When Masterchef Professionals finalist Dean Banks was looking for the perfect house pour gin for his restaurant and couldn’t find it he decided to create his own, and his creation offers retailers a great opportunity to expand their Scottish gin range with a Platinum Award-winning option.
By Antony Begley
We’ve been talking for long enough about when the gin bubble is going to burst but summer after summer the category continues to deliver for retailers – and this summer looks set to be no different.
While flavoured gins are driving most growth, there is also increasing interest in locally, regionally and nationally sourced gins. Local retailers in Scotland are fortunate on that front, with an extensive range of fantastic quality Scottish gins available to them. One of these is Lunun Gin, the creation of Scottish chef Dean Banks, possibly best known for being a finalist in the Masterchef: The Professionals TV show in 2018.
Lunun Gin recently received a Platinum Award in the Scottish Retail Food & Drink Awards where it was described by the judges as “a work of art in every sense”.
The story of how the gin came to be is an inspiring one. Banks, who now operates the chain of outstanding Haar restaurants – two in St Andrews and one in Edinburgh – explains: “It all started when we were looking for a Scottish gin to become our house pour in Haar. We bought every bottle of Scottish gin we could find and while many were fantastic, none of them were exactly what I was looking for.”
Banks admits that the one that came closest was Harris Gin, but being something of a perfectionist, ‘close’ wasn’t close enough. “So I decided to create my own gin to my own precise specifications!” he laughs. Banks had an old school friend in his hometown Arbroath who was an experienced distiller; they quickly set about helping the chef transform his dream into a delicious, liquid reality.
“In my head, I wanted the gin to be a reflection of my cooking. At the restaurants we always hero Scottish produce, but we try to give our dishes a twist. So I wanted to do the same with the gin. I’m proud to be Scottish and I’m proud of Scotland’s natural produce so I wanted to make something with a Scottish heart.”
That twist that Dean gives to his dishes, and the one he wanted to give to his gin, was an Asian one. He says: “I have travelled extensively in Asia and there’s something about that fusion of top quality Scottish ingredients with more exotic flavours that just works. With that in mind, I drew up a list of botanicals that I wanted to try and drove to the Chinese supermarket and picked them all up. I wasn’t at all sure that they would work because some of them didn’t instinctively seem like obvious choices. We used things like kaffir lime leaf, kombu kelp and Sichuan peppercorns.”
The result? “It was astonishing,” enthuses Dean. “We nailed it first time! We tried a variety of percentage mixes and a variety of ABVs from 39% to 45% and it was the 41% version that was the sweet spot, strong enough to hold the flavour but not to overpower it.”
The fact that Dean’s Lunun Gin won a Platinum Award at the Scottish Retail Food & Drink Awards shows that the expert judges agreed.
Dean’s attention to detail, however, extended far beyond just the liquid. Lunun’s bottle and label were described by the judges as “a work of art”.
“When we were designing the label, I wanted it to look distinctive on the shelf or the gantry and I wanted it to reflect the character of the gin itself,” explains Dean. “The label is actually a stylised view of Lunun Bay, a place where I spent a lot of time as a child. And in the logo we subtly incorporated two kaffir lime leaves and Sichuan peppercorns.”
Lunun Gin finally went on sale for the first time in October 2019 and has gone on to secure listings in a number of wholesale, retail and hospitality outlets. Winning a Platinum Scottish Retail Food & Drink Award can only help Banks share his creation with an even wider audience.
“I was absolutely delighted to win the Platinum award,” he concludes. “Particularly because it was a blind judging done by a panel of experienced, expert drinks industry specialists. Scotland boasts some of the best gins in the world, in my opinion, so to come out top against that sort of competition is just wonderful.”
Though Banks did admit to taking a brief moment out to celebrate his win with a glass of his award-winning gin, he was quickly back at work. After the challenges of lockdown, he is now in the process of opening two new restaurants, one in St Andrews and one in Edinburgh – and Platinum award-winning Lunun Gin will no doubt be a star attraction on the drinks list.