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On the horizon...Craig Laurie discovered a passion for brewing which he has turned into a successful business.
On the horizon...Craig Laurie discovered a passion for brewing which he has turned into a successful business.

It’s a fair bet that most of us toasted the bells with a tipple this year. It’s the Scottish thing to do, after all.

But while whisky may not be about to give up its place as our national drink, there are signs that many people are looking for something different when it comes to a drop of the hard stuff.

And that doesn’t mean importing foreign favourites.

From craft beers, to gin, cider and even rum – being made in Scotland isn’t just a badge of honour, it’s also a sign of quality and distinctiveness.

Many of the craft brewers and distillers have turned hobbies into thriving businesses.

Hugh Lightbody, chief officer of the Business Gateway national unit which helps hundreds of small businesses, said: “There is a real thirst, both here and abroad, for craft beer, cider and artisan spirits brewed and distilled on Scottish soil by individuals rather than multi-national corporations.

“Many looking to ride the current wave of enthusiasm for micro production have either turned a hobby into a business and are selling locally or have invested heavily to produce a tipple that they love and want to share with the world.”

As the Year of Food and Drink ended in 2015, Scotland toasted many new businesses that had started or grown, defying an economic slowdown by relying on good, old-fashioned quality.

Recent government figures revealed that a new brewery opens in Britain every other day following a “surge” over the past two years.

The trend is boosting the economy, with the beer and pubs sector now responsible for 869,000 jobs.

Part of that success story is Cumbernauld entrepreneur, Craig Laurie.

He may have studied law at university, but it was his passion for brewing that was to spur him on to create a dynamic new business.

Launched in November 2014, Lawman Brewing Co (www.lawmanbrew.co.uk), has been making a name for itself, with its core brands Pixel Bandit, Horizon and Weatherall IPA, going down a storm with customers.

“When I graduated I realised I didn’t want to become a lawyer so decided to go out and get a job,” said Craig.

“I worked for a leading craft brewer and also produced my own home brew which gave me a fantastic grounding to go out on my own.”

Like many of the new businesses, he’s taken advice from a Business Gateway adviser and found them to be supportive and helpful in many ways.

At least when Craig started his business, no-one thought he was ‘mad’.

But that was a common reaction to Jim Ewen’s decision to make and market his own rum.

It is now Scotland’s first and only rum distillery and he admits that his entry into the business was unusual, to say the least.

When rum distillers in the Dominican Republic refused to let him tour their facilities he decided it would be easier to produce his own.

Working alongside his brother, John, the duo have ploughed their life savings into building Dark Matters Distillers, Scotland’s first rum distillery, in Banchory, which produced its first bottle of spiced rum in May 2015.

Infused with fresh ginger, green peppercorns, allspice berries and long peppers, the rum is garnering rave reviews from consumers and connoisseurs – making all the blood, sweat and tears of the past four years worthwhile.

Jim, a former petroleum economist, said: “Getting to where we are now has not been easy but we are very proud of what we have achieved.

“Many people said we were mad to do this, but we have and we are very proud of our product.

“Early on we decided if we were doing a spiced rum that it would be ‘spicy’, and although it packs a punch it is very balanced.

“It’s now up to the consumer to decide if it’ll be a hit.”

He said: “Before we went on holiday to the Dominican Republic I had started thinking about branching out on my own so I was open to ideas, although this one did come out of the blue.

“I thought producing my own rum sounded like a brilliant business opportunity and if I didn’t try to do it I knew I’d regret it.”

Now the spiced rum is on sale, Jim and John will turn their attention to producing a white rum before setting aside casks to make aged dark rum.

There are many similar success stories across the country; Scotland produces 70 per cent of gin in the UK.

And its not just the big boys such as Hendricks, Tanqueray and Gordon’s.

The art of handcrafted gin-making is exploding, according to Gin Club Scotland.

It points out that while the amount of alcohol being drunk has levelled out, people are spending more on locally sourced ingredients and flavour innovation.

With such a burgeoning scene, all the comsumer has to do is be on the look out for that unique flavour that appeals most.

And that’s something we can all drink to.