Distiller Jane Anderson believes she has now achieved her dream of encapsulating ‘Scotland in a bottle’ with her patriotic new gin Sonsie, writes Nan Spowart.

WORRY caused by the pandemic lockdowns was the spark for a new gin that has outperformed expectations.

The first Arrochar Alps gin has now done so well that a second has been produced, which it is hoped will be successful internationally as well as in Scotland.

Called Sonsie, it comes in a deep blue opaque bottle complete with Saltire in a bid to evoke national pride.

“We have huge plans for it as it is a Scottish gin, made in Scotland, that reflects the landscape It is infused with Scottish oats and honey and carefully combined with locally-sourced berries – it encapsulates Scotland in a bottle,” said Jane Anderson, whose family took over the Slanj restaurant in Arrochar six years ago.

The product follows The Cobbler gin which takes its name from Ben Arthur, also known as The Cobbler, the most famous of the Arrochar Alps.

The family considers The Cobbler gin to be one of the finest, bespoke, Scottish craft gins available today and it looks like the public agrees, as it has sold exceptionally well since its release.

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“We initially aimed it at tourists but it has gone wider than that and is now distributed all over Scotland which we did not expect,” said Jane. “The Cobbler and Sonsie are very smooth and both are aimed at people that don’t necessarily like gin. You can even have it with lemonade because we want to take the snobbery out of drinking gin.”

At the moment Arrochar Alps gin is made at Lost Loch Spirits in Aboyne but Jane is looking for premises that can be used as a distillery nearer the restaurant and shop in Arrochar.

“We worked closely with Lost Loch Spirits to ensure we created something that really captured the essence of Scotland  and we chose the recipe that is now Sonsie,” said Jane. “It’s lovely. It tastes less like perfume than many gins and is so smooth you could even drink it neat. The recipe is ours, so once we get our distillery we will be able to make it. It’s very exciting.”

The business employs 12 people and it was concern for their future employment when the pandemic struck that led to the gin production.

“The hardest thing during lockdown was worry about the staff,” said Jane.  “We employ a lot from the village and they have rents and mortgages so we needed to do something. They are fabulous staff and we saw this as another way of protecting them. It has definitely made a difference as we are at all the big fairs with our gins and we have gift boxes coming out at Christmas.”

Fortunately, after the tribulations of the pandemic, the restaurant is now picking up again under head chef Dinker Bhardwaj, who previously worked at the salubrious Cameron House – although he “nearly had a heart attack”, according to Jane, when he arrived and found he had to provide a menu for dogs as well as one for humans.

However the dog menu is “incredibly” popular and partly why the restaurant has just won a Traveller’s Choice award. The shop beside it sells the Arrochar Alps gin, plus a multitude of other goods and there is a free car park for motorhomes.

This follows the European concept of Pub Aires where motorhomes park free beside a restaurant. Slainj was the first in Scotland to try it out, although many more catering premises have since followed suit.

“On average a van will spend £42 in one night so it gets you through the winter,” said Jane. “Our wee shop also caters for the village and we sell hot rolls as well as many other goods.”

It helps that the area is now becoming a more prominent tourist spot after Jane helped set up the Arrochar Alps destination business group in order to promote it.

“We started Destination Arrochar Alps a few years ago to try and turn the spotlight over to Tarbert and Arrochar, rather than just Luss and Balmaha,” she said. “And it has worked. We got funding and people started to notice us again – we are only 45 mins from Glasgow so it is very handy for the city. Arrochar was recently named one of the top 40 hidden gems in the UK and was the only place in Scotland that was picked out.”

She added: “We are trying hard to promote the area. That is how the gin came about, as well as out of utter fear that the restaurant was not going to open back up again after the lockdowns. We are passionate about what we do and passionate about the area.”