The Arbikie Distillery Story
The Arbikie Distillery Story
Arbikie Estate is a family-owned working farm in Scotland.
This episode looks at the innovative and collaborative way that this family have been creating new products, including a carbon positive gin and vodka product.
We hear about the history of the family and how the current owners returned to the business having initially pursued careers away from it.
Iain Stirling describes how the collaboration happened and what others can learn from the opportunities that exist.
We also discuss the impact of COVID and Brexit on the business and how they are approaching their working operations as a result.
We explore the power of asking for help and being vulnerable and reaching out to your network.
You can find out more about the business by heading to http://www.arbikie.com
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Watch the Interview Here:
Transcript of Interview
Russ Haworth : Well, hello and welcome to this week’s episode of the family business podcast. I’m absolutely delighted this week to be joined by Iain Stirling, who is one of the directors at the Arbikie Distillery up in Scotland. Firstly Iain, thank you for joining us on the show today.
Iain Stirling: My pleasure, Russ. Good to be here.
And thank you very much for the invite.
Russ Haworth : I appreciate you are very busy at the moment. You’ve got a business to run. and so we really appreciate you sharing your thoughts with us today. We’re going to be looking at innovation and in particular a product that you have innovated. But before we get into that, perhaps you could introduce yourself to our audience and give them a whistle stop tour of your career to date.
Iain Stirling: Sure. Fundamentally, I spent most of my career when I was working with corporates in the drinks industry. And so coming back to owning, setting up and owning a distillery was a natural place to come to, started off in that space with White & Mackay. Then Jim Beam, then Diageo, the world’s biggest spirits business.
And then I left the after leaving Diageo I set up a marketing business with my brothers, John and David, who are now in the distillery business. And we ended up doing some marketing for William Grants. So a fair portfolio of drinks, businesses, and, I also worked with the Volkswagen Group, but we came back to the family business, working with my brothers after that.
And, and naturally we ended up, working in the drink space and then working with people, creating new products, creating brands, and, gradually it became obvious that we had all the ingredients, either brand making. The farm growing all the ingredients. We had a building, we had water and the bits were missing.
And, you know, that’s kind of where the innovation / collaboration comes in. The bits were missing was the actual kits we had to go out and spec that. But thankfully I had done an MBA Heriot-Watt University that has the Institute of Distilling and Brewing. And so that missing piece, I went to the Heads there and then was, pointed in the right direction in terms of the chap that run the MSC program. We took various projects that I, and we were working on in terms of brand building and just setting up the distillery to, the MSC program. cause for me, obviously all the students were writing, dissertation.
So after discussions, these, problems or challenges we had then became dissertations. And so in, in the short version, we’ve got a beauty parade of talent from Heriot-Watt, world-class institutes and knowledge and people. So in terms of that was probably the first kind of collaboration and you’re going into, into, a hotbed of innovation and people from across the world.
You know, some of the guys that worked for this were from Seattle, the were all over the world. Wow. I always call them Illumini cause there was a fair amount of guys and most of them, men and women are working in breweries, cider manufacturer all across the world. So it was, it was just really nice and it was just one of those ones that light bulb came on and that, so it was a kind of path and I think it may have been, it kind of encouraged us to engage with the learning institutes or the institutes that they are in terms of knowledge and experience and talent.
Russ Haworth : And we’re going to cover that in a bit more detail, later on in our conversation. But if we can just take a step back to your return to the family business, the family business in essence is a farming business. Isn’t it?
And well, what was it that brought you back to. The family, but was it a conversation where your brothers and he thought let’s go and do this talk, talk us through that side of, that transition.
Iain Stirling: Yeah. I mean, Mum and Dad were always very keen for us to be as to do as much education as possible. encouraged us to go out in the world, travel, see new things, view new cultures. Cause you know, I’m one of five brothers and a sister. So the family farms would naturally be run by one person or a couple.
So naturally. There usually isn’t enough work there for all of that family to be. So, you know, we went away and in the family we’ve now got marketeers, accountants, lawyers, which now when they’ve crystallized into businesses, very, very useful in terms of experience. We inherited the farming business from Mum and Dad so we’re basically the latest custodians of that business. The family itself had been farming for over 400 years. So, you know, there’s a lot of expertise in terms of ingredients and we’re just very, very lucky that, we inherited that because that’s one of the key pillars of what we do with Arbikie
That farming is fundamental and ingredient growing is fundamental to our distilling and also just the flavors and tastes that are there are different to other people. And, you know, we had as I always jokingly say to people, we have a large garden where we can grow whatever we want.
We’ll innovate on a much bigger scale than a garden, but actually it’s very likely that you need, you can trial it. And, you know, we are, on a path with The James Hutton Institute, which I will mention later or talk more about later, but you know, we’re working with institutes in terms of innovating expanding what’s good in farming, but also making sure that we are working on regenerative agriculture and making sure that we’re handing over the farms and as best state to the next generation, because we’re very much about legacy business.
