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A striking image of Duffus Castle has been selected as the winner of the Benromach Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival Photography competition.

Outright winner John Macgregor Seasons - Frosty Morning at Duffus

Outright winner
John Macgregor
Seasons – Frosty Morning at Duffus

The stunning photograph showing the historic property on a frosty winter morning was taken by John Macgregor from Lossiemouth. Frosty Morning at Duffus was one of three images by Mr Macgregor to be shortlisted in the final of the competition – and all of them received prizes. He wins a five-day commission to capture the 2014 Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival on film, along with a cash prize, trophy, bottle of Benromach malt whisky and tickets for the prestigious opening night dinner.

Michael Urquhart, managing director of Gordon & MacPhail, the owners of Benromach Distillery, says the competition always attracts entries of a very high standard. “I was really impressed by each and every one of the entries this year,” he said. “The very high calibre never fails to amaze me. This was one of the most difficult years to judge because of the quality, and to determine an overall winner was a real challenge. Each of the entrants has really taken the theme to heart and delivered results far beyond our expectations. We asked for images that encapsulated the spirit of Speyside, and the entrants have certainly delivered.”

John Macgregor Abstract - Seaside Sculpture

John Macgregor
Abstract – Seaside Sculpture

James Campbell, chairman of the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, was delighted with the continuing success of the competition. “All of the entries this year have been superb,” he explained, “and John is a thoroughly deserving overall winner; his frosty morning shot of Duffus Castle captures the stunning pink hues of the sunrise. Not only does the competition put this beautiful part of the world on the map, but it also provides a platform for photographers whose work is exposed to thousands of people at the festival and at the viewing gallery online.”

Mr Macgregor’s shot – Seaside Sculpture – took the honours in the abstract category, while his photograph called Happy and Grumpy was runner-up in the people section. The runner-up in abstract was Gabriel Varga from Slovakia with her image, Out of Service – a photograph of an old red telephone box.

Alistair Petrie Seasons - Winter Pines

Alistair Petrie
Seasons – Winter Pines

In the category for seasons, Alistair Petrie from Carnoustie scooped first place with his Winter Pines image. The runner-up in this category was Helen Crowley from Elgin with Tattie Field. In the people category, the winning image of Tomnarieve – a farm worker overlooking a flock of sheep – was taken by Myrddin Irwin of Tomintoul.

The touring exhibition of the finalists’ photographs is currently at Benromach Distillery, but moved to the Grain to Glass Exhibition at St Giles’ Church in Elgin – another part of the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival – from Thursday, April 17.

The images will take pride of place at the Festival Hub in the Square at Dufftown for the duration of the Festival from May 1 – 5. They will go on tour at libraries across Moray in May and June, the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh from July, and back to Benromach in September.

The finalists’ photographs are currently on display online at www.spiritofspeyside.com and visitors to the site are asked to vote for their contender for the People’s Choice. The winner of this competition will be announced later in the year.

Myrddin Irwin People - Tomnarieve

Myrddin Irwin
People – Tomnarieve

The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, which is now in its 15th year, takes place at venues across the region. A signature event for Homecoming 2014, it will start Whisky Month – a four week national celebration of Scotland’s world class food and drink.

It will also launch a brand new event this year – The Spirit of Speyside Sessions – which aims to put to spotlight on the area’s traditional music heritage with concerts and ceilidhs being staged in venues closely linked to the whisky industry.

Tickets for all events in the 2014 Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival programme can be bought via the website. The Festival is also active on social media – facebook.com/WhiskyFestival and @spirit_speyside on Twitter.

By Mark Winskel, University of Edinburgh

Both the Scottish and UK governments have published new contributions on the energy and independence debate in recent days. Energy Secretary Ed Davey visited Edinburgh to coincide with the Department for Energy and Climate Change’s 100-page “command paper” on the subject.

It was far more substantial than the Scottish government’s 11-page publication, which was released two days before. For the Scottish media this was a headline news item, with both Davey and Fergus Ewing, his Scottish counterpart, giving interviews.

