Independent Scottish business finds online success with craft gin tastings - here's how to join

Gin fans can get together virtually and enjoy a craft G&T and a meet the maker chat thanks to the quick thinking of a Scottish business.

Published 8th Jun 2020
Updated 21 st Sep 2023

A family-owned gift and design shop in South Lanarkshire has quickly adapted to the ongoing coronavirus crisis and lockdown by hosting Scottish craft gin tastings online - and they're a sell out success.

Jaro Design in Strathaven started out as an interior design company in 1989 with owner Janet Cathro welcoming her daughter Lynzi to the business in recent years.

As well as the interior design arm of the business the mother and daughter team opened a gift shop on their premises and, having obtained a licence, expanded into alcohol sales through this - with a focus on Scottish craft gins, local ales, rums and a vodka from Orkney.

"We've chosen drinks that each have a story behind them," explains Janet.

Jaro Design went on to offer craft gin and drinks tastings from the shop to customers and saw great uptake, especially during the area's annual events including the balloon festival, Glassford beer and gin festival and folk festival.

Since the coronavirus crisis and subsequent lockdown, Janet and Lynzi - like so many other businesses, had to quickly adapt.

Janet says: "We closed the shop on the 23rd March ahead of the lockdown and Lynzi and I had to think about how we could quickly adapt the business model. We already did the gin tastings, which were popular so wanted to see if these would work virtually."

Janet and Lynzi worked on getting their website revamped and planned their first online gin tasting.

Janet continues: "The first online tasting was for locals -  friends and family - as we wanted to gauge interest and see how the format would work.

"It went really well and since then support has been amazing. One tasting sold out in five hours.

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"We've had people join from Orkney to the south of England and many of our guests return regularly. It has been great for people on their own in lockdown or those with young children who want to socialise of an evening"

The people of Strathaven would usually be looking forward to a summer of festivals, with businesses enjoying an increase in footfall from this, but not this year.

"The cancellation of the local festivals is such a loss to the community," says Janet. "We wanted to offer away to keep going and keep our name out there plus help to support the craft gin distillers."

So far Jaro has hosted tastings from Ellis gin, the Gin Bothy, Pentland Hills, the Wee Farm Distillery, McLean's gin and inspirited with their latest being a celebration of local distilleries, titled the big Lanarkshire 5.

Tastings generally include three gins  or two gins and one liqueur which are sent with tonics and a prosecco (for the liqueur).

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The gin boxes are available to buy on the Jaro website, from £25, and include the Gin Bothy, McLean's gin set and the Wee Farm Distillery.

Janet and Lynzi are also offering corporate tastings and many people have bought their gin boxes in order to host their own gin nights in or afternoon teas.

"This wouldn't have been possible without the help of Aileen at Select Drams (a family run wholesale business in Strathaven) and our gin partners, of which there are now about eight or nine," Janet says.

"We've stuck to our guns and only showcase real craft gin distillers in the tastings and meet the maker sessions," she adds.

This is something that has the support of Martin and Natalie, founders of the Gin Cooperative, who strive to help gin drinkers and consumers discover Scottish gin.

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What to expect

I joined the recent big Lanarkshire 5 tasting, which had around 50 guests including the five distillers - McLean's gin, Pentland Hills gin, The Wee Farm Distillery, Biggar gin and Inspirited.

The tasting box arrived about four days before the event and included miniatures of the five gins plus full bottles of their recommended tonics and leaflets with more info on each distiller.

The day before the tasting, guests will receive an email with the meeting info plus perfect serve suggestions, including garnishes (none of which were difficult to source).

The tasting started at 8pm over Zoom with each distiller giving a talk on their business and chosen gin for about 10 minutes. Questions on chat are fielded by Lynzi and there's a chance for a face to face Q&A after the talks.

Guests will find out more about the botanicals chosen, the way the gins are made, perfect serves and cocktail ideas and why each decided to go into gin making.

Each of the five gins were genuinely delicious and so different, and it was lovely to see the support of each business from the distillers as we all enjoyed the drinks.

After the tasting, a 10 per cent discount code to buy a bottle from the Jaro website is emailed to all guests, along with more information on any cocktails discusses on the night. The only problem now is trying to pick a favourite to buy.

Not only is this a great way for gin fans to discover craft spirits they've maybe not heard of or tried before, but these tastings are offering a social aspect to a weekend - something that is key for many people right now, as well as supporting local businesses at a trying time.

Local support

One of the local suppliers and supporters of the gin tastings, both in store and now online are McLean's gin.

Created and run by husband and wife team - Colin and Jessica - McLean's gin was once Scotland's 'smallest' distillery as the spirit was distilled in a cupboard in the couple's home.

A move from Glasgow to Strathaven puts McLean's gin on the map of local creators and one of the distillers involved in the big Lanarkshire 5 tasting.

Colin McLean, head ginologist at McLean's gin explains the ongoing mutual support his business gets from Jaro, saying: "We've been working with Jaro Design since they obtained their alcohol license in spring of last year.

"It has been great for our business to have a local off-sales stockist and huge credit to Janet and Lynzi - they really know their gin and their market, with a hand-picked selection of some of the nation's favourites on their shelves.

"We'd previously held a couple of in-store tastings at Jaro prior to going into lockdown, so when things ground to a halt back in March we had a discussion about how we could continue to work together digitally.

"We got straight down to it and nervously trialled our virtual tasting format just a couple of weeks later...this proved to be a hit; lots of great feedback from those who attended."

The tastings have been such a hit that Colin and Jessica have been regulars on the online scene, holding sold out tastings every fortnight.

Colin adds: "We've since held fortnightly tastings - most of which have completely sold out - as well as a few private/corporate tastings for those looking for a more personalised event for their friends or colleagues.

"These tastings are a real "Meet The Maker" style event, covering our own story and range of spirits from past, through present and future, as well as some insight into the history of gin (and tonic), a behind-the-scenes look at production processes, gin botanicals, cocktails...all rounded off with a live Q&A.

"Great fun for all involved - and the offer of some discounted gin afterwards is a nice added bonus. Although the format for each tasting is largely very similar, each tasting takes on it's own personality and this is dictated by the characters who attend.

"Our McLean's tastings are ongoing with the next scheduled for 27th June (still limited availability on this one), but it was a real pleasure to take part in the Big Lanarkshire 5 event over the weekend.

"Lanarkshire is definitely punching above its weight and we really enjoyed trying each gin side by side, as well as hearing each producer's unique story. Hopefully not the last time we all share a room together, virtually or otherwise."

How to get involved

Follow Jaro Design social media for upcoming craft gin tastings, the next one is Ellis Gin followed by McLean's gin.

Tasting boxes can be bought online and delivered contact free via DHL across the UK.

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Known for cake making, experimental jam recipes, Champagne, whisky and gin drinking (and the inability to cook Gnocchi), Rosalind is the Food and Drink Editor and whisky writer for The Scotsman, as well as hosting Scran, The Scotsman's food and drink podcast.
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