Certain, you know, Arbikie distillery is a legacy business, fundamentally. Particularly with the whisky element in it and all that said decades and century business whisky. So, yup. It’s all about long timeframes. It’s all about long term partnerships. It’s all. About longterm distribution. So it’s a much slower, thoughtful business whisky than perhaps the gin element to it, which can be made relatively quickly.
And that market changes a lot. Whiskys, maybe got a slower dynamic, but then we’ve arrived in there with a Rye whisky, which is the first in the world. And we’ve already started down that path, you know, as I’m about to talk about the Nadar Gin as well.
Russ Haworth : Yeah. And the kind of recurring theme that that’s being picked up there is on this basis of innovation.
Is that something that’s core to your family as a, as a value? Is it your particular generation that is more innovative than, previous?
Iain Stirling: No, I don’t think so. I think, I mean, it’s funny how you say that and instantly my father’s face comes into, cause Dad was always the person that saw ahead really, really clearly.
And for him, something that happens in 10 years, time was always obvious. And he was probably, sadly he passed he had motor neurone disease, but he saw us setting up the distillery, which was really nice. And actually evolving, the farm into farm and a distillery. but he would. Yeah. He had some of the first John Deere tractors in the UK.
He had the first, I think for some of the first class combines, he all was farmed at scale. He saw the economies of scale. He would innovate retail. He always traveled, it was a group of farmers in the area and Angus we’d have a discussion group and all the farmers who get together other than talk, but it always do an overseas trip at least once a year.
A learning journey. So being in the most amazing places, remembering brother, John, who we’re talking about the other day about being in Ukraine and looking at Ukraine and seeing the potential in Ukraine, because the land is amazing, you know, it’s huge, huge.Ironically, one of my friends got involved in the business there and pull it into the farming business or setting up a farming business in Poland and the Ukraine.
But, you know, innovation has always been, I think it’s in our DNA and actually challenging the norms. and pushing the boundaries, but also I think also with regenerative agriculture and the field to bottle ethos, we’ve got it’s, you know, it’s just something that’s there about caring for what you’ve got, and leading if we can, by example, or certainly trying to do the best you possibly can.
So innovation and I think all of us having done a lot of learning. You know, you’re at university or college, you’re always going to innovate or we’ve always done, you know, study things that encourage you to collaborate and innovate.
Russ Haworth : And you mentioned you’re one of five brothers and you have a sister as well.
You’re not all directly involved in the business. Is that right?
Iain Stirling: Eh, no, no. I am with my brothers, my older brother, John, my younger brother, David, my youngest brother, Sandy, my sister isn’t involved in the business. I wish she was cause she’s the bright, intelligent, good looking one. But she’s a corporate lawyer and she’s more than capable looking after herself.
But wise advice. And you know, she now lives in Germany, in Hamburg and my elder brother, Andrew set up, or we set up the brothers together, a business called Stir Fresh. Which Andrew now runs very successfully. It was a very good business. And again, that was taking raw material from the farms and potatoes and the vegetables and creating added value products there.
So he’s one of a few, prepared veg producers in the UK and, and has some very good contracts with retailers. So a very successful business and good learnings there for us when we were setting up our own manufacturing plant, if you were to say that, but it’s a distillery.
Russ Haworth : Yeah. And so there’s, it feels more as if it’s a business family than necessarily a single sort of family business, if that’s an appropriate way of looking at it, and that in itself can bring some challenges with how decisions are made either within the business and within the family. Particularly if it’s a broader family enterprise, can you sort of talk us through again, your decision making processes, what forums and governance you have in place to help you out?
Iain Stirling: I think, I mean, the key thing is in the partners, the business, John, Dave, and I will discuss most things in relative. We live in different locations. David lives in America. I live in Edinburgh, John lives on the farm. So in Angus, north of Dundee. And so that will always happen. And I sort of saying to you are just about having a, the rec director zoom call after this, that kind of communication is important because things are always evolving and obviously presently right now, things are changing by the day or often by the minute. And so, but I think regressing back to when we were children and we brought up my Mum and Dad, Mum and Dad would always involve us in farming or business discussions right in the kitchen table. And we’d be asked their opinion.
So, you know, do we go on a holiday, a nice summer holiday, or do we buy a new farm? Hands up in simplistic terms, but those conversations did happen. I remember this vividly and you know, we were always brought up that way. And you were immersed in that farming business. Well,as you say coming back to it is that it’s very easy.
In fact, it’s hallelujah, because we inherited the farming business on one side and we’re running a marketing and events business on the other, and that never, the twain shall meet sometimes, but actually then go marketing, brand, alcohol, oh ingredients. And actually, you know, you’ve managed to combine both of those.
