Wild Thyme Spirit's Story
Taste of Place Trails Stories
Before they were ever distillers or small business owners – or islanders, even – Eileen Geekie and her husband Fin were gin lovers. They had been living and working in Oxfordshire for over thirty years, developing successful careers – Eileen in human resources and Fin in property development – and raising a family.
Curiosity and ginspiration
Eileen jokes that they got into gin at the beginning of the “gin revolution”, as she calls it, when there were still very few craft distilleries up and running. They visited a gin festival in London, which featured about eighty craft distillers, including a couple of Scottish craft gin makers. They met lots of interesting people, Eileen says, and were inspired by the stories of other people without backgrounds in the drinks industry who had set up gin businesses, and were making delicious gin. “We just thought it was pretty amazing what they were doing”, Eileen tells me, and says they left feeling inspired to give gin-making a go. Fin, who is “always very curious”, according to his wife, enrolled on a long-distance course in gin making and started experimenting with the distillation process.
Setting up home, and a business
While all this gin experimentation was going on, the couple had bought land on the island of Colonsay on which to build a holiday home. They were both getting increasingly disenchanted with their 9 to 5 lives; commuting was taking its toll, their children had grown up and left home and they were increasingly feeling a pull back towards their native Scotland. They decided they needed a change, so they sold up down south and moved their life up to Colonsay, to live permanently in their new home, with ambitions of starting a distillery of their own.
Once settled on the island, Eileen and Fin enlisted the help of a master distiller from Strathearn Distillery who helped them develop the recipe for their Colonsay Gin. For the first twelve months Strathearn distilled the gin third party, while the couple worked on setting up a distillery of their own. A year on, they had kitted out their island distillery and brought the full production of the gin to Colonsay, with the gin being made, bottled and shipped from the island.
The house that Fin and Eileen had built for themselves was big for just two people, so they decided that alongside crafting their gin they would open it up to welcome guests on gin retreat weekends, where they could share their passion for the spirit and their beautiful island home. They now host weekend gin retreats, where visitors arrive on a Friday evening and stay until Sunday, with gin cocktails on arrival. On the Saturday they have a formal gin tasting, enjoying Colonsay Gin alongside different gins from the couple’s personal collection of over 200 bottles, as well as the opportunity to see inside the distillery itself. Guests also have time to explore the island, taking in its beautiful scenery and its wildlife, to truly relax and immerse themselves in their tranquil surroundings
Fin has Hebridean connections going back to his childhood, with his family holidays spent on Colonsay’s northerly neighbour, Tiree. Then, when he met Eileen, the couple travelled there together, subsequently bringing their own children and family friends on holidays. Their move to Colonsay was inspired by a lifetime of memories created on the Scottish isles. “Colonsay found us”, Eileen says, after their search led them to an old plot which would eventually become their home.
Eileen and Fin made a conscious decision, Eileen says, that they wanted to be able to create consistency in flavour with their gin, steering away from foraging for botanicals on the island which was the trend at the time. The flavour profile that the couple favoured was more classical and didn’t lend itself to using plants which grew wild on Colonsay. They instead chose to use Celtic motifs and legends associated with the island to give it its sense of place, with their household brownies, or “Uruisg”, to give them their proper gaelic name, adorning the bottle and their Wild Thyme Spirits logo. The gin still has island life very much at its core, with Eileen and Fin running the business and distilling the gin entirely themselves, and collaborating with other islanders – their spent botanicals are used to dye wool on the farm up the road. They collaborate further afield, too, with their gins being used in fruit preserves made in Oxfordshire by direct descendants of the first Laird of Colonsay, and tomatoes for their Red Snapper being grown on the Isle of Wight.
It is evident that a pure passion and love for gin runs through everything that Eileen and Fin do at Wild Thyme Spirits, from their carefully distilled range of gins to their weekends spent welcoming fellow gin lovers into their home. Their escape from a busy life in the south of England seems to have paid off, with their life on Colonsay now reflecting their true passions in life and allowing them to enjoy island life. Their enthusiasm for craft gin hasn’t waned in the five years since they embarked on this journey, and they have plenty of it to go around.