Wild Thyme Spirits - Colonsay Gin
Colonsay gin is produced by husband and wife team, Finlay and Eileen Geekie. Fin trained as an architect at Dundee University and spent many years developing his skills and working his way up to Regional Director of a significant house-building business. He gained an MBA in business management at Oxford Brookes University. In 2004, he launched his own property company. These skills and expertise would be vital in their future distillery enterprise.
Eileen studied Commerce at Abertay University in Dundee and became a teacher of Business Studies both in Dundee and Oxford. Her career turned towards the business world with a position at Blackwell Bookstores in Oxford. After a small break to raise two children, (a full-time job itself!) she returned to Blackwell’s and began specialising in Human Resources. This led to rôles with Oxfam and at Oxford University.
All of Fin and Eileen’s qualifications certainly deserve being shouted about and recognised. Their combined range of skills and experiences, alongside a continuous striving nature, put them in good stead for creating their own business.
As is apparent, Fin and Eileen both grew up in Scotland. As children, they enjoyed regular family holidays to the picturesque islands, in particular on Tiree. A love of the wild landscape and expansive abundance of flora and fauna saw them bring their own children back time and again.
Whilst they were living in Oxfordshire, the lure of the Scottish coast remained. The idea to purchase a property on one of the islands as a holiday home and future permanent home was the initial step towards Colonsay gin. Though little did they know it at the time.
In 2007, they bought a house on the island of Colonsay. Neither Fin nor Eileen had visited this island before, but the opportunity was too good to miss. A quick trip to see the building and they were sold. Tigh na Uruisg, (tee-na-oor-isk) was theirs.
However, it was 2012 when the renovations properly began. Fin’s knowledge of property development was put to the test in the harsh environment of the Hebrides and everything took much longer than expected. They created a new larger house on the existing foundations, completing building in 2016.
During this time, Fin and Eileen stumbled across the world of gin and immediately fell in love. They met Martin and Claire Murray from Dunnet Bay Distillers, (Rock Rose gin) at Junipalooza in 2015 and quickly started to realise that they too could create gin.
They attended Junipalooza again the following year and booked on to the Gin Foundry’s “How to Open a Distillery” workshop. Fin and Eileen were hooked. They registered Wild Thyme Spirits and began crafting their business.
Fortunately, this discovery and new venture coincided with the building work on their Colonsay home and they were able to adapt the plans to include several guest rooms and a gin collection. You can now stay at the Gin Lover’s Retreat and witness first-hand the incredible landscape and all the island has to offer. They have a collection of over 200 gins…
Colonsay is one of 35 inhabited islands in the Inner Hebrides. With stunning views and an abundance of flora and fauna, it’s always been popular with environmentalists. The island can boast being home to one of Britain’s rarest birds – the Corncrake. The impressive sheer cliffs provide the ideal habitat for a host of seabirds, including guillemots, razorbills and kittiwakes. It’s not surprising that the RSPB have a permanent presence.
Further inland, you can find over 500 species of plant, including Sea Samphire and Marsh Helleborine. These fantastic plants could become potential botanicals…
In Celtic mythology, every house has an Uruisg, (oor-isk) a Brownie/Spirit who helps with the household chores. These creatures are traditionally small, shy males who work at night. They remain loyal to their families and estates, often serving them for centuries. Wild Thyme Spirits are lucky enough to have two: twins Doughal and Ferghus.
Fin and Eileen’s house, Tigh na Uruisg, translates as “Home of the Spirit”. A long time ago, a terrible storm ravaged the coastline, shipwrecking a Viking long boat on the sharp rocks. Somehow managing to survive was Alva, a red-haired special Brownie called a Gruagach, (groo-ah-gak). Alva scrambled over the cliffs and sought shelter at Tigh na Uruisg. She remains there to this day, protecting the estate and the gin recipe.
Purchasing a house called “Home of the Spirit” must have been fate…
Colonsay gin is currently third-party distilled by the talented Tony Reeman-Clark and his team at Strathearn Distillery. Fin and Eileen are progressing through the government red tape and will soon be able to distil themselves on the island.
Neutral Grain Spirit, (NGS) and water are added to the 100 litre copper still, creating 48% ABV. The juniper berries are gently bruised and then macerated with the other botanicals for half an hour. Distillation takes around six hours and the gin is drawn off at 48%. The spirit is rested for 4 – 5 days before being brought down to bottling strength and rested for a further 24 hours. Each batch produces approximately 160 bottles.
I’m particularly impressed by the attention to detail when it comes to reducing the gin’s strength. Fin and Eileen could easily bring the strength down to 40% and sell more bottles, but fortunately they are dedicated to quality and flavour. They did multiple trials at different percentages and found 47% to be the optimum. 46% wasn’t quite smooth enough whilst 48% allowed the alcohol to dominate. I’m so pleased to see them taking the time to ascertain this variable.
Juniper - Europe
Angelica Root - Europe
Orris Root - Morocco
Coriander - Morocco
Calamus Root - Europe
Liquorice Root - China
Orange Peel - Turkey
Colonsay gin is not only a solid liquid, the branding is striking too. Designed by Caroline Vos, an illustrator from South Africa, the label depicts a stunningly strong, poised Alva amidst the crashing waves. With confidence in her eyes, she reminds me of a cross between Wonder Woman and Medusa – which isn’t a bad thing! The tumultuous blues and silver foiling create an intricate design which is both elegant and artistic. You can watch a fascinating video on their website which details the label progressions of Alva.
Caroline has also captured the imp-like nature of Doughal and Ferghus on the bottle seal. They link wonderfully to the name Wild Thyme Spirits as they are seen to be frolicking and enjoying a ‘wild time’.
Colonsay gin is self-explanatory, but the over-arching company name has its own story. When Fin and Eileen first purchased their house, they began exploring this exciting new island. Roaming happily across the countryside, getting lost and delving into the island’s character, they came across a patch of wild thyme growing on the hills. The heady scent filled the air and instantly created a memory situated in time and place. Wishing to create other spirits in the future, Fin and Eileen knew they needed an over-arching brand: Wild Thyme Spirits was born.
Every distillery, vineyard, brand should have a dog. Or two. Or a cat.
Sam and Kira are German short-haired Pointers, rescued separately from the same shelter in Cyprus. Sam has been a valuable member of the team since 2012, whilst Kira joined them in 2016.
The rolling hills and long stretches of beach are their playground!
Aromas: Bright, bold and fresh. Bursting with soft juniper and hints of lavender and an herbal element. A deep earthiness underneath from gentle cassia. Complex and layered.
Palate: Incredibly smooth with a rich weight. Full juniper at the fore and maintained throughout. A gentle warmth comes from the cassia, not the ABV. Nuanced herbal coriander on the finish. A soft floral tone appears right on the end. Brilliant length.
With Tonic: Lifted and bright. Reminiscent of dried hay and a sun-baked meadow. Warm orange earth and green capsicum on the nose. Soft, bright juniper on a succulent palate with gently spiced coriander.
Garnish: Fin and Eileen recommend either orange peel or a sliver of fresh green chilli – the latter genuinely really works.
I had been following Wild Thyme Spirits’ launch and progress on social media and was impressed with the brand they were building. I had the pleasure of meeting Fin and Eileen at this year’s Junipalooza and can genuinely say they are two of the loveliest, warm-hearted people in the industry. Their passion, creativity and sense of humour shines through. I also love that they have avoided the route of gimmicky botanicals and have crafted a solid juniper-led true expression of gin. I can’t wait to see what other products they release in the future and hope it isn’t too long before they can begin distilling themselves.