A carrageen seaweed pudding made by his mother led Michael Morrison to produce a gin that uses algae grown on the Isle of Barra’s wild shores as one of its 17 botanicals.
Now, just six months after launching Barra Atlantic Gin, the 26-year-old, from Eoligarry, has secured over 150 stockists throughout the UK, including 21 hotels, restaurants, and bars since January.
Stockists include The Kitchin, Michelin starred restaurant in Edinburgh, the iconic Atlas Bar in Manchester, and the luxury cruise ship, The Hebridean Princess.
Having already opened a retail outlet in the island’s main village last December and created three full-time jobs, Michael is on target to begin exporting his unique gin, which has featured in both British Vogue and GQ magazines, before the summer.
The furniture maker to trade, whose first business created bespoke wooden boxes for high-end whisky bottles, is now using advice from Business Gateway Outer Hebrides to identify potential funding that would allow him to open Barra’s first distillery.
He said: “When I launched Isle of Barra Distillers last year, I knew I wanted to bring production of our gin to the island as quickly as possible, as currently we ship our botanicals to London where the gin is distilled for us. But establishing production on the island takes a lot of investment. By taking the gin to market first, it not only allows us to build credibility and demand, it helps generate an income that can be re-invested into establishing a distillery where the product will be made from scratch.
“Because I’ve been in contact with Business Gateway for a number of years, initially when I was looking to potentially relocate my first business from Glasgow back home to Barra, I knew they would be able give me advice as I looked to establish my brand. I’ve not only benefitted from 1:1 support and attended a range of free start-up courses, my staff have also learnt a lot from the seminars especially those on digital marketing. Now, my adviser’s connections and knowledge will help me identify funding that will allow me to create a distillery and further jobs and ultimately inject money back into the local economy.”
Growing up on Barra, Michael wanted to create a gin that would highlight the island’s connection to the sea. His mother’s homemade seaweed pudding gave him the idea to add carrageen which gives his gin a salty top note.
The label and packaging for the bottle, designed by Devon artist, Jemma Lewis, has also been made using the algae, which was added to a container of water, oils and paint. The seaweed caused different oils in the paint to rise, creating the unique marble pattern on paper pulled through the liquid.
The reason for adding nearly double the average number of botanicals to the gin, including local heather, juniper berries, peppermint and almond powder? Seventeen is Michael’s lucky number!
He said: “It all stems back to a very lucky night in a Glasgow casino. My wife choose 17 at the roulette table and it scooped us the prize money. I just wanted to bring the luck that number gave us on that night into the production of my gin which was also launched in 2017.”
Lynne MacMillan, Business Gateway, said: “Barra Atlantic Gin’s unique combination of botanicals and outstanding packaging has really caught the attention – and taste buds - of bartenders in some of the UK’s most famous bars and restaurants. Michael’s journey to launch the gin stemmed from a desire to return home to his roots and our advice has armed him and his team with new ways of thinking. We are now working with him to ensure his dream of opening a distillery comes to fruition as quickly as possible.”