Hi Charlotte and Michael, thank you both for taking the time to share your story with us. Can you introduce yourselves to our readers?
Hi, ok our story:
A true Jura boy, born and raised here on our beautiful island. Aside from a short period of time spent on the mainland whilst doing a joinery apprenticeship, Michael has always lived here. He currently works full-time for Jura Whisky for a number of years. He is also a volunteer fireman on the island, part of the Jura Music festival committee and last but by no means least is the drummer in the local band Pete Smoke and the Roaches (local but they do get bookings off island too).
Originally from Jersey, living there until 18 when I left to go to university in Edinburgh. I basically never left and have lived in Scotland ever since. Charlotte’s full time job is running the accounting firm that she (along with her business partner) launched in 2010, Mint Accounting. Before moving to Scotland, when she was a young teenager, Charlotte started coming to Jura with her best friend whose family lived on the island.
It was all those years ago that we first met, though back then we were more interested in sliding down muddy hills and debating (arguing) anything that was going on in the world, than we were in each other. This all changed in 2018 when Charlotte came over for the Jura Music Festival, this is where we became more than friends. Within weeks of going home Charlotte returned for a date…a date that lasted 2 weeks…it didn’t take long for me to pack my bags and move over for good. With a soul that has always been in Jura it wasn’t even a decision I thought twice about.
Michael, what was it like growing up on the Island? And has it changed much over the years?
I have come to realise that growing up on jura was a total blessing and I feel very privileged to have spent my childhood here. Its hard to recognise the freedoms that we had until you grow up and talk to people from different backgrounds.
Doors are typically left open and summers were spent outdoors up in the hills or out on the water with friends and family. Barbeques, beach parties and football are all fond memories as are the local regatta and sports days.
Winter months were also great with local ceilidhs in the village hall bracing walks on the beach and getting cosy by the fire in the evenings with the added bonus of the occasional day off secondary school when the weather was too wild for the ferry to run.
The idea of Deer Island Distillers, came about in a conversation you had together in 2019, can you share a bit more about this, what led you to that idea, and the steps you took to turn the idea into reality?
Our memories of our decision to start the business are slightly vague and looking back we probably did it on a bit of whim. The first conversation we had was walking Archie (Michaels parents dog) on the beach and he mentioned he had always been interested in producing rum. We were newly together and in that phase where you tell your partner all your life hopes and dreams! Anyway that conversation must have sparked something in both of our minds as a few weeks later whilst on the ferry to the mainland we discussed it again and decided why not try?
Michael has always wanted to create something sustainable, including jobs, for our island family and maybe this offered us the chance to do that. Charlotte loves new business so running something different seemed like a fun idea. So there and then on the ferry Charlotte incorporated the business. A couple of days later on a train we started thinking about branding, found something that we thought was inspiring and messaged our designer friend Mark to see if he fancied getting involved with the business. From there we got in touch with another scottish rum distiller to see if they would distill for us initially and well that’s really it. (it isn’t at all as there was lots of compliance related work to be done but that is quite boring!)
How has the business developed over the last 2 years, are there any stand-out moments that you would like to share?
The pandemic….we had not long worked out a contract with a small distiller on mainland Scotland to produce rum for us (to date we have distilled onsite but the still is on order and we will be doing this from Spring) when the pandemic started. Michael had started recipe testing and we had already taken on our premises. The fact we hadn’t gotten too far in the first year was a blessing in disguise. We didn’t have large overheads or orders to meet so financially we were able to just sit tight. Charlotte was indescribably busy with her accounting firm at the start of the pandemic so we really feel we got lucky but most people this will always be a moment we never forget.
It was January 2021 before we really managed to shift some focus back to the rum. Michael finished recipe testing and Charlotte rushed to get licensing etc sorted and we somehow managed to launch our first batch 5 months later in May 2021. This really is a stand out moment for us as it felt like such a big achievement. We held an ‘open day’ for locals and people came over from Islay etc and it was just amazing. In fact it went so much better than we expected. We sold out in a few weeks and were in a rush to the next batch. This was basically the story of our summer, everytime we launched a batch it sold out in a couple of weeks. We couldn’t keep up with demand and this was before we even sold online. We didn’t anticipate it and only writing this now do we realise how much of an achievement this was. We will however be much more prepared for the 2022 tourist season!
What makes Deer Island Distillers Rum unique to other spiced rums?
We firmly believe that we have created a spiced rum that has its own unique flavour profile.
From aging the rum in casks in our home next to the sea in small isles bay to the soft jura water that we use to make the rum it helps the drinker to feel in touch with our island.
Our spice blend also has a couple of secret ingredients that are certainly not typical in the world of spiced rum and bring a bold rich flavour to any glass or cocktail.
The community and the visitors who come to stay on Jura will most likely understand the reasoning behind the name ‘Deer Island’, but please can you explain why you chose this name and what it means?
The name Jura or Diùra dates from the Norse-Gael era and means ‘deer island’. We are the island of Deer with an estimated 5000 of those to around 250 of us!
You mention on your website that Jura itself is at the centre of everything you do at Deer Island Distillers, what in your words makes Jura so special, and how does it inspire you to do what you do so well?
There are so many special things about Jura but at the core of it all is the culture; the sharing of music, stories, resources and the ‘craic’ are what makes it such a special place. People being good to each other, having fun and being playful, whilst surrounded by your friends and for the lucky ones your family too. We get to do all of this whilst living in and embracing our natural environment. A natural environment that can be quite wild in the winter yet glorious in the summer.
This culture inspires us to:
Support the growth of all small Jura businesses, just as they support us.
We collaborate with The Island Bakehouse on a regular basis. In season Kirsty uses our rum raisins (by product of our production) to produce breads, cakes and anything she can for us to sell in store. This winter we launched a ‘Coffee and craic’ event with her to bring something else to the island for people to do and to give us all another opportunity to catch up and have fun.