And so it certainly puts me in a very happy place because I’m a farmer’s son. So. No, I may have gone, done wonderful things with Diageo and some great corporates, but actually I’m more happy being on the farm. And actually, you know, it’s one of the advantages of, of we are about to open our distillery experience soon.
And that will, for me, it’s all about telling people about farm and growing and distilling rather than just distilling and actually, you know, explaining how it works, but also encouraging people to grow their own experiments. See how ingredients come together and explaining provenance and terroir and all the subtleties that the wine industry has done for a very long time.
You know, it’s taking that learning. but also then collaborating with, as we’ve done with Nadar, with likes of Abertay University in the food and drink department there, or the James Hutton Crop Institute, which is world class. And, you know, thankfully it’s only about less than half an hour away from our farm.
So we’re incredibly lucky to have these incredibly smart people doing world-class things with crops and, I’ll say crops, but then when I’m talking distilling I’m talking about ingredients and innovating with ingredients and the answer from our business, the most of those projects will always be yes, because we’re innovators.
Russ Haworth : And that brings us really nicely onto that, that subject of innovation. And in particular, you’ve created the world’s first climate positive gin, which is under the Nadar brand that, that you’ve created and you touched on it in the introduction about how that collaboration came about, but what was the motivation behind making it climate positive rather than just producing a gin, for example?
Iain Stirling: There was a few elements there. One, as I spoke before our master distiller Kirsty Black came from Heriot-Watt University. So Kirsty after MSc continued her education and learning and she would, we would give her time to go and do a PhD. So she would go to this. I would call it jokingly, go to school every week.
Yeah. Yeah, which would always hit me every time. I said that, but not for mine. It’s like in a way doing the learning and she was working, you know, she was being supervised at Abertay University by Dr. Greg Walker, in the food and drink space. So, and then they were collaborating with the James Hutton Institute with a chap called Pete Iannetta, who specializes in legumes and legume production had an EU or a European wide project that was looking to distill alcohols from peas or from legumes. So all of this kind of combined Kirsty worked on it for five years as her PhD. We were the ideal people to do it because actually having peas in our crop rotation on the farm is really good.
Cause you’re getting a nitrogen fix for free. And in terms of the agri business, That’s one of the most expensive pieces was using artificial nitrogen. So peas can actually put nitrogen into your soils for free as part of that rotation. We’re also then taking per bottle minus 1.5 kilos of carbon out of the atmosphere.
And so you’re on that climate journey from, you know, you’re, you’re being climate positive or carbon negative in terms of taking carbon away. And, you know, we obviously gave it the time and space to grow. Kirsty, obviously directed the project. So deserves all the credit for achieving what she’s done along with the rest of the distilling team, because they’ve made a product that works in terms of climate, but actually, yeah, the flavors and tastes are amazing. And, you know, we released the gym and we’ve now released the FOD conversion, but you make the vodka version to make the gin, but then in the UK gin is more popular. So we decided to do the gin first and you know, we’re still in a world only space and, you know, it’s a nice thing to do.
you know, the Nadar name is the Gallic for nature. So you’ve kind of leveled in N A D A R a nice, simple name that, you know, no, one’s challenged by Arbikie is a bit more hard to say, but it’s not Bruichladdich. So yeah, you can learn and they join the club and, you know, Nadar is we’re really, really proud of it, but it’s also amazing what we can do with the partnership.
So it’s that collaboration and a willingness to innovate.
Russ Haworth : And I think for our audience, that’s a hugely beneficial takeaway is you’ve done it with gin and, and now with vodka. But the lesson I think, is around the ability to innovate and collaborate with places like universities and people with specific skills and skill sets that are there to all drive for it for a greater good, rather than.
You know, just looking at distribution channels or just looking at ways in order to get a product out there, looking at ways to innovate that product through collaboration could be a really exciting way, particularly given where we are with coronavirus and COVID, and what’s happening there. If businesses are looking at ways to innovate, but don’t necessarily have the skill set in house.
So it’s understanding that there’s a world out there that can help. It’s a hugely positive thing.
Iain Stirling: Well, I think, I think a good example would be I studied across at Trinity college in Dublin a couple of years ago. And I recently had some of the MBA students work on a market entry strategy for China.
And it’s an amazing piece of work. You know, I would have taken months to do that. Highly intelligent guys have a real project to do. Took me some hours to brief them in terms of, you know, doing initial session and answering the questions. Cause it’s fairly complex to say the least, but what they came back with was amazing.
I’ve just done the same with some marketing students at Strathclyde University because they can’t get in, particularly with COVID, they can’t get internships. So they’re desperate to have projects that work. So we’ve, we’ve given them a good, I think there’s maybe five or six projects there, which is looking at digital, particularly in the Asian and Chinese markets.