The UK government paper presents detailed arguments and cost estimates for the historic, current and future benefits to Scotland of being part of an integrated GB energy market. It emphasises that Scottish businesses and consumers enjoy substantial net benefits from being part of the UK.

For example, the costs of renewable energy subsidies are supported by all UK electricity bill payers, and almost 30% of the total goes to wind farms and other generators based in Scotland. This is despite the fact that Scotland accounts for only around 10% of UK electricity sales.

Grid and other benefits

DECC’s report points to similar benefits from supporting Scottish electricity grid investment (key for getting renewable energy to users further south) and subsidising remote and off-grid Scottish consumers.

As costs grow in the next few years to meet policy targets for decarbonisation and renewables expansion, DECC estimates that Scottish consumers would pay between £38 and £189 extra per head each year on their energy bills by 2020 if the country was independent.

Other costs and risks of independence are also set out: the threat posed to major Scottish-based but UK-funded public investments such as the Green Investment Bank, which is based in Edinburgh; and the proposed Peterhead carbon capture and storage demonstration plant – one of two in the UK earmarked for support through the UK Government’s £1 billion support fund (the other is in Yorkshire).

DECC also notes a broader problem of attracting capital for a newly independent small country – touching on the bigger issue of currency stability in the absence of a shared pound.

The Scottish response

The Scottish government’s statement is not a systematic and detailed counter to the UK government’s arguments. Instead it describes how Whitehall has mismanaged energy policy.

The Scottish government has to tread a delicate line here, arguing the failure of current arrangements while also noting successes such as the growth of the Scottish renewables sector and continued oil and gas revenues.

The main points of criticism are underinvestment and the looming capacity crunch in UK electricity supply; Conservative/Lib Dem divisions on energy policy leading to loss of investor confidence; and the UK’s costly commitment to new nuclear power stations.

The Scottish government claims its own approach to energy policy has been “clear and consistent”. In contrast to DECC’s arguments about the subsidy benefits to Scotland from GB market integration, this report talks about how the UK relies on Scotland to “keep the lights on” by acting as its energy reserve.

Compare and contrast

Read alongside each other, the Scottish paper is more selective and overtly political. There has been a lack of detail in the Scottish government’s statements on energy matters and independence to date, though that may change with the imminent report from the Scottish Regulatory Commission on Energy Regulation.

As with the currency question, the Scottish government essentially argues for continuity after independence: continued operation of an integrated GB market reflecting common interests in energy supply security and the growth of low carbon generation.

The UK government argues that independence would lead to losing the benefits of integration, with post-independence governments and regulators on each side of the border required by statute to serve self-interest rather than common interests.

Admittedly, this ignores wider factors. DECC argues the case for the benefits of scale and integration but at the same time the UK faces a possible withdrawal from the EU after the 2015 general election.

For the Scottish government, the largely unanswered question is: “What is Plan B if the UK government refuses to recognise the common interests in an energy partnership after independence?”

As with independence matters more generally, undecided voters are left frustrated by the absence in much of the public debate of a balanced and thorough analysis of the claims and counter claims.

This piece is one of two that The Conversation has published on this subject today. The other can be read here.

The Conversation

Mark Winskel receives funding from the EPSRC, NERC and ESRC. Mark’s views are his own and not those of the UK Energy Research Centre.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

By Peter Strachan, Robert Gordon University

The twin goals of UK energy policy should be to ensure security of supply for households and businesses, and to ensure the electricity we use is affordable. Unfortunately, the current UK coalition government is failing on both fronts.

In particular its flagship initiative, Electricity Market Reform, has led to a hiatus in energy investment. This is very bad news for England. In effect we are now seeing a critical reduction in our spare energy capacity, which will eventually see electricity costs spiral out of control. For London this might well mean the lights going out post-2015.

Self-sufficient Scotland

As Scotland exports approximately one quarter of the electricity it generates, this is not such a problem for Edinburgh. In recent years this has been bolstered by a truly world class renewables industry. Scotland now produces nearly the equivalent of 50% of its electricity from renewable energy sources such as onshore wind and hydro. This will increase to around 70% by 2017.

