Scots distiller predicts growing demand for sustainable spirits

No business has been left untouched by the fall-out from the coronavirus pandemic, and in the case of Scotland’s Arbikie Distillery, severe restrictions on travel and hospitality have taken the greatest toll.

Like many in the spirits industry, much of Arbikie’s sales are through restaurants, bars and duty-free channels, all of which effectively disappeared as lockdown restrictions came into force earlier this year. An increase in online sales was not enough to offset the shortfall.

But one of the great advantages of being a family-owned business is the ability to get a comprehensive take on the situation during a crisis. That’s according to Iain Stirling, who together with brothers David, John and Sandy owns the “field-to-bottle” distillery operating out of the family’s 400-year-old farm in Angus.

“Family businesses will nearly always take a longer-term view,” Mr Stirling explains. “We don’t have external shareholders or outside investors putting the pressure on.”

Arbikie therefore has scope to identify the opportunities emerging from the current downturn, and position the business to take advantage. As the hospitality trade slowly emerges from hibernation, the company believes its sustainability credentials put it in a strong position.

Approximately 90% of everything used to make Arbikie’s range of whisky, gin and vodkas is produced on the farm, cutting down on the “food miles” in a market where consumers are increasingly aware of the impact of their choices on the environment. The company’s newest release, Nadar, is billed as the world’s first “climate positive” gin with a negative carbon footprint of 1.54kg of CO2 per 700ml bottle.

“The opportunities are in the sustainable space – there isn’t anyone who won’t want to talk about stocking a climate negative gin,” he says.

“The situation in the market right now is that bars and restaurants are shrinking their menus to focus on quality. We are in the right space at the right time with farm to bottle sustainability.”

Mr Stirling will share these and other views as a panel member on the forthcoming Scottish Family Business Breakfast event hosted online by The Herald on September 1. He will be joined by keynote speaker Mike Donaldson, the sixth generation family member to head up fife-based timber firm James Donaldson & Sons, along with fellow panel members Peter Facenna of Allied Vehicles, Giovanna Eusebi of Eusebi Deli, and Lyndsay McGonigle, managing director of Top Drawer UK.

The event is supported by Business Gateway, Clydesdale Bank, Family Business Solutions Ltd, Strathclyde Business School and TL Dallas.

David Henderson of Clydesdale Bank said the effects of Covid-19 are having different impacts on individual families and various sectors of the economy: “The panel session will be a great chance to hear from and contrast how the various family businesses represented have faced into this unprecedented challenge to their company operations and their normal way of life.”

READ MORE: Timber chief to give insight into crisis handling at Herald event

Business Gateway’s Hugh Lightbody said: “Throughout the pandemic, there have been multiple examples of businesses successfully adapting their offering to reach customers and ensure the survival of their business, so I’m particularly looking forward to hearing from Giovanna Eusebi from Glasgow-based Eusebi Deli about their experience over the last few months.”

Billy Andrew of Family Business Solutions said Mr Facenna is a “very interesting” addition to the panel. “I’m very keen to hear his views on Allied’s core purposes and values in the context of family business strengths, or challenges for that matter,” he added.

Bernard Dunn from TL Dallas said all the panel speakers will have “great stories” to tell. “From Lyndsay McGonigle at Top Drawer, I am keen to know if lockdown has been good for their business, if people are buying for their home improvements, instead of holidays.”

Strathclyde Business School’s John Anderson added: “I am looking forward to hearing from an excellent and diverse panel and getting further insights into how their inherent strengths and long-term outlook can give family businesses an advantage as they grow.”

The event takes place on Tuesday September 1 from 9.30am-11.30am on event platform hop-in. To register, visit or contact