So, combining the American platforms with the Chinese ones so that Weibo and WeChat how do you combine that with a WhatsApp and Facebook and given that’s a complex thing, but also just some of the marketing of whisky clubs and everything else we’re doing that. You’ve got people’s brain power in there.
So they’re getting a real challenge with a real business and we are getting some really good innovation. We don’t need to use it, but it’ll certainly move the conversation on. And I think, those kinds of institutions, especially the younger people who will find it harder to get jobs over the next period of time.
The more, the more real life experience you can give them the better I benefit from that, and I think I’ll always do the extra hours to try to help people, because I’ll just now a probably with COVID reach more into my network in terms of export. So I’ve gone to friends who work for competitors in Asia and on.
Who are the good distributors who should want to talk to, you know, LinkedIn is my friend, her very good friend. And I think, you know, there’s, there’s lots that can be gained from linking, but also, you know, going back to the collaboration, it’s not always about you. And you know, those people have been very generous to me.
I, you know, I they’re in my black book of people to help. If you give, you’ll always get back. And I think we were taught that by our parents. So it’s all about values in terms of collaboration. I think probably we launched, we did a soft launch or a very quiet launch for Nadar gin at Abertay University.
And the thing that gave me the most pleasure was Pete Iannetta from James Hutton Institute with his son, with the bottle of Nadar gin. He was sitting there with this bottle and he’s pointing to this product and his son, and he was so happy that. His research was in a bottle. He got something tangible rather than just a report or something else that sometimes can go into the ether, just a smile on his face and the way he explained it to his son who’s, you know, what would have been, I think he was about 13 or so, so Dad was very proud and it was just really nice to see that because you kind of go, you know, there’s years of work there and it’s suddenly gone into a bottle.
And I think that’s, that was just really, really nice.
Russ Haworth : And what we sometimes hear is the, that the family obviously understand the values and the motivation behind things, because you’ve come from the same family. Communicating that to people outside of the business can sometimes be tricky, particularly if they’ve been accustomed or sort of corporate world where it’s much more profit driven and target driven, and the collaborations that you’re talking about as well involved, you investing an awful lot of trust in the people that you’re collaborating with as well, because you’re also protecting something that’s 400 years old.
You are a custodian of. Was that something that you found came easily to you? Was it something where there were sort of challenges and you’ve, I sort of felt possessive over certain elements of it.
Iain Stirling: I think fundamentally we’ll be trusting people, I think in terms of values. But I think it’s interesting that, you know, I remember John, Dave and I discussing it and having been in business for we’ll say about 10 years was regressing back to ‘PLU’, but fundamentally for doing business with anyone and that could have been in any business that was pre drinks and that ‘PLU’ is ‘People Like Us’.
Fundamentally, if you’re not comfortable working with someone, when you start, why would you continue if that comfort’s not there and that’s, you know, that’s your instinctual learning over your, over your lifetime. You know, John, Dave and I are roughly about 50 and actually, so you’ve got a good 30 years of perhaps being in the business of my or 50 years of life that, you know, you will get vibes off people.
And I think sometimes you have to trust people and sometimes she can be more suspicious or there’s things that come up. So I think, I think people also earn your trust and you earn the trust of other people. So the more you’re sharing, but also you have to take some risks because otherwise, if you don’t trust anyone or.
No, you’re not building those partnerships, nothing ever happens. And so you’ve got to take that jump and go, you know, you know, if we are silly enough to set up a distillery, you’ve got, and how’d you do that? Well, we just wanted to how’d you do it well, we wanted to do it. So we’ll just do it. Same with Nadar same as doing, you know, the rye whisky we’ve done in terms of Highland dry, you know, that’s first one in 200 years. And you know, a lot of the industry are on my LinkedIn cause I worked for a lot of the companies and know a lot of people in that space and people are looking to see what we’re doing, but you know, we’re capable of growing and distilling.
And also because we’re marketeers and I’m a marketeer used to reaching out to other spaces on social media and through markets or, or working out through market research and hence the conversation with Trinity College in terms of the market entry to China or Strathclyde in terms of going, how do we best do this? Because you know, I’m an old, fogey at 53, but there was young, talented, bright individuals.
They may have a totally different view in their twenties and you know, I’ll never stop learning. So if they can tell me something or show me something I’m more than willing to adapt and change.
And also, and also fundamentally you might come across people as we did with Kirsty and Christian, our distillers, who are very talented and you go, well, actually come and work with us. Because, you know, there’s nothing better than having bright, intelligent people working for. Who make you look good, are way more intelligent than we are and give them the tools and the space and the trust to do good things.
Russ Haworth : And like you say that the ability for them to then feel so proud of their contribution to what you’re doing overall as a, as a family that is aligned to your values as a family is like a, continual upward spiral of goodness, because you’re all on the same page.
