There’s a relatively new kid on the block when it comes to the spirits scene, but you’re not allowed to know where it’s distilled or much more about it. At least that’s what creator James McNeill wants you to think.
After his events space closed in central London at the end of 2019 he was about to open a new venue near the Bank of England in the City of London, called G.H.Q.
But when the pandemic hit, everything, including James’ new venue, closed down.
Taking matters into his own hands, James decided to continue with the name and the branding and travelled down the drinks avenue instead launching his own gin and vodka.
Having spent 15 years in London, James was inspired to call his business G.H.Q after uncovering files in his new venue that said “Top Secret” on them and were from the GCHQ.
“The plan was that we were going to call it G.H.Q but I turned it on its head and thought I would focus on a drinks-led thing just now,” said James.
“When we found the events space in central London it hadn’t been used since the 1970s and it was just filled with old box files. Some of them said ‘Top Secret’ on them and were from GCHQ. I knew I could never trademark that name but it’s where the idea for the name G.H.Q came from.”
Originally from Glasgow, James moved to Dundee when he was 12 and studied architecture at the city’s art school, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design (DJCAD).
Coming back to his adopted homeland following the closure of his venue in London, he began to pursue his spirited dream.
Investing a six-figure sum of his retirement fund into the business, James has now sold more than 2,100 bottles of the gin and more than 1,600 of his vodka since launching last November.
“I’d already done a couple of distillation courses over at Darnley’s Distillery in Kingsbarns and they were very helpful,” he adds.
“Then I went ahead and trademarked the name in the UK, Europe and several international territories.
“When I was looking for a distillery to make the spirits, I thought the best place to look would be in the Highlands. My sister has just bought and developed a holiday property there.
“I came across Lost Loch Distillery just past Aboyne. The guys there were brilliant and helped me through all of the development of the product.”
Nod to the past
Taking a nod to his family’s history in the military and his love of war and spy novels and movies, James’ business, has a personal feel about it.
“My gran was a dispatch rider during the war and she used to tell us great stories and several members of my family have a military background,” said James.
“My uncle Eric was also regimental sergeant major of the paratroopers and when the family would meet up they’d all have these amazing stories.
“It’s a nod back to when times were horrendous, but people came together. It’s a nod to the past and what people went through and what we have just been through with the pandemic.”
How it’s made
Basing his spirits on the classic Tanqueray gin, James started out with the idea of creating something similar to the popular London Dry gin brand, but with his own twist to make his products stand out.
As a result he has seen great success locally and hopes to launch into the American market in the second quarter of 2022.
Locally, gin fans will find the brand in bars, restaurants and shops including Aitken’s Wines, The Crieff Food Company, Gracie’s Restaurant, Draffens, Frank’s, The Bird & Bear and The King of Islington to name a few.
“For me, the classic go-to London Dry is Tanqueray, you can’t fault it. But I can’t produce a bottle at the same price that they produce it which is around £20,” he added.
“I needed something with a twist, something that’s different. When I was going through various tastings I spoke to lots of friends and asked for as much feedback.
“The general consensus was that something with a citrus twist on it was more favourable than anything else.
“So when we did the blends we did the classic Tanqueray and then slowly did variations on that. That’s how we came up with the blend that we have that incorporates lime leaf, lemongrass and black pepper to create this lovely Asian infusion.
“The vodka is different as it has notes of honey and hazelnuts, which is absolutely delicious.”
A 70cl bottle of either the gin or vodka can be purchased from the website for £38. Visit ghqspirits.com for more information. Current and past British Armed Forces personnel receive a 20% discount.