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Marcus Pickering, co-founder of Summerhall Distillery, talks about the global demand for his handcrafted small batch Scottish gin and shares his recipe for success.

Filming at Pickering's Gin

Summerhall Distillery in Edinburgh, the home of Pickering's Gin, was established in 2013. It's first distillation was on 27 March 2014. Since then, due to demand across the world for Scottish gin, it's gone from strength to strength. It now exports to 13 countries including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and many countries across Europe.

Exporting to Germany

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Marcus Pickering, co-founder of Summerhall Distillery, shares his exporting journey
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“We had a lot of people visiting us because they want to be the first people to import our product. So we had lots of people come to the distillery asking if we were interested in exporting. We said that yes, we were – but weren’t going to until 2016. That was our business plan.

“At the beginning of 2015 we decided that actually, it was best to start looking to export now. 

"Our very first export was to Germany. The client there expressed an interest in Pickering’s Gin and asked if we’d like to become one of their imported products. 

"We said ‘yes’, but we were very nervous about it. So we wanted to meet them. We went over to Germany and we met very quickly – we only had a two hour meeting. It was then we realised that they were the right type of company for us − and we still export to them now.

The Hong Kong market is very good for us. There's a big expat community and the Chinese are coming on-board with gin tasting.

Hong Kong's thirst for Scottish gin

“The market that I’m most involved in at the moment is the Hong Kong market, which is very good for us. There’s a big expat community and the Chinese are coming on-board with gin-tasting. So we cover both bases in Hong Kong.

“Our importer in Hong Kong takes delivery of our product, sells it, deals with direct sales and ecommerce and does all our social media for us. So the Hong Kong market is fantastic for us. And because it’s a small place they can cover all of Hong Kong with a single distributor.

“There are a good number of shops or liquor stores that sell our product. Gin drinking is a relatively new concept in Hong Kong. There are now a few gin bars popping up and that gives motivation to bars to start stocking more gins. We got in just at the right time when gin was beginning to explode in Hong Kong and the bars were beginning to make more cocktails with it. 

"We’re actually the ‘house pour’ in more bars in Hong Kong than we are in Edinburgh.

We're actually the 'house pour' in more bars in Hong Kong than we are in Edinburgh.

Exporting to 13 countries

“Exporting is right for our business because we have a market in Britain. If you can replicate that market in Germany, Italy, France, Belgium or wherever, you’re obviously growing and growing. So until we get to capacity at the distillery, we want to keep growing the markets. 

“Another reason we started exporting was seasonality. Gin is very popular here in the UK, but in January, February and March, it’s not. Whereas in Australia, this period is the start of their gin-drinking season. Therefore exporting evens out the seasonality of our product. 

“Once you know your markets, for example with Germany, we can send orders in one consignment, so the benefits are really wholesale – as opposed to selling one bottle at a time which often happens in the domestic market. 

“We export now to 13 countries – Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong and many across Europe. 

“We’ve had great support from Scottish Enterprise and Scottish Development International − they’ve both been fantastic to help us get where we need to be.”

Packaging our gin for export

Bottling Pickering's Gin
Bottling Pickering's handcrafted, small batch gin

“For Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong, we actually do screw-top bottles instead of cork-topped ones, which we do in the UK. The reason being it gets so hot and when it goes in containers, those containers can heat up to 130 degrees Fahrenheit. And when they hit those temperatures, the liquid inside the bottles expands and pushes the cork out. So screw-top is one of the main adaptations that we’ve made with our bottle.

“In the distillery, it can be a bit of a bind having to adapt your product. You have different labels for different bottles and you have different bottle sizes. In America, for example, they have a 750ml bottle, whereas over here it’s 700ml. In the production department, there’s a lot of ‘skew’ in terms of the number and types of product they need to package together. 

“Packaging − it’s like a recipe. You get the hang of it. You don’t just cook beans on toast every night.

Pickering's Gin copper potstills
'Emily' and 'Gertrude' copperstills at Summerhall Distillery - Edinburgh’s first exclusive gin distillery in over 150 years.

Meeting with importers and distributors

“In every country, our route to market changes − America has separate distributors, separate marketing people, separate sales people – so there are five different stages you can use in America, whereas in Hong Kong we had one distributor that has the sole distribution rights in Hong Kong that does everything for us.

“Different markets need different things. But the one thing you must always do is stay on top of the market. Don’t just think you can deliver your product to that country and walk away.

“If you can’t personally revisit the country, you have to revisit it with your social media or by just keeping in contact with your suppliers, etc. But the main thing is to have met them in the first place. Skype calls are much easier having met them before.

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