I strongly reject Ed Davey’s announcement that if Scotland votes yes then Scottish electricity bills would increase. This can be seen in a comprehensive report that I published with colleagues from a number of universities from across the United Kingdom in December.

To summarise some very complex arguments, as a result of the coalition government’s decision to fund new nuclear build, we found that a Scottish government committed to no nuclear build would actually see reductions in consumer electricity bills compared to the rest of the United Kingdom. Scottish consumers would not be subsidising the hundreds of billions of pounds of investment that new English nuclear power stations require.

DECC’s big budget drain

Already the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) spends £2.5 billion or 42% of its annual budget on existing nuclear legacy. Of that, £1.6bn is spent on managing the waste at Sellafield alone.

In its misguided aspirations the coalition government is now writing a blank cheque for new nuclear. At a time of unprecedented financial austerity this is somewhat astonishing.

Under no scenario can I see electricity bills in an independent Scotland increasing along the lines outlined by Ed Davey. Even without an integrated electricity market, Scotland would be able to sell its electricity to England at commercial rates. England currently has to resource much of its electricity requirement from Scotland; there is no alternative source for the majority of it. It is pure fantasy on the part of Ed Davey to suggest otherwise.

Scotland offers an excellent model of how to deliver a world-class energy policy. The coalition government could learn much from us.

This piece is one of two that The Conversation has published on this subject today. The other can be be read here.

The Conversation

Peter Strachan does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

A report from the Federation of Small Business (FSB) has claimed that Scotland has the worst mobile coverage in the UK. Citing the Scottish government’s own research, the organisation wants the planning rules relaxed to allow development which would boost coverage.

Andy Willox Change the rules to improve coverage

Andy Willox
Change the rules to improve coverage

Although the Government has said that it was “committed to improving mobile coverage in Scotland”, the evidence suggests that over a quarter of the country doesn’t enjoy adequate coverage. For the FSB, that isn’t good enough with Andy Willox, its Scottish policy convenor, insisting that good quality mobile phone coverage for businesses was not a luxury but a necessity.

“Too much of Scotland doesn’t have adequate mobile phone coverage,” he said. “Our members tell us that new technology will be vital to grow their business and our visitors tell us that they want to use their mobile devices if they’re in the centre of Edinburgh or on the Isle of Mull.

“We’re writing to the Scottish government backing their proposals to amend the planning system and improve Scotland’s levels of connectivity. But that can’t be the end of the story. Businesses and their customers across Scotland want better coverage and we must see bold action to ensure that no part of the country is left behind. It is unacceptable that a quarter of Scotland doesn’t even have a 2G signal.”

Coverage in some rural areas can be very poor

Coverage in some rural areas can be very poor

The evidence comes from a Scottish government report, published last autumn, which acknowledged that more than a quarter of the country had 2G coverage that was either “fair” or “poor”. What that means is that users would find the signal was “insufficient for good quality connection”. By combining data from a number of sources such the Scottish Ambulance Service and Scotrail, it also reached the conclusion that the majority of Scotland’s land mass lacked good quality 3G coverage.

Mr Willox went on to say that the figures suggested that “Scotland has the worst coverage amongst UK nations. We must get to grips with this problem before our businesses lose out to better connected competitors and visitors don’t come to Scotland for fear of being cut off from the rest of the planet.”

In a statement, the Scottish Government said it was “committed to improving mobile coverage in Scotland. Achieving widespread 4G coverage, whilst ensuring that the gap between those who do not receive 3G or even 2G services does not widen, is a priority. The proposals will encourage operators to make use of existing sites.”

mobile phone research

There’s been a lot of discussion over the future of North Sea Oil during the debate on independence. The ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ camps clearly take partisan views on this valuable asset. It’s not often therefore that we see an impartial assessment – but one has just been published in a magazine called TCE (The Chemical Engineer).

Scotland would get 85% of North Sea Oil production, though there is a disputed area

Scotland would get 85% of North Sea Oil production, though there is a disputed area

The author, Sanjoy Sen, is not only a chemical engineer working as a consultant development engineer but he has also recently completed an LLM in oil and gas law at the University of Aberdeen.

