A spirited deal for drinks firms

Ian Macleod Distillers plans further growth after acquisition

By Dave Hunter

• Spencerfield founder Alex Nicol (left) with Ian Macleod boss Leonard Russell and (right), commercial director Neil Boyd.
• Spencerfield founder Alex Nicol (left) with Ian Macleod boss Leonard Russell

THE acquisition of The Spencerfield Spirit Company by Ian Macleod Distillers earlier this month likely wasn’t a big surprise to many in the Scottish licensed trade.
The firms have worked closely together for the better part of six years, with Ian Macleod acting first as the bottler for Spencerfield’s Edinburgh Gin brand and, later, as both bottler and UK distributor of the company’s entire portfolio, which also includes whisky brands Pig’s Nose and Sheep Dip.
The acquisition, for an undisclosed sum, sees Ian Macleod take over all three brands, as well as the entire Spencerfield team. Spencerfield founders Alex and Jane Nicol will work with the new owners during a handover period.
Speaking to SLTN, Neil Boyd, commercial director at Ian Macleod Distillers, said the company has plans to expand the Spencerfield brands across Scotland, the UK and overseas.
Edinburgh Gin, in particular, has a lot of potential for growth in the Scottish on-trade, said Boyd.
He stated that, despite the “avalanche of gins” launched in recent years, “it is early days for the boutique gins in Scotland”.

Commercial director Neil Boyd.
• Commercial director Neil Boyd.

“I think standard gin is everywhere,” said Boyd.
“But the boutique gins are increasingly coming into the on-trade and going on the back-bar. You’ll see lots of bars across Scotland stocking a wider range of these premium/boutique gins than ever before.”
Education, said Boyd, will be key to growing Edinburgh Gin’s presence in the trade, whether it’s in the form of distillery tours for bar staff, tastings or masterclasses.
“I think the whole premium gin category is growing on the back of consumer interest in botanicals and flavours, etc.” he said.
“So a lot of our activity is around explaining more about how you make these products and how you create the flavours. That’s the real driving force.”
The on-trade will also be important for the growth of Edinburgh Gin’s liqueurs range, as well as for both Spencerfield whisky brands.
“You might have thought, initially, that the liqueur range was an off-trade range, but that’s not the case anymore,” said Boyd.
“We’ve got a lot of interest from bartenders, who are creating gin cocktails and then using the liqueurs to create specific cocktails.
“As long as that interest in cocktails is there, the Edinburgh Gin portfolio is well positioned to make the most of that.”
Similarly, high-end bars will be the target market for Spencerfield whiskies Sheep Dip and Pig’s Nose. Boyd said the brands will likely be targeted at venues with a focus on spirits and cocktails.
“There are a number of bars that will always stock the classic whisky brands that we all know,” said Boyd.
“That’s perhaps not the target. The target is more hipster, unique bars where there’s going to be a good cocktail list, where there’s going to be a large range of boutique gins, and where there’s going to be a more interesting range of spirits.
“That’s where we’re likely to find traction for the likes of Sheep Dip and Pig’s Nose.”
The acquisition has added several new strings to Ian Macleod’s bow, but Boyd maintained that the firm still has plenty room to grow.
“We’re a relatively small player compared to the big guys out there, so there’s a lot to chase – there’s a lot of opportunity out there for us,” he said.