Creating Raasay Gin: Harder Than You Think

Yes, Raasay now has a fully-fledged botanically infused spirit made using a selection of Raasay botanics, distilled in the distillery pot stills and hand-bottled by our assorted team of local spirit-makers. Gin is an amazing product in just how consistently popular it is, and currently with no signs of this fashionableness slowly, either. Initially, I thought we’d maybe suffer from somewhat of a “not another one” reaction but the reception to it been so far beyond what I expected. We had teased over the weeks before the launch with a few videos, most notably our ‘launch trailer’ which I cut together and edited on the actual day of distillation. They’ve proved to be some of the most popular pieces of content we’ve published so far.

A lot of marking and key-framing to get those various text wipes right. Worth it though.

While the trailer as a project wasn’t anything I hadn’t done before, the turnaround time was the more difficult wrinkle- we were distilling the gin on a Friday, but we wanted a stable draft trailer made for that day so it could be signed off by the team and launched on the weekend. A lot of shots I already had- drone photography of the distillery, some nice shots of the ‘character’ of the island, such as pier jumping and the distillery van promo. The final gaps were to be filled with shots from the distillation- most were taken during the first distillation at 6AM, then edited with the other shots so we could quickly review it and then get it finalised. A really fun video, also utilising some great music that we licensed from Trail West, who performed at the launch.

Making Gin in a Whisky Distillery

Little ‘behind the scenes’ video I put together for my own Instagram.

Juniper teabags

For the distillation itself, the team worked from 6AM, filling cheesecloth sacks with juniper berries and lowering them into the spirit still, now filled to the brim with spirit. This is known as ‘steeping infusion’, literally making a teabag of ingredients and tossing them into the still to let the flavours infuse in the liquid. Seeing it done in our own spirit still was a crazy sight, but I couldn’t help but cringe thinking of all the cleaning that would need to be done afterwards. The photography was fun for this stage, with bags of ingredients and the like being thrown around, but after the distillation had begun it essentially resembled the normal distillation process on most days. Once the stills were heated enough, the normal distillation process started to occur, with vapour travelling up the swan neck and onto the next stage- vapour infusion.

Fiona, friend and former tour guide, who helped develop the recipe has a wee peak in at the botanics basket.

Most of the time, once spirit vapour leaves the swan neck it heads straight for the condensers and safe where we can be sent it up to the warehouse for casking or into the fients tank for reusing. For this unique distillation, however, we got a chance to bring our ‘botanics basket’ into play. This neat little retro-futuristic copper basket sits next to the spirit still, and at our choosing can have the vapour from the spirit still diverted through it before passing back into the condenser and safe. Inside this botanics basket is the equivalent of a metal tea bag crossed with a trivial pursuit playing piece: a segmented copper container that we had filled with our remaining botanics, that would act as a filter for the vapour to pass through on the way to the condenser. It’s a great device that looks amazing and rarely gets featured in any photography, so it was good fun to highlight for once. A lot fo the ‘photos’ I took were actually stilsl from the video, as at this stage it was more important to record the footage that captures photography. the 4K stills that you can capture from Adobe Premiere are of good enough quality for most platforms.

Basket being prepped. Note one of the ingredients, the rhubarb root, visible under the mesh.
Iain and Alasdair seal up the botanics basket for our second batch of the day.

With the basket in play, this juniper-infused vapour from the still now began to travel through the pipework towards botanics basket, where vapour infusion took place. It was quite an interesting and unusual process to see: whisky pot still steeping to vapour basket infusion makes for an unusual production line. Once infused, it then travelled back into the condenser and flowed through our safe as roughly 80% spirit. This is probably the best of all with gin- there’s no wait! We could sample and taste it instantly. There were a few sighs of relief when we realised it tasted pretty damn good.

Fiona watches her masters project arrive. this was actually taken during a normal spirit distillation. Told you it was impossible to tell the difference!

Distilled & Bottled

So after two long days, the spirit was ready. Water was added to reduce and harmonise for a few days, and the distillers got back to the usual tasks of filling casks and distilling new make (after a heavy clean of the equipment) as they waiting for the next big task: bottling. The bottle design had been narrowed down and chosen over the course of the year, and the label had been developed with a designer that had visited the island to help draw from the geology and history of the island for the design. Obviously, on the leadup to the reveal we didn’t want to show the bottle or the design too early, so I was having to do everything I could to show off the bottle and label… without actually showing off the bottle and label. The result was a lot of hints and sketches of something that could be a bottle of design… but deniable enough to not be anything! I ended up drawing a pretty complete ‘sketchbook’ that highlighted designs and ideas that we could use as a ‘teaser’ as we approached the launch. Placed onto a barrel with some prop botanics and other teasers (including a top-down view of the bottle design itself!), it made for a nice ‘flay lay style Instagram shot.

Putting things on casks always looks good.
Now you can see why I hid that corner with a tastefully-placed Raasay Distillery notebook!

Finally though, after much wait and months of work, the stars aligned. The bottles were unpacked, the labels turned up after plenty of fine-tuning, and the bottling equipment was set up in the distillery shop floor after much tweaking and prepping. I will say, having never really seen a bottler before I had expected a much larger and fancier device- the thing we got looked a little bit like a cross between a soda stream and a breast pump, but hey, it worked!

After ensuring the measurements were correct and everything worked smoothly, the bottling went surprisingly easy. A rinser would clean the bottles, then put them onto a drying rack where the bottler would take one to fill and hammer in a cork. The filled and sealed bottle was then passed to a labeller, who made sure the glass was dry, applied the label and passed it along to have the sticker placed over the top and then stacked into a case of 6. We got through about 900 bottles in a day. I captured a lot fo video, but for this, it was more photography I was interested in. There was so much movement, colours, expressions and angles that could be covered, and we’ve now got some great photography to use the future.

And it was there- the first publically available, bottled spirit from Raasay. it was sort of mad, really, seeing it there and able to sit down and drink it. The whisky is a more patient wait, and the feeling of being able to actually drink that next year is just amazing, but this certainly made me stop and think about how far we’ve all come here at the distillery (is that something in my eye?).

Best of all, despite the fact gin has to be made with grain neutral ‘GNS’ spirit, a bit of Raasay’s own malt spirit in every bottle. Along with the traditional juniper and coriander, ingredients came orange and lemon peel, cubeb peppers, rhubarb root, angelica root, liquorice root and orris root. The tenth ingredient, however, is a small amount of our ‘triple distilled’ Raasay spirit that we decided to add into each bottle to give a little bit of extra flavour to the gin. Made in our own pot stills, using some Raasay sourced botanics, bottled on-site and even contains some of our own Raasay malt spirit- it’s certainly a unique, unusual gin with a great story behind it. The product photos took some time to get right, but eventually, I hit the sweet spot, the angle that gets you the ‘gap’ visible, while also showing the Raasay logo. it’s a tricky balance as the label can start to show from behind- I now use a ‘prop’ bottle that has the read label removed so it’s easier to get shots of both the name and ‘gap’.

The Launch

Finally, the launch. The gin project all culminated in a fantastic launch event, with an amazing turnout from all over Skye and beyond to celebrate. Our busiest, most successful night so far and a great test-run for the whisky next year. It was also my final task- group photography and ‘party shots’ my biggest problem is that I don’t have a flash- this made photography difficult, with the fast-paced, busy nature of the whole event, but in the end my Sony A7III and trusty 50mm lens came through with some serviceable shots for the PR people to use.

So there we have it. Raasay gin, with more photoshoots, projects and content requirements than we have botanics! Now I’m gonna go get a gin.

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