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Women in food: ‘I really couldn’t do it without her!” Tayport Distillery owner on daughter’s key role in company

There’s no show without punch, and Kecia McDougall says Tayport Distillery wouldn’t be what it is today without the help of her daughter Mary.

When Kecia McDougall first started thinking about her spirits business in 2017, she was very much under the impression that she would be doing it on her own, bringing her hobby of creating drinks to life.

Officially launching in March 2018, it was a month later that her daughter Mary, who is now 25, jumped on board after returning home from university.

Based in the kingdom of Fife, Tayport Distillery has grown from offering its first release, Eau de Vie – a colourless fruit brandy spirit, to producing vodka and gin, too.

Background

Determined to make the most of the produce grown locally in the area, Kecia, 55, was inspired by the local larder and decided to create a fruity liqueur that would showcase the fruit of the land in a different way.

Kecia McDougall, left, and Mary McDougall.

She said: “We started setting everything up in 2017, but we launched in March 2018. It started as a hobby and I was trying to use everything that was around me locally like local fruits and botanicals, so that ended up in our first spirits which were our Eau de Vie’s.

“There’s so much amazing produce around here that I wanted to use it to make something. I was probably inspired by travels to South Africa and France, as that is what they do there – they don’t let anything go to waste.

“It grew arms and legs and now I have my own distillery. It was something I really enjoyed doing and still do!”

Production/Growth

During the pandemic, many spirits firms have found life challenging with their usual routes to market, like hotels, restaurants, bars and pubs closed. However, Kesia revealed that Tayport Distillery has doubled sales in the last year, a positive outcome which has been a tough year for every business.

Kecia “Everything is quite different now. We make our own base spirit so we have to get grain in to make it. It is quite different, but I started off with smaller 500-litre vats and made my own base spirit then. It was very physical and really hard. As things grew I realised we had to scale things up so we now.

The distillery’s products.

“We were doing 500-litre batches but now for the grain, I have a 2,000-litre mash tun. I have a large tank where I make the base spirit and the still is still 500 litres, but we’re taking one step at a time. I made the more physical part more automated and the still is the same one I started with.

“We’re small batch and we’re probably getting around 500 bottles per run. We do several different things and I’m not just pumping out gin. The liqueur is a completely different process. I’m actually soaking fresh fruit in the spirit to make the liqueur. What I produce from that is a little less as the fruit soaks up some of the alcohol.

“The business has definitely grown, and with Covid-19, we thought it could have been the end of us. But strangely, it is difficult to say, but it has actually helped us and has allowed us to grow. We have doubled our sales within the year.”

Success

Kecia admits that winning various awards and launching new products last year has also helped build the profile of the business, in turn, helping produce more sales.

She added: “We won quite a few awards last year which also helped lift our profile, too. We still have capacity to make product, but because we are very small, we have to manage it and grow organically with what we can cope with. We are growing and it is great.

“We also launched products like the gin, the liqueurs and the vodka – things people recognised more than Eau de Vie, although it is quirky. Some people don’t know what it is, so bringing out a portfolio of spirits has really helped us.”

The distillery.

The team

Working as a two-woman band, Mary and Kecia don’t just work together, they also live together, too, so it is important the duo communicate well to ensure the smooth running of day to day home life, and work operations.

Mary said: “I got involved in the business in April 2018. I used to work for the BBC as a freelance assistant producer on BBC Radio 6.

“I thought it looked like a lot of fun being involved in the family business, and I’m really thankful I’ve been at home and here during the pandemic.

“My brother, Alasdair, lends a hand to help my mum with production, from time to time, but we’re hoping he’ll get involved full-time soon. We have a few freelancers coming in to help as well, but it is mainly me and mum.

Kecia at work.

“Business-wise, and in terms of business goals, we are massively in synch. I think one of the biggest benefits of working with a family member is you can be direct and frank about thinks, if you don’t like something you can say it and they are still going to love you at the end of the day. Whereas when you’re working for someone, you sometimes have to think about how you say things.

“I have to say I am definitely the hothead out of the two of us. I can get quite heated whereas mum cares so deeply about everyone. I am a caring person, but a hothead for sure.

“I deal with the whole digital aspect of the business. I do a lot of the customer service but mum has definitely coached me on it – she is a pro at it. I look after the social media, the website and the PR and marketing. I also get stuck in with the packaging and labelling, but I’m more into the admin and background working.”

And Kecia, would agree Mary is the perfect person for the job as she enjoys to be hands-on with the product and away from her phone.

She added: “Mary is much better at it (social media) and grasps it really well. She immediately fit into that role which is perfect for me. I look after the production and do some admin and accounts, but we really both have our strengths and weaknesses and it has worked out that we pick up on each other’s.

“Sometimes it is tricky if you’ve had a bit of a bad morning at home and then you’re butting heads, but we get along quite well. It is nice to see Mary grow within the business. I really couldn’t do it without her.”

Mary prepares an order.

2021…

With a promising 2020 under their belts and more opportunities on the horizon, Kesia, who had intentions of slowing things down a little this year, has already hinted that more products may be on the way.

She said: “We want to keep growing but we’re going to try and consolidate this year.  last year we brought out two gins and a vodka, and there was a lot going on. We got a Golden Fork award for the raspberry liqueur last year and we said this year we’d calm down and grow with what we have.

“Saying this, we are looking to bring out some more liqueurs. We love cocktails and we feel we maybe need a few more flavours so we have the complete package for making cocktails with all of our products.

“Some people still don’t know about us, so we will build on awareness. The people of  Tayport have been so supportive, but we need to widen that much wider if we can.”


For more in this series…

Women in food: Guardswell Farm and Guardswell Grows – how two sisters’ hard work goes hand in hand

Women in food: Almondine’s macaron sisters bake up ‘thousands of macarons a week’