As he points out, “A ‘yes’ in the referendum would see Scotland gain independence for the first time in 300 years. In the midst of a polarised debate on the need to split or stay united, there are questions to be answered on what effects independence would have on the North Sea oil & gas industry. If Scotland’s first minister Alex Salmond is correct, Scotland could finalise its separation from the UK as early as 2016, leaving those in and around the sector with what would feel like two short years to address a number of critical issues.”

These ‘critical issues’ include working out exactly where the boundary between the Scottish and English sections of the North Sea would lie. They also include serious decisions for a future Scottish Government about how to deal with what he describes as ‘external pressures’. As he explains, “’It’s Scotland’s oil’ proved an emotive SNP slogan in the 1970s but in today’s debate, the Scottish government recognises the importance of stability. To encourage continued investment, the government plans to engage with industry and to honour existing licences post-independence.”

He goes on: “There is likely to be influence from outside of the UK as recent buyouts of Nexen and Talisman have given China control of 10% of UKCS production. Aside from profits disappearing abroad, concerns have been expressed over external political pressures. Investment decisions by multi-nationals, comparing projects across their global portfolios, could also have a major impact on Scotland. Government intervention helped to resolve the recent Ineos Grangemouth dispute and prevent the site from closing down. Post-independence, such infrastructure would become even more critical; industrial action, unplanned outages or severe weather could cause major disruption to the national economy.”

This is an important article and deserves wider attention. To read it in full, follow the link above.

The “Energiewende” (energy transformation) has been in the news again here. The basic problem is the rising cost of energy for consumers, both private and industrial, who are already paying among the highest prices in Europe. It is a particularly German problem and is an unfortunate reward for the heroic efforts to shift Europe’s largest population and largest economy on to a renewables trajectory.

Renewables now account for 25% of German energy

Renewables now account for 25% of German energy

Since 2000 the share of power generation from renewable sources has increased from just over 5% to nearly 25% of the total. Germany invented the feed-in tariff which created stable returns for the necessarily long term investment in generating assets, usually at least 20 years.

The purpose of the payment mechanism was to kick-start the sector until grid parity was achieved ie non-subsidised renewable energy would be competitive with energy derived from fossil fuels. Now 50% of new renewable projects in Germany are competitive at least in theory but the problem is the mostly intermittent nature of their electricity production. So the impact of renewables on the German energy market is now disruptive – but not in a good way.

Germany is not suffering a recession as elsewhere in Europe and it is only this current comfortable economic position which has kept the natives quiet. A system which has allowed large energy users to claim exemption from paying their share of the renewable energy subsidy has not met with the public opposition that you would expect. However, as retail energy prices continue to rise, it is inconceivable that that there will be no backlash as prices are already much higher than in the UK.

Energy crisis for Bavaria? (The Breakthrough Institute)

Energy crisis for Bavaria?
(The Breakthrough Institute)

In 2011 the Energiewende was extended to include the complete shutdown of nuclear generation by 2022. This is an astounding commitment given that, for example, in Bavaria nuclear contributes over 40% of the state’s energy mix. To replace nuclear energy the large utilities which want to provide the baseload for the grid by investing in efficient gas turbines cannot see the prospect of sufficient returns on their investment in an unpredictable market. With an imminent prospect of shortages and blackouts it is not difficult to imagine the nervousness in the boardrooms of the huge industrial groups such as Siemens, BMW and MAN which all have large manufacturing plants here. The pressure on local politicians is intense and there is a potential risk that the anti-nuclear policy will be rejected or delayed.

A further complication is that the German CO2 emissions have increased to 1990’s levels as coal-fired power stations are boosted to compensate for the 8 nuclear facilities which have already been closed. Unfortunately lignite, which is mined in Germany and is cheap, is one of the dirtiest fossil fuels. The German government’s ambition to achieve a 40% reduction in carbon emissions by 2020 is under threat.

