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Lochaber businessman pays tribute to parents for their role in Roslin Distillers

Aaron Ross said the idea of his late dad's spirit living on is 'all the motivation I need'

Aaron Ross.
"Never stop learning is the right mindset for business" - Aaron Ross. Image: Aaron Ross/DCT Media

Every Monday we ask small businesses key questions. Here we speak to Aaron Ross, co-founder and managing director at Roslin Distillers, based in Fassfern, Lochaber.

How and why did you start in business?

Life for me started at Tormore Distillery, near Advie on Speyside, where my dad worked. In the early 1980s he became manager of Ben Nevis Distillery in Fort William, before moving on to manage Laphroaig Distillery on Islay. After a couple of years there we returned to Fort William and Ben Nevis Distillery, where dad had been appointed managing director by the new Japanese owners.

I finished school and undertook a business and finance course at Northumbria University in Newcastle, a massive culture shock, before spending 20 years working in the logistics and transport industry in Scotland, eventually becoming a logistics director.

Product image
Image: Aaron Ross

Then a surprise – in 2016 my dad offered me the role of finance and sales manager at Ben Nevis Distillery, and I moved back with my wife and son, Yvonne and Ciaran, to start work. My dad’s knowledge of the whisky industry, combined with mum’s 26 years’ experience in accounts and a few trips to Whisky Live in Paris taught me a lot.

My father retired in 2019, aged 71, after a 54-year career. His love for the industry was undiminished and he wanted to stay involved, but he fell gravely ill during the pandemic and mum had mobility problems. I resigned so that I could support them both, and it was then that we discussed launching our own cask.

How did you get to where you are today?

I found the quickest way of doing so and took the plunge. It made business sense and kept dad’s spirits up. He labelled our very first bottle and I was able to present it to him, along with two contract-distilled gins produced for us locally, before he died in May 2021. His verdict? “It’s okay” – praise indeed from an expert.

I went ahead and launched Roslin Distillers and Fassfern Gin. Now, two years on, we have grown our gin range to five, including a seasonal festive version, and released a number of 15 and 30-year-old single cask single malts under our Allt A’Mhullin brand. Our special small-batch 12-year old single malt won a silver at the International Wine and Spirits Awards.

Fassfern gins.
Fassfern gins. Image: Aaron Ross Date; Unknown

Who helped you?

Dad encouraged me to network and attend business events, such as those organised by the Scotch Whisky Association and Federation of Small Businesses. Without my parents, these organisations, Business Gateway and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, I would not be where I am today.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever had?

At dad’s funeral one his friends told me: “As long as you do what you’re doing, his spirit will live on.” That’s all the motivation I need. Never stop learning is the right mindset for business. An open mind is the best way of handling change, and change is a must if you’re to survive and thrive.

What is your biggest mistake?

Beware hidden costs. They can sneak up on you and you can’t always pass them on to customers. It’s the bottom line that matters, as I learnt with one of my casks.

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Image: Aaron Ross

What is your greatest achievement?

Releasing a 30-year-old single cask single malt under our Rosie’s Cask brand. Distilled in 1991, bought by my father and laid down in mum’s name, with her paying for warehousing for the next 30 years, it was bottled in 2021 in a beautifully engraved and infilled decanter, with a copper engraved stopper and neck collar.

Dad also bought a second cask from 1992, newly released as a Rosie’s Cask in a different engraved and infilled decanter and presented in a bespoke oak “barrel” design wooden box. A less expensive version is also available in a labelled decanter in a specially produced alder box.

How is your business managing rapidly rising costs and what should government do to help?

The Scottish Government should take more care over its regulations. The Deposit Return Scheme was always destined to fail, and we must hope the government listens to industry before introducing its new version. Similarly, a ban on alcohol advertising would destroy small operators, leaving only big-brand businesses behind.

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Image: Aaron Ross.

What do you still hope to achieve?

To create a home for the brand, with on-site production and visitors able to enjoy the experience.

What do you do to relax?

Spend time with family and take our Labrador, Ellie, for walks.

What are you currently reading, listening to or glued to on TV?

Crime dramas and rock music. I still go to gigs, sitting rather than jostling in mosh-pits, of course.

What do you waste your money on?

Music CD’s – daft when you can download but I like owning solid things.

What’s the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?

Check my phone for emails. With a new business, it can be important.

What do you drive and dream of driving?

I drive a branded Ford Transit Connect and my dad’s Range Rover Sport, which he got just before he became ill. I’d love a Jaguar F Type.