I was recently stood in my kitchen staring at a message in a bottle. Though this was a very different kind of ‘SOS’ altogether… Rather than a cry for help, this was actually the latest gin drop to arrive from north of the border; SOS Gin, Scotland’s Other Spirit.
I was recently very fortunate to have the opportunity to try SOS Gin, and was happy to report that it exceeded all of my expectations, leaving me excited to explore a whole range of serves! I particularly enjoyed the ability of the gin to stamp is mark on the map through the flavours delivered. The sense of provenance is expertly delivered and transports you to the Scottish Lowlands throughout the drinking experience.
You can read my full review of ‘SOS Gin, Scotland’s Other Spirit’ here:
Now. The terms ‘break glass’ and gin very rarely go hand in hand – in fact I’d argue it’s a legitimate spilt liquid to shed a tear or two over! However, as the parent of a young child during the Covid time lockdown, I do like to think that this particular drop could be useful in a ‘break glass in case of emergency’ type of situation. I get the sense it would certainly come to the aid of many a stressed out parent!
So in support of International Scottish Gin Day 2020 on 24th October, as well as to ‘do my bit’ to coax nerve ravaged mums & dads from the corners of the rooms that they’ve been rocking back and forth in, I decided that it was time I caught up with the creators of SOS Gin, Mark & Craig Munnoch-Wahlberg, to get the lowdown on what their gin is all about.
The guys kindly gave up their time to explain to me the inspiration that sits behind their brand name, why they opted to use such a small but considered list of botanicals and just why locality & a hands on approach is so important to them. Read on to learn more about the team from Loanhead, Midlothian who are here to save the day; just don’t go leaving your rhubarb unattended with these two knocking about!..
The Gin Shelf (TGS): Hi guys! So, let’s start off easy…when did you decide that you wanted to make a gin? And when did you officially launch?
SOS Gin: It was during the summer of 2017. Having had previous event experience with another gin company, as well as a fun day out at a Gin School, the idea popped into my head to produce a gin, and I thought, “why not, let’s give it a go”.
SOS Gin was officially launched on Friday 11th January 2019.
TGS: What’s in the name ‘SOS Gin, Scotland’s Other Spirit’? In my blog review I pondered a few hypothesis on how you might have landed on the name, but I’m keen to know if I was close?!
SOS Gin: Yes Matt, your hypotheses were spot on! (note to reader: I had pondered whether it was gentle reminder that Scotland is about more than ‘just whiskey’ or if it was perhaps a reference to the team looking to bottle the spirit of Scotland itself…it turns out it’s both!).
Additionally, with 70% of the UK gin being produced in Scotland, we decided to play on that fact and eventually came up with our company name, SOS Gin Ltd, as an abbreviation of Scotland’s Other Spirit since there are strict rules governing the use of the word ‘Scotland’ in a company name.
Whilst we were deciding on the company name, we also checked out trademarks, to ensure that we were fully legally protected, and currently own the trademarks: SOS Gin; Scotland’s Other Spirit; Save Our Souls Gin; our “Angel / Spirit” logo; and also the phrase “Gin truly is Scotland’s Other Spirit”.
SOS Gin Scotland’s Other Spirit is our first gin and is bottled at 45% ABV.
TGS: Is it fair to say that the botanical mix is more focussed on quality than quantity (the gin is made up of just 4 botanicals; Juniper, Rosehip, Rhubarb and Chamomile)? What made you take that approach (which I have to say I have a lot of love for!)?
SOS Gin: Yes the botanical mix is focussed on quality rather than quantity. We wanted to create a uniquely tasting gin where you can taste each of the local ingredients rather than utilise the “standard gin botanicals” and then supplementing with some local ingredients.
As we were creating the recipes during winter & spring, we had to utilise wholesale botanicals to decide on the flavour profile, however the use of local botanicals in the final production recipe (foraged from unspoilt country locations away from pollution) provides the gin with a far fuller and richer flavour.
TGS: How many attempts did it take to get the recipe ‘just right’?
SOS Gin: Along one of our favourite local walks, there is a wide variety of botanicals which we collected to consider using. Being the son of a baker, I used smell to help determine which botanicals would blend well and in what proportions, which has resulted in our unique flavour profile. Ultimately, I decided on only four botanicals, Juniper, Rosehips (de-seeded), Rhubarb, and Chamomile.
We did take quite a few attempts to get the complex flavour profile between the four botanicals just right.
TGS: How important is locality to you and the gin that you make?
SOS Gin: Locality is vastly important to us. There are very few Scottish botanicals which are available to purchase commercially, and so we have to spend a considerable amount of time to locate, hand-forage, sort, grade, preserve and store our botanicals, although we do get rhubarb from friends’ and family’s gardens and allotments.