The situation is certainly difficult but Germans do tend to put a negative spin on things. Looking on the bright side the last decades of commitment to renewable energy and energy efficiency improvements has created a huge competitive advantage for German companies in these fields. Most of the big wind turbine manufacturers are German and there is a host of mid-sized (“Mittelstand”) companies which are exporting their expertise in these areas to international markets. For example, in the field of industrial energy efficiency manufacturers are 10 years ahead of the global competition.

The Energiewende has created over 500,000 new jobs and secured many more. At the same time the feed-in tariff model has been “exported” to over 60 countries worldwide including the UK and is driving the renewable energy revolution in overseas markets. Germany has provided a great example of what can be achieved by long term commitment to policies to combat climate change. And, given the success story of the rebuilding and revitalizing of eastern Germany over the last 25 years, the chances are that the challenges of the energy transformation will be overcome.

The once stereotypical image of men in tweed conjured up by the words ‘whisky drinker’ is long gone in the drink’s spiritual home.

Lauren (left) and Steph Murray

Lauren (left) and Steph Murray

There is nothing new about the number of Scottish women who enjoy sipping our national drink, and in recent years there has been a sharp rise in the number of females breaking into a traditionally male-dominated industry by taking on key production and management roles.

But sisters Steph and Lauren Murray have taken their passion for the amber nectar to a whole new level. Along with their parents Michael and Marie, they have turned their backs on the bright lights of Glasgow to buy a hotel in rural Speyside with the aim of turning it into one of the country’s leading destinations for whisky lovers.

Steph (28) and Lauren (23) took over at the helm of The Dowans Hotel in Aberlour last year after being won over by its location in the heart of Scotland’s most famous whisky producing region. Speyside is home to more whisky distilleries than any other part of the country, including internationally renowned brands such as Glenfiddich, The Glenlivet and The Macallan.

Steph found herself working in the hospitality sector while studying for a degree in international politics and human rights at the University of Glasgow. Unable to find work after completing her studies, she stayed on at the city’s prestigious One Devonshire Gardens and was offered a role as a supervisor.

The gardens at the Dowans Hotel

The gardens at the Dowans Hotel

“Working in a hotel was never something I thought about as a career option, but I really enjoyed it – even more so when I became part of the management team,” explains Steph.

“It’s probably fair to say that a lot of young people think about jobs in the hospitality industry as something to do to get by while at university. But as time went on I realised how much potential there was to develop professionally and to go beyond traditional student roles like working behind the bar.

“Things changed when my dad took early retirement three years ago. He could see how many hours I was working and while the experience I was getting was invaluable, the monetary benefit didn’t match. He also knew that Lauren, who was studying international hospitality and event management at Edinburgh, was also going to face difficulties getting work when she finished her degree.

“That’s when, as a family, we came up with the idea of buying a hotel that Lauren and I would run together, operating to the high standards that we had both set for ourselves.”

Lauren adds, “We had always enjoyed family holidays in the Highlands when we were young, so we were naturally drawn here in our search. We wanted to own somewhere we had a real passion for, and which we could share with the local community.

Bistro and bedrooms have been refurbished

Bistro and bedrooms have been refurbished

“We fell in love with The Dowans from the moment we saw it. It had a good reputation as being a country sports hotel, but we could see the potential straight away to develop something really special for whisky tourism. We made it our aim from day one to build relationships with the local distilleries.”

Over the past 10 months the family has been carrying out an ambitious refurbishment programme. Many bedrooms and the bistro have been overhauled – a second fine dining restaurant called Spé was opened in February – but one key change is yet to happen.

They plan to remove the bar from its current location in a snug lounge, and move it to another part of the hotel where the already huge collection of single malt and blended whisky from Speyside – and beyond – will be expanded even further.

Spirit of Speyside Festival

Spirit of Speyside Festival

Visitors and locals alike have been raising a glass to the investment and of their commitment to supporting the whisky industry: the hotel is fully booked during the region’s biggest celebration of all things malt – the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival.

The Festival, which takes place this year from May 1-5, is largely regarded as one of the world’s must-do whisky events. Last year it had 32,000 visits to events and generated £1.65m for the local economy – a figure which could be smashed this year as ticket sales look on course to break records.

