Case Study

Botanicals Library


Heriot-Watt University


Food & Drink, Agritech and Aquaculture


Edinburgh & Lothians


Scotland accounts for 70 percent of the UK’s total gin production, which is being largely driven by the growth in craft distilleries, 35 of which have opened in Scotland in less than three years, offering over 100 gin variations. Many distillers produce gin while they wait for whisky to mature.

There is a vast array of botanicals that may be grown in Scotland and therefore a wide palette in terms of flavour and aroma that may be incorporated into Scotland’s distilled products such as gin.


The use of local or novel botanicals has become a popular method to create gins with a unique selling point and several members of the Scottish Distillers Association, (SDA – previously called the Scottish Craft Distillers Association), have worked with Heriot-Watt’s International Centre for Brewing and Distilling (ICBD) on new product development experimenting with botanicals that may be sourced close to their distilling operations.

The recipe development process can be very complex, particularly when working with novel or large numbers of botanicals. To simplify the process, it is useful to distil individual botanicals to determine their flavour and aroma attributes to predict their contribution in the final recipe.

The Botanicals Library was created to address this challenge and reduce the time and cost of recipe development and widening the possible options for botanical choice.


Originally, Interface supported the partnership between Heriot-Watt University’s world-renowned International Centre for Brewing & Distilling with the Scottish Distillers Association that enabled the development of a unique library of over 40 botanicals grown in Scotland. The initial funding from Interface was supported by R&B Distillers, Strathearn Distillery and Glasgow Distillery Company, representing the Scottish Distillers Association.

Interface supported the further development of the Botanicals library by the ICBD and SDA partnership which allowed extension of the library to include a range of botanicals not cultivated in Scotland, but with significant importance in gin production. The extension to the library was supported by Ncn’ean Distillery (formerly Drimnin Distillery), together with Glenshee Distillers, Glasgow Distillery and Verdant Spirits, representing SDA.

Heriot-Watt’s International Centre for Brewing and Distilling has distilled each botanical individually, assessing the flavour and aroma profile as well as mouth feel. It now features 72 botanicals that can be grown in Scotland, including nettles, lavender, dandelion and chaga fungus, which grows on birch trees.

Today, the Botanicals Library is available for the members of the Scottish Distillers Association to utilise and exploit in their innovation and production of new recipes.

Business benefits

Matthew Pauley, Assistant Professor at the ICBD and a drinks industry consultant, who led on the distillation of all the botanicals, said:

“Our botanical library will help gin producers create Scottish gins with locally available botanicals that are available in dried form, from a sustainable source, to ensure consistency and availability.

“The library enables us to tell producers how a botanical will perform under the conditions used in gin production.

“Several members of the Scottish Distillers Association have already used the botanical library to create new gins. By coming to the lab, they can experiment and explore new flavour palates, with less ‘trial and error’.”

One business which benefited from using the Botanicals Library is Highland Boundary, a craft distillery based in Alyth. Co-founders Marian Bruce and Simon Montador identified a gap in the market for Scandinavian-inspired spirits with the botanicals sourced from local woodlands. Marian Bruce, said:

“By accessing the expertise at Heriot-Watt University we were able to try out different botanicals to produce new flavours of spirit with distinct Scottish flavours reflecting Perthshire’s “big tree country.”

“Now that we have launched our first product, Birch and Elderflower Wild Scottish Spirit, we want to build the company and create employment in an area where manufacturing jobs are few and far between.”

David Wilkinson, Edinburgh Gin’s Head Distiller, said:

“Seaside Gin was the first of our collaborations in partnership with Heriot-Watt University’s Brewing and Distilling MSc course. Such has been the success and popularity of Seaside Gin, we have had to transfer production from the small 150 litre still to our larger 1000 litre still at our second site. We will now be producing 1300 bottles per distillation, with at least 4 distillations per month. Testament to the success of developing and using a fantastic botanicals library resource for the benefit of the industry in Scotland.”

Professor Alan Wolstenholme, Chair of the Scottish Distillers Association, added:

“Over the last few years there have been a large number of Distillery start-ups in Scotland. Whilst several spirits are being successfully produced, the one which has been most prominent has been gin with many new brands achieving a well-regarded status amongst customers whilst raising the profile of the entire sector.”

Academic Benefits

To date, over 30 distilling MSc projects have incorporated use of the library to create new gins and botanical liqueurs which will continue to increase with future projects.

The main impact of the MSc projects and the Botanicals Library has been a reduction in product and process development time so there is less “trial and error” for companies. It has also enabled greater understanding of both the production process and botanical behaviour, which is now included as part of their teaching.

Additional/Key outcomes

The Botanicals Library is a shared resource designed to benefit distillers across Scotland. The collaboration across distinct geographic areas in Scotland has been vital in identifying a broad range of potential botanicals.

Initially developed to help Scotland’s gin producers create unique, new products, the library is now being used to ensure Scottish gin meets the import standards of countries like the USA. Several members of the Scottish Distillers Association have already used the library to create new gins and botanical liqueurs and support export activity.

With 70 percent of the UK’s gin produced in Scotland, and sales expected to hit £1.5 billion by 2020 (according to Scotland Food and Drink), the library is good news for producers who are eyeing the domestic and international markets.

The Botanicals Library team won the Multiparty Collaboration category of the Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards 2019 hosted by Interface.