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Meet Alan and Dan, the university pals bringing distilling back to Aberdeen

Founded by Alan Milne and Dan Barnett, the City of Aberdeen Distillery opened in 2019.

Alan Milne, left, and Dan Barnett. All images: Johnathan Addie
Alan Milne, left, and Dan Barnett. All images: Johnathan Addie

It’s a dismal day in the Granite City. However, the passion that exudes from Alan Milne and Dan Barnett as they talk me through their distilling journey makes me forget all about it.

With the occasional rumbling of trains passing above us in their premises, inside the railway arches on Palmerston Road, I’m immersed in the history and evolution of the space which now houses the City of Aberdeen Distillery.

The City of Aberdeen Distillery has gone from strength-to-strength.

It was a joyous ride.

Alan at a Gin School Masterclass.

City of Aberdeen Distillery founders brought abandoned space back to life with craft gin and ambition

Alan and Dan first met at the University Wine Society many years ago, and quickly became friends.

Alan’s experience in producing alcoholic drinks started when he was a teenager, making wine, whilst Dan made beer at university.

Dan is chief taste tester at the distillery.

Fast forward to 2013 – whilst working in engineering and research – the pair realised that the flavourings they were putting in their drinks were the same as those then being used in gin. As a result, they started creating macerated gins.

Ready for a career change, the City of Aberdeen Distillery concept began to take shape. It opened in December 2019, after the pair searched for the perfect location for roughly five years.

“This is a space that was basically abandoned for years, and we’ve brought it back to life,” says Alan.

The City of Aberdeen Distillery is based in Arch 10.

Everything inside was designed by the distillers with the help of some friends and local professionals.

Mini gin stills.

They pay homage to the business’ premises in their gin’s labelling. It features a steam train as the distillers are “very proud to be in the railway arch”.

He adds: “People should be able to look at our signature gin, Aberdeen Gin, and understand the story of Aberdeen.

“Most of us think of Aberdeen as oil and gas, but it has a history. On our label, we’ve told some of the story.”

What can you spot on the label?

It also features fish, stills, various botanicals – including juniper berries and orange peel – three towers from the city’s coat of arms and Girdleness Lighthouse, to name a few illustrations.

“We worked with the guys at FortyTwo Studio. They’re absolutely brilliant and were so kind to us.”

The gin portfolio, which now includes a Curry flavour…

Currently, the City of Aberdeen Distillery portfolio includes award-winning gins such as herbal gin Thyme for Rosemary, Fresh Gin and Scottish Bramble Gin.

Rhubarb and Blueberry – made using ingredients grown roughly an hour away from the distillery – Bramble, and 1860 are among the other flavours.

Bramble Gin.

They are all made in a stainless steel still.

Speaking about 1860, Alan said: “The label is a steam train because this recipe is based on a recipe from 1860.

“I came into the possession of a book that was published in that year – pharmacopoeia, a book your local chemist would use to mix up various medicines.

“In that book were three recipes for gin. Our 1860 is based on a traditional recipe with modern methods, and six ingredients.”

Orange peel.
There are more than 150 items in the distillery’s botanical garden.

The business is well-known for creating unique gins, too. Examples include Mint Chocolate, Mince Pie and more recently, Curry.

It celebrates the rich and vibrant flavours of exotic spices sourced from around the world.

Dan said: “We always like to have a gin of intrigue.”

Alan went on to ask me if I was “outraged” by the creation. I wasn’t. In fact, I love products that raise a few eyebrows.

Alan inside the City of Aberdeen Distillery.

“It’s complete Marmite,” Alan adds. “It’s a joy, a challenge, and a pleasure.

“The spices we use to make gin these days are pretty much all found in curry, and there’s not many curry gins. It actually tastes like you’re eating a curry.”

The City of Aberdeen Distillery experiences and tours, including its new addition that caters for cruisegoers

The business offers a one-hour Discovery Tour, two-hour Gin Tasting Masterclass, and a three-hour Gin School Experience.

The Discovery Tour lasts one hour.

“When people arrive, they do the whole process to make a bottle of gin,” says Alan, talking me through the Gin School Experience.

“[On arrival] it doesn’t exist.

“You choose your own ingredients from the botanical garden with more than 150 items to choose from. We help you throughout, but you design your recipe and do the entire process by yourself.

The botanical garden.
A group hard at work to create their gin.

“By the end of it, you are a proper distiller and you go home with a bottle of gin to your own recipe.”

Alan and Dan recently launched their latest tour, Flight of Fancy.

Alan adds: “We recognised that when cruise ships are in, the people walking around don’t really have control of their agenda for the day.

“They don’t know where they’ll be, so they can’t book anything. So, we created this self-guided gin tasting. You can come along at any time and it takes around 20 minutes.

Flight of Fancy is the latest tour available.

“They get to taste core gin botanicals and our base spirit, and four of our custom recipes. It’s always available if we’ve not got an event on.”

‘Taste of Grampian is our way big to say hello, we’re here!,’ says Dan

This coming month, the distillers are prepping for their first-ever in-person Taste of Grampian. The event takes place on Saturday, June 1 from 10am to 5pm at P&J Live.

Alan and Dan took part in the 2020 edition, which was run virtually due to coronavirus restrictions.

A still.

They will have a stand with roughly five gins for eventgoers to sample and purchase, along with gift vouchers.

Dan said: “Since we opened when the lockdown started, we never really got to say hello to Aberdeen. This is our big way to say hello, we’re here, and obviously let people try some wonderful gins.”

Alan is looking forward to Taste of Grampian next month.

For more information on the City of Aberdeen Distillery and to order, visit

And to meet Alan and Dan in the flesh and taste their products for yourself, why not buy a ticket for this year’s Taste of Grampian at the P&J Live on June 1?

There’s plenty to see, including appearances from Bake-Off legend Nadiya Hussain, and Hairy Biker Si King.

Click here and book your ticket to Taste of Grampian today. 

Banner for Taste of Grampian featuring Nadiya Hussain and Si King.