The Dowans will be hosting five events during the Festival. A venison and whisky pairing has already sold out, while only a few tickets remain for its two luxury whisky dinners and two whisky tasting sessions, where there will also be a discussion on collectible malts.

“Whisky is huge here, and on top of developing our skills in hospitality we’ve also had to learn about the industry so that we can share it and educate our visitors,” says Lauren.

“We are so excited about the Festival – we couldn’t believe it when one of our events sold out within hours of tickets going on sale. We’ll be welcoming lots of people who are really passionate and enthusiastic about whisky, so it will be an excellent opportunity for us to test our own knowledge.

“I didn’t think I would have to learn a whole new topic so soon after my degree, but it shows that there is always scope to grow and learn new things in every career.

“We’ve currently got 150 malts in our collection and Steph has been preparing her own tasting notes to share with guests. We’ll be expanding the range when we move the bar into its new location, so there will be a whole new set of malts to discover.”

Steph adds, “I think people are genuinely quite intrigued by the changes that are going on at The Dowans. People are always a surprised when they find out that a hotel built on the country sports and whisky tourism is being run by two relatively young girls.

“We’ve never been daunted by the scale of what we’ve taken on, just very excited. I think aiming to achieve more, being ambitious and never being afraid of a challenge are key pieces of career advice, regardless of the industry you work in.”

Tickets for all events in the 2014 Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival – a key event in Homecoming 2014 which will kick off Whisky Month in May – can be bought via the website www.spiritofspeyside.com The Festival is also active on social media – facebook.com/WhiskyFestival and @spirit_speyside on Twitter.

A budget review, business coaching, guidance on applying for research and development tax credits and a fair sprinkling of networking will all be on offer at the inaugural meeting of the Institute of Financial Accountants (IFA) Scottish branch meeting this month. Professionals involved in accountancy, finance and tax in Scotland as well as IFA and Federation of Tax Advisers (FTA) members are welcome to attend the event, to be held at the Craiglockhart Campus of Napier Edinburgh University, on Wednesday 9th of April.

Justine Riccomini

Justine Riccomini

Justine Riccomini, who chairs the IFA’s Scottish branch, said that the organisation was “held in great esteem in the profession and at this inaugural branch meeting we will addressing some of the most pressing issues currently faced by accountants and tax advisers.”

The inaugural branch meeting, which is scheduled to run from 4.00pm to 8.00pm, will feature a range of high profile speakers discussing the Budget, business coaching advice from How2 Business Coaching and guidance from leading specialists Jumpstart on applying for and securing R&D tax credits from HMRC.

“It promises to be an exceptionally useful session and I am urging as many as possible of the IFA and FTA’s hundreds of members in Scotland to attend”, said Mrs Riccomini.

The IFA, “the voice of the SME”, is the internationally recognised professional accountancy membership body, whose members work for SMEs, or who run or work in small and medium-sized accounting practices (SMPs) that advise SMEs. It supports more than 10000 members and students in more than 80 countries with a programme of professional qualifications and education, as well as resources, events, training and seminars.

HBJ Gateley’s corporate restructuring partner, Tim Cooper, has been named as the new chair for Scotland of R3, the insolvency trade association.

Tim Cooper

Tim Cooper

In accepting the appointment, he called on the profession in Scotland to lead the debate on issues affecting insolvency and business restructuring reform, and noted the extensive work which R3 does throughout the UK and in Scotland.

Tim, who will serve as chair in Scotland for an initial period of three years, said: “The ability of the insolvency profession in Scotland to make its voice heard is a key part of making sure businesses are able to receive good advice at what is often a very difficult time. R3 in Scotland hosts meetings of its members, from accountancy, legal and financial backgrounds, to debate the key issues for the profession and the Scottish economy they work in.

“HBJ Gateley will be working more with R3 in Scotland to ensure the insolvency profession continues to lead and contribute to the debate at a critical time for Scotland. Ongoing improvement of insolvency practice is a worthwhile aim, which should always be measured, appropriate, and in conjunction with industry experts. The Scottish insolvency profession has a deservedly-excellent reputation and I’m keen that R3 assists its practitioners in contributing fully to the future development of the sector.”