You’re looking to achieve the same things rather than what can often happen with bringing let’s call them ‘outsiders’ into the business. It can, that that can be a challenge sometimes because it is harder to articulate a feeling or a value around something than pure product.
Iain Stirling: Absolutely, cos a lot of it’s in your DNA or it’s how you’ve been brought up.
So, you know, it’s, it’s very subtle in that way, but then that’s when you’re out, you know, I’ll always look at people and go actually would they do well for us. I hadn’t, you know, it was funny. I was doing a presentation online to Shanghai recently, a Sunday morning at nine o’clock in the morning, a presentation that tasting and, and, and it was funny because I was doing it with my colleague, Steven and we got to talk it about AK’s gin, which is named after our Father. And I stopped Steven who’s talking when I say I’ll probably better explain this and when I explained that it was named after my father who died, had passed and this horrible thing called MND and we wanted to name a gin after him and thankfully won the world championship before he passed.
It was the reverence from the Chinese who really value that kind of respect for their elders. And it was amazing just the reaction in the room. And it was, you know, it was on wifi. It was in it, it was in a Zoom call, but it was just really powerful and, and you know, something that we will do without sometimes realizing that you’re adding elements like that in, but, I would only tell the story cause I’m proud because I see that was, that was a special day telling dad today we won the World Martini Championship. Actually you’re a world champion. You can’t do much better. Other than that, in terms of having alcohol and it, and it’s just nice and obviously if you’re in a family business, you can do that.
Russ Haworth : There’s not many people that get to world champion, status is there, so that’s very special. So, that’s, that’s a lovely story.
In terms of sort of the continual innovation and your role as a custodian as a family, what’s your hope for future generations? Is there ambitions to, to just retain this within the family and create an environment for people to flourish within or what’s the motivation there?
Iain Stirling: Very, very, very, very much that. Cause in reality, You know, and the next generation, I think I counted the other day 13, who could be engaged in the business.
They’re all fairly young just now, but yeah, actually, you know, we’re driving the business forward. One of the aims when started to be was one of the most sustainable distilleries in the world. So there’s a lot of work to do in that. And that’s an ongoing project and that will be an ongoing project for decades.
Cause that’s all about energy and energy conservation, logistics, transport. There’s so many different things, but we’ve initiated some fairly forward thinking projects in terms of logistics, in terms of new crops, in terms of, you know, or as I think I said before, we’re about to open the distillery experience, hopefully next spring.
so everyone can come up to North of Dundee and come and say hello and beautiful place called Lunan Bay and that will let people see the farm, how a scaled farm works. But also alongside the distillery and how we’re growing things like lemongrass and chillies and limes and coriander and strawberries and agave and whatever else, which always gets the news writers “agave, are you making tequila?”
It’s like, no, that’d be plant that. But, you know, that kind of thing where you’re stretching imagination, but also hopefully inspiring people to do something similar. And so moving on that whole agenda, we’re lucky that, you know, projects like the V&A Museum in Dundee’s there, and they’re almost getting about a million people a year coming up to that museum, it’s done incredibly well.
It’s about 40 minutes away from the distillery and actually Dundee as a city is really on the up. And you know, they’re now talking of doing an Eden Project in Dundee. Which, you know, if something like that was crystallized, I think there’s a, there’s a review or they’re looking at it in detail just now.
But if that was to be close by, we’ll say half an hour away from the distillery, you’ve suddenly got a sustainable space and a distaste, sustainable distillery. And then it’s very complimentary. And you know, if anybody’s working in that space and the next generation, there’s so much you could do, you know, I just wish I was 20 years younger because I can imagine what’s in that space and what you could do.
In terms of driving agendas forward, but also as a, as a gin, vodka and whisky producer, particularly whisky as its in every bar in the world, that you can influence the whole world. I’m sounding like a megalomaniac now, but actually in a really positive way. Yeah. You know, cause if you know, we’re doing the field to bottle with the rye, we can go field, variety, how its distilles, where it was bottled when it’s all in one place and then, and then you have challenges getting it from there to further away.
But these things are being addressed and very wise ways just now there’s some really great innovation in that space coming. And we can hopefully engage on that one and, you know, you’re then laying down and particularly laying down, you know, talk about laying down foundations, but laying down whisky for decades at which point, you know, the next generation probably reading the William Grant’s family book, probably third generation really benefiting from that because you’ve got a big stock of aged whisky that, you know, the owners, if they’re smart, just like the machine continue to run the business, continue to run a new role as going out and managing the distribution and the distribution partnerships around the world.
That doesn’t sound like a hard job to me, you know, I make it sound very simple, but for me, it’s simple. Yeah.
