For many, the phrase “how difficult can it be” uttered after a few drinks could be famous last words.

But for five women “coming from all parts of the world” those words have led to an award-winning gin business with a vision of “giving back” to an island community.

Now the Isle of Cumbrae Distillers hope to go further and boost the profile of three islands in the Firth of the Clyde.

Hailing from areas ranging from Canada to York, Bronwyn Jenkins-Deas, Juli Dempsey, Lynda Gill, Philippa Dalton and Jenine Ward have made the Isle of Cumbrae their home.

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The Herald:

The five friends traded retirement to venture into an industry none of them had any experience in as they launched the island’s very own gin distillery in September 2020.

Ms Jenkins-Deas, 58, explained that “the impetus for us to really fight for this project is to give back to this community”.

“This is a tiny island, it’s very difficult for young people to stay because there are no jobs,” she added. “We really felt that we have the potential to leave a legacy, we are passionate about this island.

“We felt that if we could create jobs, we could use the distillery as an economic driver to bring more tourists to our island.”

Before they could launch their award-winning business, they had to learn to basics including how to distil and create their own recipes.

Ms Dempsey, 58, said: “We started step one as a group of five and the five of us all were in the steep learning curve.

“It was kind of like the Band of Brothers - we were the Band of Sisters, who all just went through the trenches together, and really I think it did a lot to solidify our vision and purpose.

“It was just so powerful to have the teamwork of sisterhood to get us through.”

Meanwhile, Ms Dalton added that the “resilience” gained in their previous careers helped guide them. “It was pure empowerment,” she said.

The distillery has recently joined forces with Arran Botanical Drinks and Isle of Bute Gin to drive tourism all year round with their unique gin passport.

It allows people to discover the stories behind each distillery through videos and a taste of their gin while also serving as an invitation for them to visit the islands and “use gin as their guide”.

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“There’s nothing else out there like that,” Ms Jenkins-Deas said. “Most people think that Scotland is all about the Isle of Skye, they limit their visit, their route.

“We thought this will be an opportunity to really educate people about [the Clyde Islands].”

With Cumbrae and Arran under the North Ayrshire local authority and Bute overseen by Argyll and Bute Council, they are rarely showcased together despite their proximity,

Ms Jenkins-Deas added: “We’re stronger together. Collaboration is the new competition. We really believe that.”

The distillery now has four different gins, with their recipe for success lying in three things - “a good recipe, a good story and beautiful bottles”.

The bottles themselves celebrate Millport and the island – for example, their Maura gin, dedicated to a saint who lived on Cumbrae, highlights the “contribution that women have made to the history of Scotland”.

Just as they aim to help the community, the island’s residents support them both by buying their products and attending their distillery tours to “find out their own history”.

Speaking fondly about the island that has become their home, Ms Dalton added: “It’s tiny and yet, it’s got everything. Arran is meant to be in Scotland in miniature well so is Cumbrae.”

Alongside boosting the Clyde islands, the five ladies are hoping to inspire other women to pursue their passion.

“Bunches of women the same age as us come to our tour – women sit there and you can almost see them thinking, ‘you know, I can do this’,” Ms Dalton said.

Ms Jenkins-Deas added: “We stand for older women and we’re proud of it.

You can open a business at any age without necessarily knowledge - you need passion. We know that it’s perseverance, it's being willing to get into the trenches and learn how to do it. That's all it takes.”