HBJ GateleyTim also called on younger professionals to get involved with R3.

He said: “There are some very talented people coming through the ranks of the insolvency profession, and they bring a lot of new ideas and different perspectives which will be very valuable.

“R3 is a place to debate and discuss the big issues which will shape the future of the insolvency profession, and I’m very much looking forward to chairing for R3 in Scotland over the next three years.”

Finding the right kind of help[/caption]An Edinburgh entrepreneur has launched a drinks business that pledges a fifth of all profits to Forces and Veterans charities.

Chris Gillan Wanted to give something back

Chris Gillan
Wanted to give something back

Military veteran Chris Gillan, has established Heroes Drinks – which through the sale of its vodka, not only gives back to the British Military Forces, but will also employ veterans, including those with disabilities caused by service.

Based in Leith, Heroes Drinks was a concept thought up by 34 year old Chris, after he left the military after nine years in service. In 2010, with help from a friend he served with, Chris found a supplier and started developing his premium 37.5% vodka.

“The idea for Heroes came about after meeting the father of a friend of mine, who had worked in the wholesale alcohol trade for more than 30 years,” said Chris. “I wanted to create a business that produced a quality product, but also gave back to the Forces and veterans – and after getting some advice about the industry and suppliers, Heroes Drinks was formed.”

After working with a drinks manufacturer and flavour technologists to create a product that ‘reflected the high standards that are synonymous with the British Military,’ Heroes Vodka was trialled at the 20th anniversary of the Royal Logistics Corps at the Price William of Gloucester Barracks in April of last year.

“The 20th anniversary celebrations in Grantham, was the first public outing for Heroes Vodka, and while most people might think it would be an ‘easy’ test run, as I was in the company of friends, it was still a fraught time,” he explained. “The product went down exceptionally well with everyone, but I just wasn’t happy with the packaging – so after doing some research on my own, I decided I needed to partner with an expert to help with that element, and to undertake sensory analysis of the product. That’s when I approached Interface, who helped to identify an academic expert at the University of Abertay, and advised on funding options that would help pay for the research I needed,” he said.

Louise Arnold Interface Finding the right kind of help

Louise Arnold Interface
Finding the right kind of help

Interface – The knowledge connection for business – is a free service which connects businesses to expertise available within Scottish academia and pinpoints funding opportunities that are available, in order to help stimulate innovation and growth in the Scottish economy.

Interface advised Chris that he would be eligible for a £5,000 Innovation Voucher that would cover the costs of the research he wanted to undertake with Abertay, and in January this year a three month Market, Consumer and Sensory Analysis project got underway.

“I wasn’t aware that I could access the kind of help Interface gave me. They put me in contact with experts in the field I work in, and told me what funding I could apply for. Being able to access funding through the Innovation Voucher Scheme has meant I’ve been able to, with expert help from Jennifer Bryson at Food Innovation at Abertay, test Heroes Vodka to an extent I hadn’t previously considered. Not only have we looked at consumer acceptability in relation to branding, price and taste, but we’ve utilised state of the art consumer eye tracking technology as well,” he said.

Louise Arnold, Project Executive, at Interface added: “Heroes Drinks is just the type of company that we are trying to help. Not in terms of sector, as we work across a multitude of industries, but in terms of what Chris is trying to achieve for the business. Being able to source the right academic to help him undertake a research project that will help grow the company and boost sales, is ultimately what we are here to help businesses do.

“Regardless of company size, Interface can help match businesses to the right expert in a Scottish University, and advise on the best source of funding available to complete that project,” she said.

Chris Gillan concluded: “At the moment, Heroes is mainly sold online, with the majority of sales being business to business; so all of the information that we’ve gleaned from working with the University of Abertay will help us make a much stronger case when it comes to discussions about stocking our brand in supermarkets. And the more shelves we can get Heroes Vodka on, the more money goes back to British Forces charities and the more veterans we can employ.”