Russ Haworth : And we’ve spoken a little bit about the sort of longer term plans and in particular that’s, again, one of the values of being family owned is that you can, you can take that longer term view with the business, but in the short term, we are facing at the moment periods of quite high levels of uncertainty. We’re dealing with a global
pandemic. Here in the UK, we’ve also got Brexit on the horizon, 80 odd days until the transition period ends.
How is it? How are you doing in terms of coping with the fact that there is now so much change? as you said, at the outset of the daily basis. And it’s stuff that a lot of times is out of our control in a sense of, you know, there’s only certain aspects of it that we can actually influence.
How are you coping with that?
Iain Stirling: Well, I think it’s interesting where we’re using Zoom to do this because actually it’s one of the, I don’t think I can’t, I couldn’t begin to think of how many hours I spent on Zoom since around about March time. I think having those communications and reaching out to as many spaces in different markets across the world, know we have a range of discussions going on.
I think within that period of change, you can be very dependent on a local market in terms of the UK or even a European market, obviously Brexit is going to change that too, or add even more complication to that. So you want to be talking to faraway markets just as I spoke about in terms of Shanghai, you know, we sent some product.
We did an online presentation and we did an online tasting, which was very challenging, but at the same time we did it and it’s been done. And actually I was on, WeChat talking to the boss there today and cause he just had a national weeks holiday in China. And so is familiarizing yourself with new markets using the technology that’s there.
To communicate and, you know, probably can’t do the journey. So thinking particularly in terms of selling food and drink, or certainly in the drink space we’re in is, you know, normally I’d want to go and meet the people and do lots of travel, but actually the technology’s there that does that pretty well.
I would say at least 80%, cause everything can be done electronically there’s films, there’s tastings, conversations. And also, you know, as an SME as well, you’re going. It’s not costing you anything apart from your time. Yeah, so actually, you know, I think a lot of people have realized that the power of video communication, cause it’s always been there, but actually this current crisis has created the need to use it.
And going on the Brexit one, while you look at different markets away from the EU and we will continue to work with our distribution partners in the EU. There’ll be complexity in terms of paperwork and everything else. And we just need to take a long term or a medium to long term view on those relationships and how we adjust to tariffs, non tariffs, whatever they are.
All change creates opportunities that my man, so you have to stay in the positive space. And actually look at the opportunities and, you know, we’ve looked, I think, in terms of the business or that kind of first five years, cause we’ll soon be six is we’ve kind of looked at the UK or maybe Scotland in year one, UK in year two with London specific place, an export market, because it’s very much a different.
It’s a different country. It’s an international space compared to the rest of the UK, then EU, then into America very much Asia over the last piece. So getting a mix in those markets and communicating into those markets, but in this day and age with LinkedIn, and having had a fair bit of experience myself and my brother, John worked in the Caribbean in the US my brother, David was in Africa.
Our youngest brother, Sandy used to be in South Africa is now in Dubai, the sister in Germany used to work in London. And, you know, even in the family network, it’s, it’s a fairly big one, but also we’ve all traveled and worked in other countries. So, you know, it helps an awful lot. And I think that’s where going back in terms of the lessons to be learned.
Is network, network, network, every time and asking the question, ask for help. And then, cause there’s no way I know who the best distributors in Asia are, but I’ve got lots of wiser friends and more experienced people. There you go. If you ask the question, they wouldn’t necessarily give you an answer, but lots of them did and it shortens the journey.
And actually, you know, the whisky family or the whisky industry is a very collaborative industry. My brother, John who’s, who’s new to it. Can’t believe how everyone talks and collaborates and you know, they work together, but in terms of sculpture or the global whisky market is ginormous, actually everyone would struggle to actually supply at all at times.
So actually there’s right. There’s room enough for everyone. And everyone has a different, the key thing is stories. Everyone has a different story and a different flavor profile and a different way of distilling and I think that’s a very mature way to work in a market and it’s actually a very nice way.
Russ Haworth : Yeah, and again, it kind of highlights what you were saying out here about the people like us is that, that process of asking for help and asking for support and guidance from people within your network soon highlights to you who within your network, you want to keep within your network, because if they are people like you who see the benefit of, you know, all ships going up in a rising tide, rather than trying to knock down everyone else’s building.
Then, you, you can, almost vet your network that way as well.
Iain Stirling: As you say, its self validating that way because actually you see, who’s willing to do it. Sometimes people can’t because of circumstance, but you know, there’s an awful lot of good people who work with some great people in the industry in a way I’ve sort of seen before we’re putting in the distillery experience.
I’ve spoken to most of our competitors in that space, who’ve been more than willing to share her, share all the advice. And I was reading a, an article on, on, guests and experience to do with Macallan and, you know, their new place up North and fascinating insight from Stewart Castles there. You know, who’s been doing this for a long period of time and, you know, you just want people to really enjoy what they do.
