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Small business focus: New dad Adam Elan-Elmegirab is in excellent spirits

Adam Elan-Elmegirab, of The House of Botanicals.
Adam Elan-Elmegirab, of The House of Botanicals.

Each week, we ask small businesses key questions. Here we speak to Adam Elan-Elmegirab, founder and director of The House of Botanicals, in Aberdeen.

How and why did you start in business?

After bartending for a few years I set-up my original business, Evo-lution, in 2005 as a consultancy, training and events company that would see me working with bars, bartenders and brands.

An off-shoot of this saw me begin a project to recreate all the mixed drinks from the first ever cocktail guide published in 1862.

This led me to spending almost two years researching and reformulating a defunct cocktail bitters that featured throughout the book and ceased production around the time of the US prohibition in the 1920s.

After successfully producing five bottles and sharing a picture and the story on my blog, I was inundated by requests for a bottle from bartenders around the world.

What originally started as a one-off batch to service this demand turned into Aberdeen’s first spirits business for about 70 years.

It is now known as The House of Botanicals, producing a range of spirits unlike any other around – gin, cocktail bitters, aperitivi and digestivo.

How did you get to where you are today?

I would say single-mindedness, while others would say stubbornness. I imagine the truth lies somewhere in between.

I’m a very driven individual so when I put my mind to something I don’t let anything get in the way.

I also readily admit I’m incredibly stubborn, but I think most business owners are to some degree.

Who helped you?

The first head bartender I worked under, Claire Scott, was a big influence on making me realise a career could be made from behind the bar, while my family and partner have always supported what I do.

But when it comes to the business I run today, that’s largely been off my own back.

I set out to do something that had disappeared from the city for decades, and it was a few years before the wider craft spirits boom really kicked off – so there was no mentor or inspiration around.

It was all about obtaining the advice and support of groups such as the Federation of Small Businesses, Opportunity North East and Scotland Food & Drink.

What is your biggest mistake?

Not hiring an accountant in the early days of business.

If there is one piece of advice I would give to any new business owner, this would be it.

I understand and appreciate people thinking they can do it themselves, or the cost may be one you think you can’t afford, but a good accountant will, in effect, pay for themselves and save you a lot of trouble and stress.

What is your greatest achievement?

Until last week it would’ve been nigh on impossible to pick one thing from publishing a book, launching three different brands, achieving B Corporate certification, securing distribution in countries like the US and China, successfully running a self-funded 100% independent business for 13 years and setting up what is now The House of Botanicals.

But after the birth of my daughter, Saffron on February 17 nothing will top that.

If you were in power in government, what would you change?

I’d overhaul the tax system as it’s largely set-up with a short-term focus and doesn’t support growth.

Beyond that, I’d like to see a repopulation of our city centres to make them hives of activity again.

I’d also want to make sure creative studies – music, art, sport and performing arts – have as much importance in school as maths and English.

But the main thing would be to make sure no man, woman or child goes without food.

It breaks my heart there are people starving, when there’s more than enough money and resource around to eradicate this problem.

What do you still hope to achieve?

Moving The House of Botanicals to a larger, full-service site – complete with distillery, bar, botanical garden, museum and more.

What do you do to relax?

Spend time with my family, take long walks with our dog, Margaux, and distance running; something I’ve got back into in the past few months and am really enjoying.

Being able to put the phone down, put the headphones in and just run is a great way to clear your mind.

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

I don’t watch much TV beyond sport, namely football, boxing and UFC, though like most I do regularly get sucked in by a Netflix binge.

Tinder Swindler was a pretty insane story and Hip-Hop Evolution is a phenomenal watch if you’ve any interest in the history of music of black origin.

But it’s Catching Killers that’s got us gripped at the moment.

Listening for me is almost exclusively hip-hop and I can’t get enough of King’s Disease II, by Nas, right now.

What do you waste your money on?

Adidas kicks. In my opinion, you can never have too much Adidas, though I’m sure the better half would disagree.

How would your friends describe you?

He’s got an amazing collection of Adidas trainers.

What would your enemies say about you?

He’s got way too many pairs of Adidas.

What do you drive and dream of driving?

You’ll probably be surprised to hear I can’t drive.

But, as I’ve worked in bars since I was 19 and always lived fairly centrally, it’s never something I’ve got around to doing.

My wife drives a hybrid Renault Captur and it’s the first car I’ve wanted to get behind the wheel of. The dream is to have someone drive for me.