The Untold Truth Of Pickering's Gin

Calling themselves, "The Botanical Engineers," the founders of Scotland's Pickering's Gin have certainly engineered some incredible gin flavors, while building up, in less than a decade a brand with an international reputation. Pickering's Gin was the first exclusive gin distillery to be set up in Scotland's city of Edinburgh for over 150 years. What is amazing about Pickering's Gin is the fascinating story behind the brand, some of the quirky editions, including gin bottles that you hang from a tree, along with the success the company has had beyond the borders of Scotland.

Friends and business partners, Marcus Pickering and Matthew Gammell decided to set up Pickering's Gin after working together for over 10 years in engineering and also property renovation. These skills would definitely come in useful when they went about building a distillery in an old part of a building that was undergoing a major transformation as a visual arts hub. Pickering also had experience making cocktails at the world-famous Skibo Castle, where Madonna famously married film director Guy Ritchie as well as in distilleries doing tours (via Rolling Stone). Add in an old recipe rediscovered and the rest is history and even though it is a short one so far, the award-winning Pickering's Gin has already crafted a wonderful legacy of a full-bodied gin that balances bitterness and sweet beautifully. It's time to dig into the untold truth of Pickering's Gin.

Pickering's Gin has its roots in a secret Indian recipe

Pickering's Gin may not have come about if it was not from a secret recipe that it's suspected dates back to Colonial India. At this time, gin was favored by the British in India to take away from the acrid taste of anti-malarial quinine which was found in tonic water. The classic gin and tonic has come a long way since then, and the recipe that was discovered by Pickering's Gin eponymous founder in 2013, had been written down in the 1940s by a late friend of his father's

Using nine botanicals, the origin of this modern brand is a story that Pickering's Gin owner is proud of, as Pickering highlights in an article in Fortune. "We're really fortunate to have a real piece of gin history hanging in a frame in our distillery, and we use it as a blueprint for all of our gins." 

Certainly, this is a fantastic brand backstory and gives what is a contemporary gin a sense of history and inspired the two friends too. According to Pickering, in an article in Real Business, the original recipe has been added to as well. "We worked carefully to ensure that our recipe was spot on. We did a lot of work adjusting the botanical weights to get the perfect (old school) gin flavour that we wanted. The liquid enjoys a slow luxurious simmer, which coaxes out the flavours, all the while remaining loyal to the essence of the original recipe."

A derelict veterinary school was transformed into the distillery

It was while working together on a renovation project at an arts center that the two friends noticed a disused part of the site and their business and creative ideas were sparked. It turns out that this derelict area was once home to dog kennels that had been part of the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, known locally as Dick Vet which was once located here (via British Listed Buildings). Part of the University of Edinburgh, the renowned school was established in the 19th century and taught vets from around the world, including the U.S.

The men's love of gin, coupled with an old recipe written on aged notepaper, and the potential of a place where they could open up a distillery in the heart of the city was the inspiration behind Pickering's Gin dream. The pair transformed the space themselves and today have a grand reputation for their distillery tours which are informative, fun, and definitely benefit from being in a cool location right in the heart of a grand city such as Edinburgh. In many ways, the owners were in the right place at the right time, with the right recipe, although knowing nothing about how to make a distillery they had to learn as they set the business up.

Pickering's distillery is right in the middle of a Scottish arts festival

Not only is the actual distillery site interesting, but the setting is too, since Pickering's Gin is off a courtyard in a larger development, Summerhall. As well as a vet school, Summerhall also housed a mom-and-pop-style brewery in the early 18th century. Today, Summerhall boasts its own microbrewery, meaning the place's brewing history continues, making Barney's Beer which along with Pickering's Gin is served in a bar on the site and is where the tour for the gin brand begins.

Summerhall officially became a distillery in 2013 and was also transformed into an incredible arts center. It's home to galleries, studios, and a cinema, whilst hosting performances. The programs on offer include artist development support and Summerhall is also a well-known venue for the world-famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival shows which feature comedy, music, and theatre. 

There's no doubt that both audiences and performers who descend on the Scottish city from across the world enjoy the delights of a stunning Edinburgh landmark in the summer and a glass of Pickering's Gin or two. It's obvious why this artsy, creative environment with its cool courtyard distillery is the perfect place for the brand. It is full of character and charm, which are the perfect ingredients for the imaginatively created Pickering's Gin to prosper. The tour begins in the bar, and Pickering's Gin fits right in with the Summerhall vibe.

Pickering's Gin is known for its creative flavors

Without doubt, there is a fun and quirky side to Pickering's Gin beyond its interesting history and creative setting. These gin-makers love playing with different flavors, and while they always keep their core gins, they love nothing better than releasing some pretty unusual flavors, such as Pumpkin Spice Chai Latte. While the core range of classic gins is always available, other unique flavors have included: Strawberry & Black Pepper, Pink Grapefruit and Lemongrass, and Lime and Ginger.

It isn't just the flavors of Pickering's Gin that are different either, it is the way that the brand is marketed and how it connects with gin-lovers. Great ideas abound with how to offer the gin too, with small bottles home-delivered with tonic and even garnish available. Another cool offering are miniatures with name tags on them that can be placed on a table to save the seat of a guest at an event. It is these extra touches that really elevate the brand. There is no doubt that demand for gin is there. According to Statista, revenue in gin in the U.S. in 2022 is expected to grow to $2.8 million, while the U.K. will likely generate more than $4 million. With a presence globally, Pickering's Gin clearly has a lot of appeal to gin-lovers in the U.S. too.