You know, you may sort of born a, borrow those experiences. Not always going to be the same for every location, but you know, there’s so much, you can learn very, very quickly. And you know, if people are asking us for, for advice or help instinctively we do every time because you know, you’re part of an industry or with the students or the particularly younger people, it’s actually giving them experience and actually giving them a hand up to get started in work, and, and encourage them to do their education, but also to travel and learn.
Cause that’s probably one of the things that, you know, I’ve definitely got mum and dad to thank for us, encourage us to go away and travel. I backpack for a year around the world. I would, I would advise people to do it because I saw things. I learned things. I worked in bizarre jobs. it was great. You know, when you meet amazing people.
Russ Haworth : And that again is it can be quite hot topic in sort of family business world around should the next generation go off and explore.
Should, should they go and tread their own path of all of them sort of go through this, that process of becoming involved in the family business. And I do know of examples where both have worked out relatively well. So I don’t know, and there’s a hard and fast rule, but I think that is extremely valuable. And again, Yeah, we might be restricted right now in terms of where and how we can travel, but that for those sort of rising gen next generation who are in businesses or have family businesses, sorry, and are looking at what their options might be.
Presumably you’re, you’re suggesting that that would be something definitely worth looking at, if not pursuing?
Iain Stirling: I learned an awful lot about the drinks industry working for the business I was with, you know, whether it was my induction with Richard Patterson at White and Mackay.
The nose is one of the best people in the world in terms of whisky, blended whisky, amazing performer, great artists, or working with my FD, working for the FD in that business.
Brian had me doing projects and, you know, gave me a huge scope of things to do because you know, it could be anything and he knew I would take it on as a challenge. And then the one I didn’t want to do with him ended up being the one that Diageo head hunted me in to work for the biggest drinks company in the world.
So a negative became a very positive and I didn’t want, by that time, I’d had enough of working for big businesses. and you wanted to be self employed because as a family, we were all self-employed near enough. And it’s just kind of in your DNA and I’ve got the age where you want to be that, but it’s amazing what you learn on, on that journey, but also people can mentor.
we were very lucky when we started or right. I started in kind of self employment. I joined and then John joined Entrepreneurial Exchange, which is a entrepreneurial group in Scotland. That because Scotland’s a very concise area. We had, you know, the best business people were part of this group and you sit at a dinner, round the dinner table, or, or small groups of people, all Chatham house rules, sharing business knowledge with a billionaire sitting next to or three billionaire sitting next to, you know, the owner Stagecoach or, or whoever and, you know, it’s all confidential, but the learning is staggering. And, you know, we used to go and have a cup of tea with, Sir Tom Farmer, who would have been the only non-American board member of the Ford motor company but Tom was a very wise man and, and still is, and, you know, amazing business people.
But, you know, that was, that was a bit of luck. We looked for it and we got membership and I think John prospered in terms of entrepreneurial-ism. And I think I definitely did because. You know, in those days we’re probably looking at, build a business and sell it after 10 years, we have complete opposite.
It’s all about legacy. Cause actually, nothing would give me more pride than knowing that you’ve set up something, a platform for other generations to thrive. Yeah. Or have opportunities that we wouldn’t have had in your Mum and Dad. Right. That way as well. You know, they put loads of money into our education.
Let us travel, encouraged us go away. If we came back, that was our choice. And ironically, we’ve now all kind of come back to the farm, cos it’s fundamental to where we are both in terms of geographies, by being in the Highland part of Scotch whisky making. But also, as I said before, you know, you’re near Dundee or near the V&A Musuem. You near for that potentially Eden Project in Lunan Bay, where we are as one of the most stunning beaches in Scotland. And, you know, I’ve gone back to stay in when Dad was ill, I was staying with Mum and Dad, and you’re looking at this view every single day, the distillery, and every day you just go, wow.
You know, I’ve been to maybe 60 countries around the world, so there’s a fair benchmark in terms of places. And yeah, we’re just incredibly lucky. And I think someone asked me recently, if I could choose to what my life was going, you know, by the choice of, well, I quite like to be a farmer’s son. But like in a distillery and actually be based in Scotland.
Yeah. I could cope with that as long as they get to do a bit of travel to sunny places as well. That’s why you can’t, you count your chickens, sorry. You, you thank your lucky stars in terms of that. And you know, we’re very, very lucky doing what we’re doing, but never sit on your hands, I think as well for what’s next.
Cause it’s continued to change and you know, it’s competitive markets. We’re in tariffs in the US are changing. There’s lots more trade disputes and it just makes life more complex, but you’ve just got to navigate your path through it. And, and also just work with good people. Yeah. And enjoy it. If you do, if you find something you enjoy, I think that’s the most important thing.
