Launched in November 2018, Lind & Lime was the first spirit The Port of Leith Distillery Co. With its stunning bottle a throwback to the wine bottles made in the port in Edinburgh’s heyday, it caused quite the stir on social media. With exciting plans afoot, including an £11 million distillery, I caught up with co-founder Ian Stirling.
“For us it always had to be Leith…”
It’s six months since Lind & Lime was launched. How do you look back on what must have been an exciting start for the business?
The reaction to Lind & Lime has completely surpassed our expectations – it has indeed been a very exciting start. I guess to a certain extent, we mainly feel relief… we spent two long, lonely years working on the gin, the bottle and the distillery and at times you wondered if it would ever see the light of day. We were most excited when we finally saw it all coming together and we began to get a sense that we had something special – then the reaction was just incredible.
How long has it taken from concept to market for the gin, and was distilling in Leith central to the idea from the outset?
We’ve been working on our project to build a whisky distillery in Edinburgh for almost 8 years, and the gin distillery element of that has been part of the last 3 years. I think the specific work to create our gin took 2 years in total.
For us it always had to be Leith. We grew up in Edinburgh and have a healthy obsession with history. Leith is the historic distilling district of the capital and it’s amazing just how much the industry once dominated this area, only for it to all but disappear by the end of the 20th century. Of course we’re not the first to have brought distilling back here – our friend at the Electric Spirit Co did that…
You’ve secured significant investment of £10m. That must’ve been no mean feat given how competitive the market is now. Was it hard to convince investors to come on board?
It has been a huge amount of work. We have managed to put together a very strong business proposition, but ultimately it’s not about convincing investors; they’re either pre-disposed to this kind of long-term investment, or they’re not. The challenge is just finding the ones who are – which means you have to have lots and lots and lots of meetings, explore every avenue you possibly can, jump on a plain when opportunities arise and just never stop raising. At this same, it’s been great fun raising the investment – talking to people about a vision you’ve created over a number of years is a highly pleasurable activity.
Creating a gin to help fund whisky development is becoming increasingly common. Harris Distillers have done it exceptionally well. Was that always the plan or did the idea for gin production come further down the line?
Actually our gin has never featured in our business plan as a significant revenue stream. I think we would have been disingenuous to tell investors that we could launch a new gin in such a busy market and it would make lots of money. For us, the significant revenue stream that supports our whisky production will be tourism – which is why we’re building our distillery next to the Royal Yacht Britannia in Leith.
The great advantage of launching our gin at this stage of our evolution is that we can begin to forge the relationships that will become our distribution network – a network that will one day receive our whisky and any other beverages we produce. So our real focus with Lind & Lime has always been exports. However the reaction in the UK has taken us completely by surprise and that’s fantastic.
“For us, the significant revenue stream that supports our whisky production will be tourism – which is why we’re building our distillery next to the Royal Yacht Britannia in Leith.”
Andy Colman is your gin distiller and has worked at some great Scottish distilleries including Edinburgh Gin. How did that relationship come about?
We advertised the role and were very excited to meet Andy during the interviews. When you’re a tiny start-up, recruitment is so important. Andy has become a founding member of our team, and we needed someone who was not only technically proficient, but also brought the right attitude – someone that we were going to share our very precious vision with.
He’s been an amazing addition to the team and the experience he garnered from Kingsbarns Distillery and Edinburgh Gin have proven to be invaluable to us.
How involved were you in the concept for the gin? Looking at the botanicals and story, it all seems to tie in perfectly to the great brand story!
Everything about the gin came from us – and I think that has to happen if you’re going to create something successful. We devised the bottle shape, the flavour profile and these are all things that really emerged from our interest in the history of Leith and Edinburgh. We worked with a local design agency called Contagious who took our ideas and enhanced them with their beautiful label design and their awesome illustrator Tyrone put our map together for us.
Artist’s impression of new Port of Leith Distillery
The plans for your new distillery sound incredibly exciting! How are things coming along?
Slowly… it’s been a frustrating few months as we’re so ready to start building, but legal work on the land has taken longer than anticipated. Hopefully we’ll be getting to site any week now. After all these years of talking about it, it’s going to be strange feeling when we actually start building this thing!
One very exciting thing that’s been progressing in the meantime is our whisky development programme, which is run by our research associate, Vicky. She is trialling a wide range of yeasts to create new flavour characteristics for our whisky and we have already begun to create a small library of varied newmakes. This research will continue right up until we complete construction of the distillery.
With the number of brands now in Edinburgh, do you see gin tourism as a huge opportunity as an addition to the city’s already booming tourist industry?
Absolutely – we don’t currently offer tours of our stillhouse, but we kept getting asked to and we will get around to it when we get a moment! It’s not glamorous – we’re on a small industrial estate in Leith, but that doesn’t seem to deter anyone, and indeed it seems to encourage some as this really is a place where something is made, without any of the ‘brand experience’ stuff that you find elsewhere.
That’s something that we want to try and retain in the whisky distillery when it’s completed. Sometimes when you visit a distillery, you begin to feel more like you’re in a museum and we don’t want to fall into that trap.
“The potential in Asia is quite enormous, but as a company we don’t want to focus too much on any specific region. The ideal scenario is to have your distribution nicely split over every continent because at any one time, one of those markets may be growing, and another may be receding.”
You currently share a space with James Porteous from Electric Spirit Company. Is there close collaboration between you both?
Our partnership with James has been a truly excellent thing – a mutually beneficial relationship that has also just been great fun. We share the Tower Street Stillhouse. Our company invested in the equipment in return for James’ work in helping us to develop our gin. Now we split the overheads. He is a remarkably talented distiller, but we knew that the moment we tasted his Achroous Gin. We think that this is potentially a unique arrangement in Scotland. It’s worked really well and we hope to continue with it in the future. James really feels like part of our team, even if he’s running his own company.
You previously worked in the wine trade, exporting to South East Asia. How valuable has this been to you and do you see this as a central market in the future?
The most valuable thing about my experience in S.E. Asia is all the mistakes I made. I learned the importance of relationships, finding the right partners, the time that things take and all the remarkable hoops you need to jump through in certain markets. The potential in Asia is quite enormous, but as a company we don’t want to focus too much on any specific region. The ideal scenario is to have your distribution nicely split over every continent because at any one time, one of those markets may be growing, and another may be receding. A company I worked for was over-exposed to the Chinese market, and when there was a down-turn it hit us very hard.
Find out more about Port of Leith Distillery on their website.