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From pony trekking shed to micro-distillery: How one woman is paying tribute to an idea she had with her late father

Katie Scobie on the horse, with her late father Ewen and sister Kim.
Katie Scobie on the horse, with her late father Ewen and sister Kim.

Katie Scobie is bringing a decade-long dream she and her late father had to life with a new micro-distillery on her family’s Highland estate.

It has been 10 years since Katie Scobie and her father, Ewen, discussed building their own distillery at Rhidorroch Highland Estate in Ullapool, and now that dream has become a reality as Katie has transformed her granny’s former pony trekking shed into a gin distillery.

Launched in November 2020, Katie had been working on the concept of Rhidorroch Distillery for two years before finally launching her brand, Loch Achall Gin, during the coronavirus pandemic.

Loch Achall Gin.

Based in the heart of Glen Achall which is on the estate, Katie grew up on the farm with her two siblings; little sister Kirsty, and elder sister Kim, and sources the majority of the ingredients used to make her gin from the land itself.

The third generation of Scobies to call the estate home since her grandad purchased it in 1956, Katie is passionate about using as much of the estate’s offering as she can and even uses the water from Loch Achall, which also lies within the territory.

One woman band

Running the business on her own does not faze Katie who has worked in distilleries as far as Australia, building her knowledge and expertise as she looks to develop a number of spirits in the future.

Using botanicals such as gorse flower, heather, rowan berries and a little juniper, Katie handpicks and forages for majority of the botanicals used in the gin which helps give it its floral and citrus flavour.

Foraging for gorse flower.

She said: “My grandpa bought the estate in the Highlands and my mum and dad ran it. Me and my two sisters grew up on the farm and we helped so all of the work when we were young.

“When we were around 18 or 19 my sisters and I all went travelling or to university and we had different jobs. I worked in different distilleries like a whisky one in Melbourne, a rum distillery and a gin distillery in Scotland.

“Years ago my late dad and I thought it would be a good idea to have a distillery in Ullapool. He passed away and I wanted to do it and that’s really how it came about.

“There’s a pony trekking shed at the end of the loch in the middle of the glen. I changed it into a micro-distillery and gutted everything out of it. I did a lot of the renovations myself but My partner, Lawrie Quibell, is a civil engineer so helped with the flooring – I couldn’t have done it without him.

Foraging by horseback.

“The river from the loch flows right past it and that produces the water for the distillery which I used in the distillation process and also for cutting back the gin, too. The water goes through a UV system and is used in the gin.

“The botanicals, the majority of them are picked from the estate like the gorse, the heather and the rowan. I also get as much juniper as I can, but I can’t get angelica root or coriander seed on the estate.”

Three’s a charm

Trialling her gin to ensure it was exactly what she wanted it to be, Katie revealed it only took her three attempts to get the recipe perfect. She held blind tastings with her friends and family to get valuable feedback which she admits also helped her in picking the final recipe.

While she buys in the grain spirit to make the gin for the moment, her plan is to, in the end, make her own neutral grain spirit and also add other spirits to her collection.

Katie working in the distillery.

“The idea has been 10 years in the making, but the actual putting together of is has really been the last two years,” said Katie.

“I did around three trials for the gin recipe and I was super lucky we got it quite quick. I did some blind tasting with friends and family and I got lots of feedback from it. That’s how I managed to pick the gin.

“I wanted it pretty botanical, I didn’t want it being too juniper heavy on the taste. You can taste the gorse and other botanicals and I appreciate it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the botanical flavours are just great.

“As for the still, it is a 50-litre copper still – she’s called Bea. My sister has a gorgeous collie dog called Bea so I named her after her as she was beautiful and made me think of the dog.

Bea the collie trying to get in on the action.

“I do two distillations and mix both batches together. I get around 100 bottles from the batch. I buy in my own neutral grain spirit but I do hope to be making it myself one day. The space I have is small, but the plan was to do whisky and rum, too, but at the moment due to the size of it, I don’t have room to make whisky or base spirit just now.”

Pandemic journey

With hospitality mostly closed due to the pandemic during the timescale of launching her first gin and getting it out to the market, Katie has been optimistic about her initial sales which have been promising and looks forward to working with bars, pubs and restaurants as they begin to reopen at the end of April.

She is also planning a pop-up gin and cocktail bar near her sister’s popular seafood food business, The Seafood Shack, later on this year and expects it to go down well with locals and tourists alike.

Rhidorroch Distillery in Ullapool.

Katie said: “When I launched it was amazing as it was just before Christmas time and it was super manic. I couldn’t have asked for a better reception. I was sad because I couldn’t do an event to launch it so had to just launch it online, which wasn’t exactly how I envisioned starting the brand, but since then I have had sales ticking over which has been great.

“I couldn’t get it in bars so I’ll start to contact more people again as they begin to open up. However, quite a few delis and farm shops have stocked it which is great. I just got my licence in to be able to do pop-ups, so I’ll do one at my sister Kirsty’s The Seafood Shack in Ullapool. I’ll have a little wooden hut there where I’ll serve cocktails and gin there and that will give us a great opportunity to get in front of people face-to-face.

“Coronavirus has made things a little more difficult, but I’m really proud of what I’ve achieved so far. Everyone’s support has been amazing.”

Kirsty Scobie and Fenella Renwick of The Seafood Shack.

Future

Looking ahead, Katie has big plans for the brand and hopes to open her own distillery and offer a unique food and drink experience in Ullapool which would allow people to indulge in local produce while watching the spirits being made.

She added: “Ideally I’d like to spread around and outside of the UK. The plan is to create an experience in Ullapool with a bar and food opportunities with locally produced meats and cheeses and things like that. I want to have a distillery in the bar and have a viewing area with glass so people can view the distillery in the bar. That’s the plan for the next year and a half.

“The brand is super special to me as it is based at the place I grew up, I can get as many ingredients from the land, and I’m working with my sister Kim on the estate, and Kirsty at The Seafood Shack later on this year with the pop-up.

“We all grew up as farmer’s girls and Kirsty uses local fish which they get fresh from the sea and Kim uses the land here for the farm, and then I’m distilling from the land. The whole concept is super special to me.”


For more food and drink stories…

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