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Mike Hayward - Makar Gin

Junipalooza 2016 Makar
Written by Olivier Ward

The Glasgow Distillery Company launched its flagship product, Makar, in October 2014. It’s as juniper-forward as a gin gets and we loved it instantly, so we were very excited indeed when the brand used 2016 to launch its first two line extensions. We caught up with Mike Hayward in December last year to uncover more…

Two years on from the launch of Makar Glasgow Gin, you launched an Old Tom and two Cask Aged variants. What inspired this experimentation?

It has always been our intention to develop the Makar portfolio to complement the main brand. This allows us to give consumers a new twist and something different that maintains the core Makar values. It was important for us, however, not to rush this process and to allow the brand extensions to evolve as and when they were ready.

The rise of aged gins has been a fantastic evolution within the gin category as it brings together great gins with traditional wooden casks, which are more commonly associated with other spirit categories, to create something fresh and exciting for the current gin map.

In terms of Old Tom, we wanted to give our own nod to the past with our version of this early gin style, which was used as the base for many of the great classic cocktails.

Talking of Old Tom, did you draw from history to create this recipe, or look at more recent incarnations?

The history of Old Tom Gin is very complex with a number of different styles already in the marketplace. As such we wanted Makar Old Tom to be our own interpretation of this fine old style, combining historical elements with the juniper forward characteristics of the main Makar brand.

How much of the flagship gin recipe remains?

A significant proportion of the Makar Glasgow Gin recipe remains in our Old Tom – albeit with a small proportion of tweaks to get the balance we were looking for. The key changes involve replacing the rosemary and cassia bark with orange peel and almond, plus the addition of a small amount of honey to enhance the sweetness that one would expect from an Old Tom.

You mentioned the style being almost symbiotic with classic cocktails, how would you serve it?

Drawing on the great history of cocktails, we recommend the classic Tom Collins or Martinez. Both work amazingly well with Makar Old Tom.

We were lucky enough to try a couple of variants of the Cask Aged as you worked on it. How did you settle on mulberry and new oak?

We have been experimenting with wood ageing for almost a year now having started the process with a number of virgin casks derived from different woods and carefully narrowing this down to establish which wood works best with Makar, combined with finding the optimum ageing period for the gin within the cask.

The ageing process is a delicate balance – unlike whisky for example, the time which gin spends in wood is much more sensitive. If left too long the wood overpowers the subtle botanical flavours within the gin, however if we take it out too soon the influence is too subtle.

Getting the balance right is crucial to making the product work. Commencing with seven different types of wood, we narrowed this down to three over a period of time and finally down to two different variants – Mulberry and Oak Aged Makar. Both woods bring something different to the gin and during tasting trials the opinion was such that we decided to release both.

Were there any recipe tweaks or did you just age the flagship Makar hot off the still?

There were no recipe tweaks at all to the original Makar botanical recipe as we wanted the successful variants to be a true reflection on what the wood contributed towards the Makar flavour profile.

The Makar flagship brand is an absolute juniper party. What impact has the wood had on this core botanical?

Juniper remains the star of the show – the wood however has brought in another dimension to the overall flavour and balance of the gin. The oak adds a subtle smokey note on the palate and pepper to the finish, whilst mulberry brings wonderful hints of anise and sweet lemon to Makar, creating an exquisite gin.

It’s been a huge year for Cask Aged Gin – do you have any predictions for what might come next? Is any of it your agenda?

What is currently great about the gin category is that it is open to experimentation and there are a wide range of brands coming onto the market that are looking to offer something different to the consumer. We certainly have a few ideas on the pad and in the lab – you will need to watch this space!

You create whisky as well, and offer drinkers the fantastically brilliant 1770 Club service, in which fans make a sizeable investment in a whole cask of new make spirit. Do you think gin collectors will ever reach that level of fascination/ willingness to invest?

The 1770 Club is a great opportunity for Scotch whisky fans to buy their own cask of spirit and create their own unique bottling as and when the spirit has matured to its best. Gin has somewhat more of an instant gratification about it with the spirit being ready to drink soon after distillation.

The fascination that I have seen however from gin collectors is the desire to acquire as many different brands as possible with a particular focus on first releases and limited runs. From the aged gin perspective however, as with our new Oak & Mulberry Wood Aged releases, could I see the opportunity for someone wanting to purchase an entire cask – albeit matured over a much shorter period? Why not? Anything is possible.

Very true. Gin drinkers are a dedicated bunch, which leads on to our last question… Gin tourism is picking up in a big way - any plans to create a visitor centre and get in on the Scotland Gin Trail action?

This is certainly within our plans for 2017. Since the release of Makar two years ago, we have been inundated with requests from the public to visit the distillery and see where it all happens.

The positioning of the distillery has made it difficult to open up a visitor facility for a number of logistical reasons, however we have been working on these areas over the past year and hope to open the doors to the public in the not too distant future.

Given there is currently such a great interest in gin and craft distilling as a whole, we are naturally very keen to allow visitors to immerse themselves in the story of Makar and the distillery first hand.