We de-seed our rosehips prior to preservation, and then return the seeds to nature.
Utilising 100% Scottish Lowland juniper along with our other locally sourced hand-foraged botanicals instills a Scottish provenance to SOS Gin Scotland’s Other Spirit.
TGS: Yeah, I had read that the rhubarb you use is so local that you forage it from the gardens of friends & family? (I assume they know about this?!)
SOS Gin: Nope, we raid their gardens in the middle of the night!
…Yes, of course they know about it! And they often ask us if we are needing rhubarb when they have an abundance which they cannot use. The rhubarb which we collect is immediately cleaned, chopped and then frozen to preserve it’s flavour, so that we can have it available all year round when required.
TGS: The gin is made under contract at Strathearn Distillery – but how important is it to you to still have a hands on involvement in the making? And what does that look like?
SOS Gin: It is very important to us and gives us a greater sense of achievement and provenance for the gin. It also means that we can keep a close check on the flavour profile of the gin as it comes off the Still, as different aspects of the botanicals come through at different stages of the distillation and we can determine at what point to stop the process to ensure that we don’t draw any of the “tails” through into the gin. After distillation, the gin is allowed to rest for a few days, before we go back up and assist with the bottling process.
It means that we are completely involved in the entire SOS cycle, from collecting & processing the local botanicals, distilling the gin, then bottling and packaging, and then engaging with consumers and the trade at events and markets.
TGS: There’s quite a stripped back look to the aesthetics of the bottle design – was that a purposeful move?
SOS Gin: Yes it was. It was important to keep our bottle clean, simple and uncomplicated and decided on the resultant Silver Foil & Ink heat transfers, topped of with a clear glass stopper to provide an elegance of luxury to the bottle.
It was also important for us to highlight our brand as being from Scotland, and so a small Scottish Shield has also been incorporated into the design as well as wording on the front of the bottle to emphasise that we use “100% Scottish Lowland Juniper”, and also that the gin is “Distilled in Scotland”.
We didn’t put anything on the back of the bottle, so that when stacked in a row, you can see the angel logo on the bottles behind creating a 3-D effect!
Also, on one side we have a brief story of SOS and the other side contains the health warning and other legalities. The information of the sides also does not encroach above the base of the Angel Logo on the front so as not to detract.
TGS: Tell us some more about that eye catching angel print on the front and centre of the bottle – where did the design come from?
SOS Gin: Our “Angel” or “Spirit” logo was designed to be eye catching and also to reflect the use of the word “Spirit” in the product name. The artwork was drawn for us by local artist William Fong. You can check him out here! www.willfongillustrator.com
TGS: How do you drink your SOS Gin? And would you go as far as to say that there is a ‘perfect serve’?
SOS Gin: We usually drink our SOS Gin neat on it’s own, or as a G’n’T, ( 50ml SOS, 100ml Tonic, some ice and garnish with summer berries).
There is no “perfect serve”, it is entirely up to the individual to drink it the way that they enjoy it. Just try it with your favourite mixer!
TGS: What was your biggest challenge in making the gin? Or are we living in it right now with the impact of Corona Virus?
SOS Gin: Basically, just about everything! There are only two of us and we are still working our normal jobs as well as getting SOS Gin off the ground.
We have therefore had to deal with trademark issues, HMRC licensing, branding design, bottle finish, packaging, distribution, website and social media.
Covid-19 has obviously prevented many Gin Festivals and events from taking place, but sales on-line have increased.
Note: You can pick up SOS Gin through Craft 56 here:
TGS: before I let you go…what’s next for SOS Gin?! Is the plan to focus on the flagship gin, or will you be building a portfolio over time?
SOS Gin: To take it nice and slowly and to be sustainable! Once we have built up more of a presence we aim to introduce our naval strength gin – ‘SOS Gin Save Our Souls’, which will be bottled at 60% ABV in 500ml bottles.
Thanks for your time guys! And you can consider me first in line for that Navy expression; ‘Save the soles’ of my shoes – I’m on my way!
With huge thanks to Mark & Craig Munnoch-Wahlberg for their time and for my complementary bottle of their flagship gin ‘SOS; Scotland’s Other Spirit’!
Make sure to follow the team at SOS Gin to stay on top of all of the latest news and goings on:
Facebook: @S O S Gin
This Q&A is also brought to you in recognition and celebration of International Scottish Gin Day 2020! Hitting your calendars on 24th October this year, the team at ‘The Gin Cooperative’ (www.thegincooperative.com) are doing an incredible job on the events second annual outing! Make sure you’re following the team to keep up with all of the latest in the build up to the big day:
And don’t forget to stop by @theginshelf across all social media platforms for more blogs & event updates. Stop by, say ‘Hi’ & chat gin!