We have run pop up shops with Jura Brewery and retail their beer for them whilst they wait for their own premises to get up and running.
The girls at Lussa Gin have assisted us a lot along the way and knowing their story and the challenges they have faced has inspired us to push forward and grow in the hope of achieving even half of what they have.
We work with Spirited Soaps, (an Islay based business but Gemma the owners lives on Jura) and they produce soaps for us using the spice mix that comes out of the rum (another by-product).
It’s inspired us to support individuals in the community. We want to offer employment opportunities wherever we can. We pay our employees (well one at the moment) what we believe to be a fair wage and which we call an ‘island living wage’. Living on the islands does actually increase the cost of living somewhat. With all produce and goods having to travel here one way or another this always comes at extra cost to both business and individuals. Not to mention that to do anything we have to travel on ferries and drive hundreds of miles.
Lastly but by no means least our love for the island really does drive us to share this with whoever we can. It’s why we name our batches after locations on the island and share videos, photos and stories about these places. It’s important to us that we share this magical place with the world.
Each batch of rum you have distilled is named after a place on Jura, (Batch 1 – Corran, Batch 2 – Craighouse, Batch 3 – Lowlandmans Bay, Batch 4 – Sannaig, and most recently Batch 5 – Ardlussa) out of these locations, do you have a favourite place to visit? What makes it so special to you?
Well our favourite place is the beach at Corran, but we live there so we aren’t actually visiting. Corran is so beautiful. One a nice day when the sea is still, the beach is stunning and if you swing round to face away from the sea there is a view of the paps. It is a really good place to take the beauty of Jura in.
Community is very much at the heart of Jura, can you tell us what it is like to be a part of this tight-knit hub?
The community on Jura is just fantastic and they have been incredibly supportive of our new business, as they are with all businesses on the island. It’s a totally different vibe to the mainland (though many of the islands will be the same) in that everyone says hi to each other, it’s basically a rule that you need to wave as anyone goes past you. The community are great at looking out for each other, if someone has a problem or needs help with something then someone is always willing to help.
It is a rare and lovely thing to know pretty much everyone by name, and it feeds into a collective feeling of safety and security which you just can’t buy. It is challenging at times not to have anonymity but ultimately it helps to build a community that really cares about each other (directly or indirectly!). You are accountable for your actions and it makes you feel like everything you do, or don’t do, is meaningful in some way. You are friends with people that are different to you and that makes for a vibrant and enriching way of life.
This leads nicely into asking about your mission to support your island community through Deer Island Distillers and was this something you knew you wanted to do right at the start of building your business?
Supporting the island and giving back to the community is a key part of our mission. Not only do we want to create jobs and an environmentally sustainable business that doesn’t impact our surroundings, we believe it’s our duty to spend time and where necessary money to allow the community to achieve goals. Whether that’s supporting other businesses through collaboration, mending a fence for someone, assisting in beach cleans or donating to local causes – we want to be doing everything we can. Amy’s role includes time for her to spend working on things within the community but she works part time and has to assist us with day to day so we are still quite far from hitting our ultimate goal of employing someone to focus full time on community related projects. That said we will continue to build on what we have in place now.
What would you say is the best way to drink your rum? Would you recommend pairing it with anything in particular?… To make it even more special, where on Jura would you say is the perfect setting to enjoy a glass or two?
So….we recommend you enjoy it neat – at least to start with!
If you want to mix it, our perfect serve is with Bon Accord’s Grapefruit Soda. This changes the drink somewhat and creates a very refreshing drink – we see this as our summer BBQ drink!
Michael will mix with a variety of drinks but one of his recommendations would be tonic! Rum and tonic may sound wild but it is something a little different and as we are living in the age of gin (hopefully soon to be rum) most people will have tonic at home.
Charlotte and Amy are a little more fancy…and love cocktails. For Charlotte it would be a mojito, this is hands down her favourite way to drink Deer Island Rum. Amy is partial to an espresso martini for which the rum works a treat; you just swap the normal vodka measure (s) for rum. Really we would suggest trying your normal favourite drink with rum rather than your normal spirit of choice. Preferably our rum but give it small batch rum a go. The world of rum has changed so much that we think everyone should go back and give small batch a go!
To the readers who are thinking about visiting the island, how would you describe its character and what would you recommend doing while there?
To us, Jura’s character is lively, spirited, true and lasting.
There is so much to recommend, but our highlights would be to visit the 3 distilleries (us, lussa gin and Jura whisky), get yourself to Corran beach and have a go on the batphone or have a dip in the sea, climb a pap if you’re feeling adventurous, check out the photographic exhibition in the back of the church in Craighouse to learn about Jura’s history, strike up a conversation with a resident in the infamous Jura bar to learn of mischievous days gone by, stargaze on a clear night, watch a sunrise from the pier, listen to the wakeup call of the birds… the list goes on and a lifetime wouldn’t be enough!
What are people’s most common misconceptions about Island life? And what would you say it’s really like?
That there is nothing to do! It’s probably the most common misconception, people thinking we must all be bored (or boring) as there is ‘nowhere to go and nothing to do’. In fact there are so many places to go and so much to do, all the time. Jura’s land mass is huge and though we only have one hotel/pub and one cafe, oh and three distilleries (whisky, gin and our rum) that there is so much more exploring to be done. There is also a lot to do that people who don’t live on islands won’t know about. Everything that happens on the island from the children’s play group through to beach cleans, christmas markets and even the Jura Music festival, are all organised by residents who volunteer to sit on committees. Making life happen here takes a conscious. effort by the community. Many residents also live outside the village and have to look after their own land and house, with private water supplies and some houses that aren’t even connected to the electricity grid.