Pickering's festive gin baubles were a huge hit

When you think of gin, you may imagine a long gin and tonic with lots of ice and a slice, sipped on a summer's day. When you think of Christmas you may imagine a beautifully decorated tree with glass ornaments hanging from it. They may sound quite different, yet when you combine Pickering's Gin and the festive season what do you have? The wonderful answer is, gin baubles. According to The National, these 50-ml bauble-shaped bottles of gin, in the shape of a traditional bauble, can be hung from a tree, and when they were first introduced they went viral and in 2016 sold out immediately quite literally as they were gone within less than two minutes.

Bauble flavors for the 2021 festive season included Christmas Clementine, Festive Cranberry, Spiced Pear and Cinnamon, Figgy Pudding, Plum and Ginger, and no doubt the strangest gin flavor of all — Brussels Sprout. Other festive Pickering's Gin bottles for the holiday season include Pecan Pie, as well as Christmas Cookie, Chocolate Orange, and minty gin Later Than Eight. The fun alcoholic decorations caught the attention of media in the U.S. too and featured on Martha Stewart and ABC. The gin baubles came to the U.S. in 2016 and have been a big hit, with the round miniatures are tied to the branches with a little ribbon, making them the perfect tipple for Christmas( via iNews).

Pickering's Gin has expanded to Beijing

It is incredible to think that in just a few short years, two friends with no experience in distilling gin in the slightest have managed built up a global brand from a small distillery in Scotland. This is by design, rather than by chance, albeit that the U.K. has a strong reputation for making gin the world over.

In a Real Business interview feature, Pickering discusses this expansionist side of the business and how it is all to do with their vision. "With Pickering's, the goal was always to work far and wide to establish where potential demand could be tapped into. Even though we work from a small batch gin distillery in Edinburgh, we have a truly global outlook on the business." He goes on to say, "For example, China has the potential to be a very successful market for us, given that it has a huge alcohol import market, yet there are very few international gin brand[s] that are established there." In 2018, Pickering's Seafood and Gin Bar was set up in Beijing, with the signature modern and retro elements that defines the brand.

Gin-ventions include motorcycle and fire engine bars

The innovators behind Pickering's Gin are inventive and know just how to draw attention to their famed brand in really unique ways that are definitely Instagram-friendly. One such example is a traveling trunk suitcase, complete with lights and music that is used as a portable gin-tasting station. Yet another ingenious design is a gin-turning gramophone, with lights and over a thousand discs, plus a turntable that mixes a musically-inspired martini. The designs are eye-catching and really are a way of adding a creative and modern flavor to the appeal of Pickering's Gin.

Restore a motorcycle, add a leather box, part of a wooden coffee table, and some bits of kit and what do you have? You have what might just be one of the smallest gin bars in town. Other quirky ways Pickering's Gin has been served is from a small Japanese fire engine, with gin, not water, coming from the hoses, along with gin cocktails from side canisters. The bright red "Thirst Extinguisher" is an eye-catching, bonkers addition to the Pickering's Gin unique approach to gin and business. Brought back to life in Edinburgh, the 650cc airport vehicle was bought on eBay in 2018 and is now part of the Pickering's Gin family and fits into the idea of the brand being part of the community, and the artistic world of events and happenings.

Pickering's Gin has Royal Edinburgh Military tattoo limited edition bottles

Pickering's Gin is the official gin of The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (via Edinburgh Festival City). For those unfamiliar with what this is, it is an incredible annual event that brings together hundreds of thousands of spectators, and millions more through TV screens, in a celebration to showcase the talents of military bands from across the globe, as well as display teams. This iconic musical extravaganza began in 1950, with a bandstand show being performed in gardens close to the castle. A tattoo is a bugle call that is played at night, and it comes from a Dutch phrase that refers to turning off a tap which relates to a sign to inns to stop serving alcohol and for soldiers to get back to their barracks. 

The rise of the Edinburgh tattoo, from simplicity to international proportions, is mirrored in many ways by Pickering's Gin which also stays true to its Scottish roots while welcoming everyone from everywhere. Proud of this Scottish tattoo heritage no doubt, Pickering's Gin features a Navy Strength Gin as part of its main collection, with a bearskin-style hat over the bottle top along with a neck tag. Other limited-edition styles to honor this festival include a tartan bottle, with Scottish flavor notes that include Scots pine, bog myrtle, milk thistle, and heather.

Fans can find Pickering's Gin on the high seas

In 2017, sales set sail for new success for Pickering's Gin when it was given the opportunity to supply a special collection of gins for Cunard. The luxury cruise line operator agreed to the gin being onboard the multi-million dollar ships the Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth. A third liner, the Queen Victoria boasted a gin tap, which was the first at sea, ensuring Pickering's Gin was available for passengers on draft.

As well as boosting the brand's profile and profits, the contract resonated on a personal level for Pickering. His great-uncle had been a captain for Cunard for over 30 years. In an article in FoodBev Media, he says, "Being a small part of Cunard has delighted my family. I might not be steering the ship, but at least I can lubricate its passengers." 

What is clear is that the twosome behind the Pickering's Gin brand are not afraid of being bold and moving forward with the times. A great example is the fact that in 2020 they began to make hand sanitizer, made to World Health Organisation standards, supplying these to frontline workers and offering for retail to do their bit to protect people during the pandemic(via Edinburgh News). Meanwhile, during the many lockdowns across the world, it's unquestionable that a Pickering's Gin and tonic has eased the pain somewhat too.