AS weeks go, this one is likely to be right up there among the best for Paul Miller.
The Eden Mill co-founder launched the first single malt from his St Andrews distillery on Tuesday (April 24), the fruits of a lot of hard graft – and a fair amount of patience – from Paul and his team.
It was perhaps fitting, then, that the first bottles of Eden Mill Single Malt Whisky went to friends and colleagues who have been with him on what he describes as an “incredible journey”.
In fact, whisky wasn’t on the cards when the first seeds of Eden Mill were planted over a decade ago.
It was 2006 and, as head of Molson Coors’ Scottish business at the time, Paul was in St Andrews with his then boss who asked him to recommend a local brewery to visit while he was in the Fife town; Paul recalls not being able to think of any at the time – and it sparked an idea.
Six years later he set up Eden Brewery and began producing a range of craft beers, before adding a distillery to the site – the former Guardbridge paper mill which sits on the banks of the River Eden and was the site of the Haig family’s Seggie Distillery between 1810 and 1869 – in 2014, and Eden Mill was born.
As the inaugural run of Eden Mill’s Original Gin was released in late 2014, single malt whisky spirit was casked and laid down – and the waiting game began.
When SLTN caught up with Paul at the Macdonald Rusacks Hotel in St Andrews, which is home to Eden Mill’s Blendworks experience, ahead of the single malt’s release, it was clear it’s a major milestone for the company – and for Paul.
“The whisky is so exciting for us; I can’t wait to get it out there,” said Paul. “We’ve waited three and a half years so it’s a big moment.
“One of the things about being a small distillery is that you get to see your spirit every step of the way.
“The whole team did tastings and identified the casks we thought were best. I would defy anyone to say the whisky is three years old because of the quality of it.
“Going forward we’ll do key releases of interesting things. We want to make sure we’re making whiskies that are really interesting for the single malt drinker – that show that we get whisky and that we’re doing something credible.”
The release of Eden Mill’s Hip Flask series – a range of seven single malt expressions in 20cl bottles – is designed to demonstrate small-batch distilling by showcasing different barley types, casks, etc. A 70cl bottling of Eden Mill single malt whisky is due to be released this summer; it is also working on a premium blend.
However, whisky isn’t the only big news for the company, which will turn over £6 million this year and is on-track for £9m next.
Come June, it will move to a temporary facility just yards from its existing home, while a new £4m distillery, brewery and visitor centre is built, also at the Guardbridge site.
Due to be up and running next summer, the new facility will enable Eden Mill to double its visitor capacity, from the 25,000 visitors a year it currently welcomes; as well as allowing it to make six times the whisky it currently produces, carry out more packaging on site, and create an experimental area for new product development, with craft vodka and rum on the horizon. The move will also see Eden Mill up the focus on its beer range.
“Beer is something that still excites us and it probably has ended up a bit of a poor relation for a couple of years because we’ve been so busy with the gin and whisky,” said Paul.
“We’re investing in new beer equipment for the new site and we’ll roughly double output.
“Beer will continue to be a core part of our offer; we’ll be refining the range to five beers – four core and one seasonal – and it will be redesigned.”
It perhaps goes without saying that there will also be further additions to Eden Mill’s range of gins (over the years Original Gin has been joined by the likes of Hop Gin, Oak Gin, Love Gin and Golf Gin as well as seasonal gins, its Mixology Project gin-based ready-to-drink cocktails, and a three-strong range of gin liqueurs), with the new distillery set to double its gin production capacity.
Paul is confident there’s still plenty growth to come for gin; he also thinks there should be some form of protection for Scottish gins, like that which covers Scotch whisky.
“The ‘bubble’ has definitely not burst; consumers are now on a journey with gin,” he said.
“For me, it’s about integrity and authenticity. I think there needs to be some regulation or guidelines for Scottish gin, otherwise there’s a real risk that the people who spend a lot of money investing and creating jobs have no protection and the integrity of the category suffers.
“A source of great pride for us is that we are investing locally and employing local people.
“We’ve got a fantastic conveyor belt of young people coming through the business; that’s the most rewarding thing for me.”