We are incredibly lucky to do what we’re doing. And also as a family, yeah. Chosen to do it as a family, which is a completely different vehicle. But I think it lets us make incredibly quick decisions. First having worked in a corporate, it could take weeks and months. Yeah. We can do it with rye. You know, we probably went, John went, “got some rye do you think we should do some right whisky?”.
“Yes. Why not?”
And he did finished. Exactly. And we tried it, you know, it was one of those ones that actually, why don’t we do this? Obviously there’s a lot of trial and error with the distilling, but actually, because it’s a difficult thing to distill, but you know, it’s not willingness to innovate and, and also work, give the people that work with us in terms of distillers the kit to do it and the time and you know, the patience to do it.
So, but then also taking it and engaging the right people in terms of markets and working out who that is and bringing them on board and bring them into a bigger family.
Russ Haworth : Yeah, fantastic. And, certainly it’s on my places to visit next year. I think I’m planning a trip around Scotland. I traveled by bike on a, a Land’s End to John O’Groats ride and, it was stunning and there’s so much more of it that I want to explore. And, your, your part of Scotland is on that list. So, I’ll be, I’ll be popping up next spring or summer when, when we’re allowed to move again,
Iain Stirling: Looking forward to that. Cause I think a lot of the travel will be local and so, you know, give people a chance.
And I think, you know, that’s, you know, I was away up further North for a staycation and it’s amazing. As I said before, I’ve probably been in 60 plus countries. I literally know about certain bits of your country. Yeah. And some of it’s just amazing. You’re just like, wow. And you know, it’s world class and it’s sitting on your doorstep, but because you’re so used to getting on a plane to go somewhere.
Yeah. That’s where it’s really exciting, you know, having built the experience, allowing people to come into that space, but also helping encourage tourism into our. Local County is obviously that’s all about money and jobs and being a custodian in that space as well as the local community. So it’s a, it’s a nice thing to be able to do.
And, you know, we go out to the 20 plus countries that we work with with our Biki. And you’re naturally promoting your locality and the job, the fees and everything else, as well as the farming and everything else. So it’s, it’s, it’s a nice place to be.
Russ Haworth : Yeah. Sounds fantastic. And really appreciate you sharing the story with us and, and your, your own personal story with the family business with our audience, just in terms of, clarifying something in relation to the climate positive gin.
Am I right in thinking, because it’s climate positive, the more we drink, the more we save the planet? Is that how it works?
Iain Stirling: That that may not be a fitting in with alcohol rules, but fundamentally it is, there’ll be a rare one in the world.
I mean, basically you’re looking at minus 1.5 kilos, out of the atmosphere per bottle. 70 CL bottles. So that’s a nice place to be in, in the world that we’re in just now. Fundamentally, it’s a really, really good gin and I think combining both is amazing, but yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s nice to do something extremely positive in that space and drive and drive the competitors, do something similar like this, like the rye we did the rye whisky, which will be the first rye culture for about 200 years. But now there’s about thinks about another six coming to market soon. But whisky you’ve obviously got to wait at least three years.
So you can’t just go. Let’s do some, you’ve got to distill it and go through that learning process and then spend the three years. So, it’s, it’s, it’s a fascinating industry to be in and one that you’re learning something new every day but also learning about the cultures that you’re working with.
So like I mentioned, China, you know, you take decades to learn about China so complex. Yeah. That’s fascinating at the same time.
Russ Haworth : Yeah. And keeps everything really interesting for you and the family as well with what you’re doing. So it’s like you say, if you could write it down as a wishlist of how you want it to be, that is pretty close.
Iain Stirling: Absolutely. We’re very, very lucky we inherited a good business and we’re building something in that ilk.
Russ Haworth : Fantastic. And just finally, where can our audience find out more about you? More about the distillery and yeah. Yeah. The vodka and gin at your, developing at the moment?
Iain Stirling: Well, I think, I mean, obvioulsy Nadar is an easy one in terms of just checking on Google, NADAR. Arbikie is slightly more complex, arbikie.com or in the Highland rye on highlandryewhisky.com. I’m sure you’ll find plenty of articles about Arbikie because people are particularly now fascinated by the sustainability.
Daily global journalists are looking for pieces and interest and quite rightly so because you know, the Abertay, James Hutton, Kirsty did an amazing job with the science. I didn’t give credit to Trinity College Dublin and to Bangor University who did the carbon assessment as well. So that’s been totally carbon assessed in terms of the full journey from crewing to delivery.
So, That deserves, the scientists deserve all the credit for that. We happen to be the recipient in terms of being able to do something or use that process of that learning. But, you know, we very much will sing the praises of Abertay and James hum.
Russ Haworth : Fantastic. And, we will put all of those links into the show notes as well.
So our audience can find you that way. For now. Thank you very much for
your time. It’s been a fascinating, very, really enjoyable chat and we’ll speak to you soon.
Iain Stirling: Thanks. Russ. Pleasure. Thank you for your time.