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If you know your way around a cocktail, chances are you’re familiar with Tales of the Cocktail. Professionals and enthusiasts alike from around the world flock to the annual New Orleans convention to partake in five days of demonstrations, seminars, networking events, and drinks galore.
Some have come significantly farther than others: Simon Buley traveled all the way from Scotland to help get the word out about Caorunn, his unique brand of small batch gin that blends traditional botanicals with the Celtic flavors of rowan berry, heather, dandelion, coul blush apple, and bog myrtle. Food & Drink Digital caught up with Buley in the middle of the middle of the whirlwind that is Tales of the Cocktail for a chat about Caorunn gin and his five days in the Big Easy.
Why did you decide to come out to Tales of the Cocktail? How has the experience been so far?
In the UK our marketing strategy is mainly dealing with bartenders and getting bartenders on our side. Once we get them on our side, obviously they pass along to the customers and et cetera. So with Tale of the Cocktail basically being one of the biggest bartender gatherings in the world, we thought we’d come over and give it a try.
How has the experience been so far?
It’s been really good, yeah. We’re really pleased with the response it’s getting – everybody just couldn’t believe how good it was, you know? It’s been really positive so far.
What are your main goals for the event?
Basically I’m over here to give people a background on the process of making Caorunn, and the story behind the brand. Katie and the New York office are all deciding when and where it’s going to roll out. It’s still pretty up in the air. I think they’ve got a good idea on when they’re going to roll out in certain states, and to be honest I’m kind of oblivious to that. The UK’s where I’m based, and that’s where I’m concentrating most of my efforts. It’s too expensive for me to come out here every week – as much as I’d like to!
Could you tell us a little bit about the background and history of Caorunn gin?
My main job is as a whiskey distiller – I work at a malt whiskey distillery. Our company bought the distillery in 1998, and there was no maturing stock at all. So for 13 years, I’ve been making a product that nobody’s tried. It’s kind of a strange thing, to be making a product for people to enjoy but nobody’s enjoying it. I’ve always been a gin drinker. So the opportunity came up, and we went ahead and did it.
What inspired you to go beyond traditional gin ingredients to incorporate Celtic inspired botanicals?
Because we’re in Scotland, we wanted a Celtic vision in there. We did research, and found quite a few botanicals that had history in Scotland for centuries, and we whittled it down to the five that we used because they balanced each other really well. And the five became the main focus of the marketing as well, with the five sides of the bottle.
It’s really different from a lot of what we have in the U.S. in that the juniper’s not so strong.
This is what everyone says to me: all we can get is juniper. Though yesterday at the tasting room a girl was speaking to me and said “but I do get juniper.” And I said: you will get juniper, because gin is a juniper-based drink. Juniper’s got to be the main flavor in every gin. But the difference with Caorunn is that the juniper’s not hitting you in the face. The juniper’s there and you can taste it, but you can also taste everything else that’s in the drink.
What’s the most exciting thing you’ve seen or done so far?
To be honest, I come from a small village with two, three people. So to come to something like this, it’s just amazing. Walking around, seeing the sights, seeing all the people. I’m just amazed at how friendly people are here. Really friendly people, the locals and everything are really friendly. Make you feel nice and welcome, you don’t have any worries about walking anywhere: it’s really good. So the whole experience to me is new, and I’d recommend it to anyone to come because the welcome you get here is unbelievable.