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From the outset Beinn an Tuirc Distilleries aimed to keep sustainability at the heart of the business and are proud that its gin still is powered by its own hydroelectricity, keeping carbon emissions low.  The business sources water from the eponymous hill,  ‘Beinn an Tuirc’, which translates from Gaelic as ‘The Hill of the Wild Boar’ and is the highest point in Kintyre, located above the distillery building. There is also a dedicated tree plantation near the distillery where oak trees are planted to offset any carbon used in processes and distribution.  

Beinn An Tuirc Distillers – Niall McAllister Hall 

Introduction 

I’m Niall McAllister Hall, and I’m one of the directors of Beinn An Tuirc Distillers which is based in Torrisdale Estate Kintyre. We’ve got a gin distillery located on the estate, which has ancillary facets. We also have a cafe and gin tasting room which we are gearing towards tourism as much as making gin.  

What steps has your organisation taken to improve nature-based solutions?  

Renewable energy is key for us and one of the main principles on which we operate. We have got a 100-kilowatt hydroelectric scheme which uses water from the adjacent river and produces energy to meet our needs. Excess electricity is fed back into the national grid.   

I think last time I calculated, we are using between about 10% and 15% of the energy generated. It’s not a massive amount we’re using, but that’s all we need given the scale of our business. Coupled with that, this year we are installing solar panels as well. The panels will work well when the hydro scheme is not producing as much energy, not as well in the winter, but we’ve got that covered by the hydro scheme.  

When we started the gin distillery, we began operating a tree-planting scheme for our self-catering properties. It allows anyone coming on holiday the chance to plant a tree, get a certificate and offset against the carbon produced in getting to the estate. Since then, we have extended this to our distillery production, planting a tree for every case sold. 

We’re going to have to look at further options in the future. One of which is the prospect of rewilding schemes and creating better public access in tandem with our visitor function. When people come to go on a tour, they can then spend half an hour to an hour going through the new trails that we plan to create.  

We have planted several thousand trees around the property, with many more existing trees on the property, so our carbon footprint is minimal and we are climate positive. We are looking at diversifying the whole estate to encourage more visitors and woodland walks and wildlife hikes. This will entail clearing a lot of the invasive species, mainly the Rhododendron that we’ve got here, to help improve the habitat surrounding the distillery and hopefully welcome back the native red squirrel.  

What drove you to take these steps and how does this align to the purpose of your organisation? 

I think it was personal experience as well as wanting to stand out from the crowd. We already had the facets in place and the hydro scheme there. Our location with surrounding woodland meant we were able to undertake these steps without the need to outsource activities and potentially lose some of the impacts. We think it is always a good story to tell to couple the nature side of things with the gin-making. 

We very much founded the distillery on a sustainable principle and we use the strapline “sustainable distillers” on our logo and everything we try and do is sustainable. Being so remote there are things that we can’t do yet. For example, we feel we can’t use electric vehicles to deliver gin because we just couldn’t get to Glasgow and the Central Belt and back again. But these things are improving all the time and I guess we will improve as the world improves.  

What have the benefits been for your business? 

When we started off making gin there were several other producers in the marketplace, but it has just exploded since then. With us, our positioning and our USP of sustainable production has meant we’re kind of ahead of the game, although I feel the others are slightly catching up now. I think it’s very difficult to quantify additional sales and how it has financially benefitted the business, but it’s a good story to tell when we’re doing tours, people love that side of things. 

How easy and affordable was it to take these steps? 

Very affordable due to the existing hydroelectric scheme. It has been financed through the feed-in tariff regime meaning there was a subsidy applied per unit of electricity generated. We feel we were lucky as it was suitable for powering the gin still, and unlike some of our peers, we didn’t have to go and buy £40,000 oil or steam boilers to power the still. We’ve had a head-start there and it has been great and interacts well.  

With other things like tree planting, it is pretty inexpensive. However, the cost will come in the future when we progress into the wider estate area of Rhododendron cleaning and path creation. We will look at grant-funded opportunities through the rural development programme.  

What do you wish you knew when you started down this route? 

Fortunately, there was nothing specific that we had to learn to do. I can’t think off the top of my head of anything that we’ve come across to think ‘that was a learning curve’. We’ve just got to try to be inventive in how we promote the story.  

I think we were in the fortunate situation of having existing skills, so everything fell into place rather than having to learn anything specific. We are carbon neutral and climate positive because we sequester more carbon than we produce, but we still need to look at monitoring that carbon footprint. There are ways in which we can improve, the challenge ahead is working out how to do it. We’re looking at implementing different, more sustainable packaging. There are cost implications in some of these things. The next challenge is to ‘tick one off’: no one’s perfect and I think we’re certainly not, but we’ve made a good start to what we’re doing including reviewing and monitoring. These smaller steps will perhaps be more challenging than the bigger steps we took at the beginning. 

What skills have you had to grow within your organisation to adapt your business? And did you get advice to help you get started on this work?  

We had a good existing skill base before we started. We’ve had our carbon footprint assessed by an environmental consultant because it was something we couldn’t do. We will be getting in more expertise from a forest consultant when we look at footpath design to help link in with the wider estate.  

Other than that, we’ve managed to cope with what we’ve got and stay on top of things. As I said, we need to keep monitoring and improving. I think the next step for us is to employ somebody possibly in a hybrid role. When we look at B Corp, we look at doing the smaller things, although these are often time-consuming. As we grow, I think we could benefit from somebody to fulfil that role as an employee.  

We appointed the head distiller prior to manufacturing so she helped with procuring equipment, getting tenders for or getting quotes for gin stills as well as the layout of the distillery and recipe development. We needed Sue in place before we started which remained the same for the first year or two. Since then, we hired an office manager, an events/tourism person, a couple of salespeople and the people on the ground in terms of running the cafe and doing tours. 

Any advice for SMEs looking to do something similar for nature-based solutions?  

Everyone is different. Some can do it, some can’t. I think it definitely helps your business stand out from the rest. The consumer is being much more critical or discerning about what they buy, how they buy it, and where they buy it. For us, it’s always good to get a lot of sales through the door directly because you not only get the best margin, but the customer can see how you produce when they come and visit you. I think it definitely helps you stand out from the crowd.  

Offsetting your carbon footprint against an arms-length scheme a million miles from here and then having no idea about your carbon footprint and not monitoring it is not the way to go.  

There is advice out there and take that advice. People help with renewable energy, people that can help with the more nature-based solutions such as tree planting, wildlife creation, or habitat creation and things like that. Take the advice available to you – yes it will cost – but I think the benefits for the business will outweigh the costs. 

The Carbon Trust’s free SME carbon footprint calculator is quick, easy and tailored to small businesses

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