St Andrews has long been a place of pilgrimage for historians, golf fans and holidaymakers, but Pilgrim’s Gin is putting it on the drinks map.
As a gin lover, Allan Drysdale is living the dream running St Andrews spirits company Pilgrims Gin.
After leaving university, the 29-year-old knew that producing gin was what he wanted to do and he set about making it happen.
His goal was to develop something for the popular gin market that was a little bit different.
And Pilgrim’s Gin, which features an original variety and a range of gin liqueurs, is the culmination of his efforts and the company is going from strength to strength.
The Pilgrim’s Gin dream
Allan revealed that having spent a lot of time throughout his early life helping out his father, he had the experience that benefited him when going into business.
He said: “My family has always been in the trade. My dad has a wholesale company that serves pubs, clubs and hotels throughout Scotland called Allson Wholesale. I had always been fascinated with the trade, worked in his office, going round with his engineers servicing drinks machines and things like that.
“When I finished university I knew that was where I wanted to be. I did my research. I love gin, I love the taste of it and I believed there was a gap in the market for something that little bit different so I got the backing and really went for it.
“The company was set up in October 2017 with our first bottle of original gin going to market on the 18th of April 2018. I am really, really proud of it. We are three years old but I feel like we are two years old because of Covid.”
Getting Pilgrim’s Gin out there
With his dad’s wholesale company providing the ideal introduction to customers, Allan enjoyed a great start to business – although things moving quickly meant he was a busy man in the early days.
“One of the biggest issues you have with a start-up brand is the distribution side, but we were quite lucky. Because Pilgrim’s parent company is a wholesaler, distribution wasn’t an issue and it was quite easy to get it out there,” he continued.
“We weren’t taking over the world overnight, but we had a strong start with a lot of people.
“If anything, it was maybe a bit too quick as it was just myself as a one-man band and I had to go out and try and ‘pilgrimise’, so to speak, every outlet that had taken it on.
“It was a nice start then it kind of plateaued until I found my feet, found the brand. However, the best thing about the product is that once they taste it they love it and they keep going back to it. The following we have is great and I am really happy with it.”
In fact, it was recalling tasting a gin in his younger days that gave Allan the firm belief he could do something special with Pilgrim’s Gin.
“How I remembered gin was from when I was younger, I was at a house party and I took a bottle of gin. It was Bombay Sapphire, one of the generic ones and I remember tasting it and thinking someone had sprayed perfume down the back of my throat,” Allan laughed.
“As I got older and went to university, the gin boom had actually started and the first one that really got me excited about gin again was Rock Rose. I thought: ‘Wow, that’s so different’, then Brockman’s which is kind of like ours but a bit sweeter.
“I quickly realised it wasn’t gin as such that I hadn’t liked – it was the gin that I’d had that I didn’t enjoy.
“I wanted to be something a little bit different with our original and that was what we did.
“The ethos was not to be stuck up on how to serve it. We do have our preferred serves, but we basically just tell people to have fun, in a responsible way of course, with gin, enjoy it and express themselves with different drinks.”
What’s in the name?
When he was considering names for the brand, Allan came up with Pilgrim’s which pays homage to St Andrews and its unique history.
“St Andrews has always been a place of pilgrimage and people always come back,” he said.
“Our family home is Balmungo House in St Andrews and on the grounds we actually have a well. The idea was to use the water from the well to make the gin, although sadly we are still going through the cleaning process.
“We had this romantic notion that the pilgrims would have come and used that well for hundreds of years with the house having been built in the 1600s. In honour of that we called it Pilgrim’s Gin so there is a nice link to St Andrews which is such an iconic place.”
The Journey starts here!
We are excited to announce the launch of our website. Join us on our journey by visiting https://t.co/zlMbB0kg9U #Pilgrimsgin #handcrafted #websitelaunch #ginlovers #scottishgin #standrews pic.twitter.com/DhyD5WDKqS
— Pilgrim's Gin (@Pilgrimsgin) June 3, 2021
Pilgrim’s Gin liqueur range
With his first release on the market, Allan turned his attention to creating something he had dreamed of doing – a range of gin liqueurs, taking inspiration from a well-known brand.
“We had the original gin, but I had always had a secret love for the Edinburgh Gin liqueur range. I really love it, it was my tipple and I really wanted to emulate them so we brought out a range of gin liqueurs,” he revealed.
“Edinburgh was my benchmark. We made some and they weren’t good enough, but I kept going and kept going and in the November we finally cracked it and I brought out three gin liqueurs – strawberry and black pepper, raspberry and ginger, and blueberry and basil – all using 100% pressed fruits.
“They are gorgeous and I am really proud of them and they all went on to win awards at the World Liqueur Awards in 2019. Raspberry and ginger taking gold, blueberry and basil taking silver, and strawberry and black pepper taking bronze.
“And we have literally just launched in time for summer is our Pilgrim’s Premium Pink which is watermelon and wild berry flavour. It’s going well too.”
People taste it and love it
It is difficult for many brands to be seen in a crowded marketplace such as the gin one. However, Allan has worked hard attending tastings to introduce his brand to people and he firmly believes that when potential customers taste it, they love it.
“The way that we built Pilgrim’s was with on trade and in-person tastings and what I really love is seeing the person tasting it and getting that feedback, it’s just great.
“We get a lot of great feedback and a lot of interesting ways that people would have it that I would never try.
“I am quite classic, I like a gin and tonic, but we had a woman in telesales named Avril who said Pilgrims is really good with Lilt. She loves it that way. It is great seeing people’s take on how they serve it and how they are enjoying it. People can get creative and put their spin on things.
“The biggest challenge was getting people to try and move away from what they were having. I am really confident in what we do. The taste we have is unique and if I can sit people down and get them to taste it, they will love it.
“I was at a tasting for World Gin Day in Oxford recently and some people said they really didn’t like liqueurs. I said to give it a taste and they walked away with a bottle.
“I don’t understand when people say there isn’t room for another gin – there is always room for another good tasting gin.
“The biggest challenge we have had is not fighting for shelf space but fighting for people to be open to trying something new.”
While gin has provided the springboard for his enterprise, Allan is considering other spirits, but insists his plans are a closely-guarded secret at the moment.
“We are looking at other spirits. I can’t say much at the moment and we are looking at expanding,” he revealed.
“There are a few trends that are coming along slower than predicted but we are experimenting and ready to bring a couple of lines out. It is top secret at the moment though.”