Scotland has increasingly become a nation of gin-lovers; since the early 2000’s the public has moved away from the mass market, knock-down value approach of purchasing gin, and moved towards bespoke independent craft distilleries. One of which can be found nestled at the foot of Glenshee: the Persie Gin Distillery.

Owner Simon Fairclough, a passionate gin connoisseur, is one of many to ride the recent wave of gin production- however, his journey to create the perfect craft gin has taken a different twist. Having completed a two-year programme of market research geared towards identifying the nation’s favourite gin botanicals and flavours - in May 2016 he launched three delicious gins to match his findings.

Simon spoke with the Scottish Farmer about his journey in to gin and his ambitions moving forward to export the Persie brand to new markets. He speaks passionately about the hard work, that he and his team have invested in creating three-award winning expressions and reflects on the public’s changing attitudes to gin over the years - and how we have become a nation of gin enthusiasts.

“My first job was in London in the agency world. I spent four years working with Johnnie Walker and witnessed the decline of whisky distilleries in the 1970’s. I had big dreams about resurrecting one and launching my own single malt! My ambitions proved a little too rich for my pocket at that stage – instead I went on to work in media and communications. But my burning desire to have my own distillery never left me.

“The magical world of spirits has always captured my imagination and my desire to create something still burned. So, almost five years ago - in 2013 – I realised I still had around 20 years of graft in me and I grasped the bull by the horns. I had been reading about craft spirits and what they had been doing in the US and that put some fire in my belly. Together with some other gin enthusiasts, signed up to be a founding member of the Scottish Craft Distillers Association. That’s when I began my journey in-to buying my own premises and creating my own spirit and the brand of Persie Gin was born,” said Mr Fairclough.

The Persie Distillery premises can be found on the A93, the main road to Glenshee; a busy tourist route and a perfect excuse for a stop to exercise one’s taste buds and sample a new up and coming Scottish craft gin. With a tasting room and bar on site – and a clear view of Phil the Still – visitors can see where the magic happens and taste samples of Persie’s three distinct flavours.

Mr Fairclough explained the crucial role of the market research in developing the three unique flavours: “We started distilling gin in 2016, bit that’s not where the story starts. Three years previously we set up Gin Club Scotland, which my wife Chrissie now runs, which involved curating a wide selection of gins from all over the world then taking them out to gin lovers across Scotland and asking them for their opinions and preferences.

“We are the only company to have approached our recipe development like this. We set up Gin Club Scotland specifically as a way of identifying the Scottish palate for gin. Events were hard work but so much fun, and we would host anything from intimate tastings of 25 to big corporate and charity events with more than 100 attendees. We showcased around 300 gins and asked people to note all their feedback on different brands so we could capture the answers on a spreadsheet. We have now run over 3,000 tastings, but in the early days it soon became clear that there were three clusters of data, showing consistent preferences for three styles of gin: fruity, savoury and sweet. So, it’s no surprise that our Persie Gin creations reflect these parts of the gin flavour wheels.”

Persie Zesty Citrus Gin – a fruity gin with a little complexity and a touch of sweetness. Citrus is a hard one to get right; it is very time intensive as the Persie teams hand-zests the fruit, then, the gin has to rest for six weeks in tanks. The end result is an amazing bright, vibrant fruity gin.

Persie Herby and Aromatic Gin – this is a rare flavour in the UK; a savoury gin is unusual here. The team thinks of this as their ‘foodie’ gin, with a hint of rosemary and olive. It goes down really well with restaurateurs for marinating seafood and meat, and has been a big hit at festivals.

Persie Sweet and Nutty Old Tom Gin– this is a much sweeter profile, not quite a gin liqueur but still with a slight sweetness. The team thinks of this as an after dinner gin, packed with powerful botanicals such as vanilla pods and root ginger. It has a lovely nutty taste and is the strongest of the three gins, complimented nicely by a splash of ginger ale.

As the drive for Scotland as a gin nation continues to thrive, I asked Mr Fairclough whether Scotland had reached its peak in terms of gin production and what were his plans for the future of Persie Gin as it approaches its second birthday.

“The pendulum has swung back from mass market produced gin at low prices towards people being more orientated towards provenance and independent providers, very much acknowledged as the home-grown approach. When I was a young boy, the staple gin in the house would be Gordons, Tanqueray or Plymouth, but time has moved on with the likes of Bombay Sapphire and its eye catching blue glass design in the 1980’s, then Hendricks with its apothecary bottle in the late 1990’s. In 2008, two companies in London became the first craft distillers in the UK, Sipsmith Gin and Sacred Gin, which triggered the artisan distilling movement, opening the door for new craft distilleries to open UK-wide. Since then people have moved more and more towards independent gin production.

“Scotland has an incredible heritage associated with whisky and an amazing body of knowledge in the drinks sector. We have a world-class distilling centre at Heriot Watt University and are generally punching above our weight in terms of small craft distilleries, which I don’t think looks set to end anytime soon.

“I have no interest in becoming part of the large scale corporate world of spirits and instead want to run a solid commercial business, predominantly working alongside independents. I work with a small close-knit team; there are two full-time members of staff and five part-time employees, all living locally, and I have witnessed first-hand how important it is to form strong solid relationships both with colleagues and your customer base.

“I am commercially ambitious and hope in the next three to five years to start selling Persie Gin outside the UK and expanding our market. I don’t just want to be in Scotland, but a producer of spirits sold around the world. I never thought in my mid-50’s I would be working such long hours, but I couldn’t be happier - and I’m excited to see what the future holds for Persie Gin,” concluded Mr Fairclough.