ruaridh and Kirstin in Scotland. Has that influenced the way you work or the flavour of the gin?
I would say that the one thing we all have in common is our view on climate change, our love for the environment and how important it is to be as eco-friendly as possible. I grew up surrounded by untouched wilderness in Zambia, Ryan was completing and now has a degree in Environmental Science (initially with a view to working in the industry), Kirstin is a landscape architect and Ruaridh has a love for the outdoors, obviously spending a lot of his rugby career training and playing outdoors.
I wouldn’t say it influenced the flavour of our gin other than the idea that we could use what local botanicals we could find on our doorstep. Lavender, blackberries and dandelion root still remain as the core ingredients in our gin. However we have outgrown our garden and now have to buy larger quantities of ingredients. Although we still use what fresh blackberries we do have at the bottom of the garden in our distillations and supplement them with fresh ones from the fruit market – more sweetness comes through from using fresh ones, albeit more expensive.
Have you relocated from the garden shed?
Yes, sadly our dream of converting our humble garden shed into a mini-distillery didn’t quite come to fruition – too much red tape and too expensive with no guarantees we would even be granted it.
Can you talk us through a typical day at the distillery?
In the early days, before we started producing our gin commercially, it usually involved spending the summer nights sitting around the fire pit waiting for the latest recipe to distil. Recently, a typical day involves much more mundane things like replying to countless emails, deliveries, staff training, gin tastings and lots of organisation for the next gin festival or event on the weekends. It’s still only the four of us so our days are kept pretty busy and it’s only myself and Ryan who work for the company full time. Kirstin and Ruaridh still have their day jobs so tend to help out when they can.
You support some Scottish environmental charities; The Bumblebee Conservation Trust and Trees4Scotland, why did you choose to support these particular charities?
We knew from the beginning that we wanted to give back to the environment and initially (and rather naively) had grand ideas to be completely carbon neutral. It turns out it’s not as easy as that, especially when you’re just starting out! Planting trees was a way of offsetting our carbon emissions until we grew big enough to make the changes. When there are world leaders denying climate change, it is important for the rest of us to lead the way and set a good example to ensure there is something left for our children. We currently plant one tree for every six bottles sold but we hope that as we grow we can work with other environmental charities such as marine conservation and reducing ocean plastic.
The bumblebees not only fit into our garden identity, they, along with many other species of bee are in terrible need of our help. The survival of the planet pretty much rests on their existence so without them we wouldn’t be here, let alone our gin! Worryingly, there are many species close to extinction and very little being done to protect them.
Can you tell Flavourly readers about any plans for new products or ventures?
We actually have a limited edition product in the pipeline as we speak. Our Côte-Rôtie aged gin is Ryan’s innovation. There are many aged gins out there but none that have been aged in a Côte-Rôtie wine barrique. Through this unique idea, our Garden Shed Gin has naturally absorbed some the flavour left in the staves as well as a little colour and therefore taken on some of the delightful attributes of Cote-Rotie.
Our Garden Shed story began over many glasses of red wine so it seemed fitting that our next creation would pay tribute to that.