Gary and Andrea Watt.


47 and 45.

What is your business called?

Orkney Gin Company.

Where is it based?


What does it produce?

We distill and compound spirits. Our gin is produced from premium seven times distilled neutral grain spirit (NGS), which is then compounded in kegs with natural botanicals before blending, filtering, bottling and labelling by hand. The botanicals found growing in the surrounding, wild environment have formed the basis of our gins.

To whom does it sell?

The general public and wholesale customers.

How many employees?

We currently have five employees and hope to recruit continuously as we expand the company.

When was it formed?

January 2016.

Why did you take the plunge?

We’re passionate about both our home island of Orkney and about gin, and we felt we could start something amazing. We distil our products through a traditional (yet time consuming) process using a large volume of botanicals to create unique flavours. That’s what makes the result so distinctive in taste. We feel it’s worth that extra bit of effort and time to create a high-quality product.

There were no other spirit producers apart from whisky in Orkney, the gin craze had started and we were very confident in our products. We started very small scale to lessen the risk and have built up as we can afford it. We were both prepared to work hard (although at the time it’s fair to say we didn’t realise quite how hard)! There have been so many hurdles to clear but so many highs as well.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

I worked for the local council and Gary was working two weeks on/off at sea as a ferry captain.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

We initially used our own savings. In the beginning, production was on-demand which encouraged cash flow.

What was your biggest break?

It has to be winning our category in the World Gin Awards (2017) in the very first competition we entered. Our Johnsmas gin won Gold; we couldn’t believe that our tiny family company had created a world-renowned product. From then, the Johnsmas has continued to make us proud, coming top of its category in most events it’s entered.

Each of our gins has won a Great Taste Award. When you have won a GTA for three consecutive years, it means you can display your ‘Great Taste Producer’ logo, highlighting the quality of products.

These awards are a stand-out factor on a shelf, leading consumers (and stockists) towards your brand.

It makes our entire family’s efforts worth it to see how well a small business like ours has performed in them.

What was your worst moment?

Initially we used our own savings to keep things flowing and kept production on demand to allow a build-up of cash. This became very hard at peak times as many suppliers in all trades prefer larger orders. Therefore, ordering our boxes and bottles resulted in significant expenditure. A lot of smaller businesses depend on stockists and wholesalers paying on time and maintaining good cash flow from sales direct to the consumer.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

Hearing the public’s feedback about our spirits and seeing our products on the shelf.

What is your biggest bugbear?

The unnecessary amount of paperwork required for everything.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

To continually grow within the UK and overseas and hopefully to open a shop/visitor centre here in Orkney.

What are your five top priorities?

• Export more.

• Open a shop/visitor centre.

• Increase our range of products.

• Increase our capacity.

• Employ more staff as we can afford to.

What single thing would most help?

More space.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?

We have already received start-up advice, business planning support and grants from Business Gateway, which is delivered by local authorities.

However, it would also be helpful if government could give further assistance to make exporting easier, offer Road Equivalent Tariffs for commercial vehicles on ferries serving Orkney and provide alcohol duty breaks for small distilleries, similar to the small brewer’s relief for craft brewers.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

Firstly, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. When running a business, you receive a lot of scam emails, post etc. and it can be difficult to figure out which ones are genuine amongst these. We find that a phone call, and due diligence checks are the best way to find out.

Secondly, trust your taste buds. We spend months developing our recipes with a lot of trial and error, and a lot of tasting! One tweak of a particular botanical can change the overall flavour profile so much when steeped in the gin for a longer period of time. My biggest piece of advice is to never compromise on quality.

How do you relax?

With your own business relaxation is minimal, but we love taking the dogs on a walk to the beach to clear our heads.