Gin Guild Member

Finlay Nicol, Edinburgh Gin

Finlay Nicol, Edinburgh Gin

From humble beginnings to craft distillery excellence

In 2010, Edinburgh Gin was launched, with founders Alex and Jane Nicol selling craft gin from the back of a van at local gardening shows.

Their product rapidly captured the hearts of gin enthusiasts, and the business has since expanded to outgrow two distilleries, with plans to move into a new, larger, purpose-built, state-of-the-art distillery in the heart of Edinburgh in the autumn.

The evolution of Edinburgh Gin

The distillery began with two small 150-litre stills, Flora and Caledonia, at its Rutland Place site. As demand grew, a second distillery was launched in Leith in 2016, featuring a 1000-litre still named The Gin Genie, in honour of the legendary David Bowie.

Production shifted to Leith, with Rutland managing mostly experimental work and small batches until its recent closure ahead of the move to The Arches – the company’s new distillery – later this year.

A multi-faceted leader

Alex and Jane’s son Finlay joined the business in 2010 in the role of General Manager, so he was instrumental in shaping he distillery’s early strategy.

“I was prepared to do whatever was required to get our new business off the ground,”

Finlay remarked, at times drawing on his father’s extensive experience in the drinks industry, which included working for brands such as Beefeater and Glenmorangie.

After the sale of the business to Ian Macleod Distillers in 2017, Finlay took over as Distillery Manager, focusing more on product development and innovation. Under his leadership, David Wilkinson, the head distiller, and distillers Calum Munro and Conor Milne have achieved significant accolades, including an IWSC Gold for their Cannonball gin in 2015 and Supreme Champion at this year’s Bartender Brand Awards.

Mastery in distillation and flavour

Edinburgh Gin combines traditional distillation methods with modern techniques, ensuring each bottle is a testament to their craft.

“We employ the classic copper pot distillation for botanicals like juniper and coriander, with vapour infusion for lighter botanicals for our London Dry styles but have done a lot of experimentation, trying out innovative botanicals and playing with different flavour profiles and combinations,” explained Finlay.

This process allows for the delicate extraction of flavours, which is essential for creating their signature gins, like the popular Seaside Gin, which won Distilled Gin of the Year at the 2023 Scottish Gin Awards.

Finlay’s culinary background, notably his time spent as a chef in Paris, has heavily influenced his approach to flavour. “The transition from food to gin wasn’t drastic as both require a deep understanding of flavour profiles and balance,” he noted.

Commitment to sustainability and community

Sustainability is at the core of Edinburgh Gin’s operations. The glass they use in their bottles is 49% recycled glass content and their aluminium tin capsules are easily recyclable.

The corks are made from natural cork and the bottle labels are made from Forest Stewardship Council® certified paper, which uses recycled content and is fully recyclable. Even the adhesive they use to attach the labels to the bottles is sustainable, being non rubber based. Finally, when the new distillery and visitor centre opens, it will run on 100% renewable energy.

They also value their local community and have fostered significant collaborations, particularly with Heriot Watt University, enriching both their product line and the community. Noteworthy is their Seaside Gin, developed with postgraduate students, highlighting their commitment to community-engaged innovation.

The business has also collaborated with British actor, screenwriter and producer Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and British comedian and actor Eddie Izzard to create limited edition gins to raise funds to support the arts in partnership with the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Edinburgh Gin bottle in cosy room

Industry perspectives and future outlook

The gin industry is undoubtedly experiencing challenging times, caused by a downturn in sales and increased production costs. Despite this Finlay remains optimistic, “Alcohol trends tend to be cyclical, and gin certainly isn’t where it was five years ago, but we’ve made a huge investment in the future of Edinburgh Gin and look forward to seeing where it takes us.”

He also believes the gin community is supportive and resilient and credits the Gin Guild with making it easier to connect with others in the trade, as well as promoting gin on an international level.

He said,

“I think the Guild do a great job of promoting and connecting gin distillers globally and seem to genuinely care about the integrity and craftsmanship of quality gins.”

Finlay also admires industry veterans such as Desmond Payne and Tom Nichol and anyone who pushes the boundaries of traditional gin making to produce a better product because the stakes are high, especially in the current climate.

A bright future

Finlay’s journey with Edinburgh Gin is a testament to his dedication and vision, reflecting a deep respect for both the craft of gin making and the legacy of his family’s business.

As the company prepares to move into a new distillery, launch new gins onto the market and continue its path of innovation, there is palpable excitement about building on this legacy and pushing the boundaries of what a craft distillery can achieve.

Edinburgh Gin may have started out in the back of a van, but it has firmly established itself as a distinguished landmark in the global gin scene.