INTERVIEW: Marcus Pickering and Matt Gammell, gin distillers
‘This is new and exciting for the market’
Take a spirit loved by women, and another with a reputation for being a bit of a man’s drink, and mix them up. What do you get? A collection of oak aged gins matured in single malt whisky casks.
Next, only release five limited edition flavours and stick a top-of-the-range price on each bottle.
It’s a marketing executive’s dream recipe and one likely to be followed by a new edition once this one has sold out to consumers who cannot get enough of Scottish-produced premium drinks.
Pickering’s, the craft distiller, has produced the collection to enable drinkers to savour Scottish gin and whisky simultaneously. Co-founder Matt Gammell believes it is the first time a gin distillery has launched a series of oak aged gins.
“We were looking for a way of doing something creative,” he says. “I admit I was a bit unsure about it. Once the idea was firmed up we then just had to find the right whiskies that matched our gin flavours and marry them up. We think we’ve got something quite new and exciting for the market.”
Finding the most suitable whiskies meant a tasting tour of Scotland’s distilleries. How many did they visit?
Gammell laughs. “Countless. We have certainly tasted in excess of 50 single malts,” he says. These were reduced to five: a lowland, Speyside, Highland, Island and Islay. The identity of each one has not been disclosed. Just two hundred bottles of each will be produced.
The distillery is based in the old veterinary school at Summerhall, off the Meadows in Edinburgh. In three years it has established its presence in a flourishing new sector, last year picking up Gold at the World Spirits Awards.
Gammell’s journey to Summerhall began when he left Edinburgh Crystal after the factory was relocated and 200 staff paid off.
“It was a miserable time,” he admits. Meeting Marcus Pickering at a party took the pair first into property development and subsequently into the gin business.
One of their development projects was the refurbishment of the old Royal Dick school at Summerhall.
“Marcus asked me if I fancied starting a gin distillery, and I just said ‘yes’. And here we are.”
They went through numerous names for the business, including Eden, Summerhall, Meadows and Masters. An advertising agency suggested Pickering’s, says the eponymous co-founder.
“We also featured the image of a ‘snickering pig’ – an anagram of Pickering’s gin – but we changed it to a peacock. It’s tail suggests the botanical range of the gins,” he says.
Marcus Pickering’s CV is a fascinating mix of service and entrepreneurialism, including two years spent as a senior butler at Skibo Castle in the Highlands.
“My mother shared an accountant with the owner, Peter de Savary,” he explains, casually adding that he “later sold holidays to rich Americans”.
He adds:”They paid up to £35,000 to stay at the Ritz, go to the Chelsea Flower Show and have dinner with someone famous.”
He moved to Edinburgh with a girlfriend and he is focused on ensuring the distillery builds on a turnover currently at £624,000.
There have been one or two interruptions along the way. There was a run-in with the Advertising Standards Authority when the firm claimed to be producing the first gin in Edinburgh for 150 years.
Gammell explains that this was because others were still producing it. The company now states that it was the first exclusive gin distillery in the city over that time.
The dispute caused a stir with fellow distiller Edinburgh Gin, but Gammell and Pickering say there is no bad feeling, even though a map of gin distillers launched by Edinburgh Gin last year somehow managed to omit Pickering’s.
“We were not a member of the organisation that produced it,” he says. The omission has been corrected.
Gammell says the sector is thriving and laughs off any suggestion that the relationship with other firms goes beyond normal competitive rivalry.
“There are 14 or 15 craft gin distillers in the area. It’s good to be part of it,” he says.
Birthplace: East Grinstead
Education: Schools in Oxfordshire
Career Highlights: Butler, Skibo Castle; holiday salesman; company making furniture for the National Galleries; owner of Broughton One property company; Pickering’s Gin
Education: Cranley Institute; University of Northumbria
Career Highlights: Edinburgh Crystal; Broughton One; Pickering’s
Photos: Top and middle – Marcus Pickering (left) and Matt Gammell (by Terry Murden)