Heritage and history are what brought 24-year-old entrepreneur Helen Stewart back to work at her Highland Perthshire home and those same elements are what instil such a crisp, palpable uniqueness to her 100% hand-foraged gin.
Celebrating the countryside from which it is made, Badvo Gin is quite literally steeped in authenticity. Micro-distilled in a converted outbuilding on her family’s Pitlochry farm, every intricate stage of its production is done completely by hand – from the foraging for ingredients to the distilling, bottling and labelling.
After working at a local whisky distillery aged 18, Helen became fascinated by the historic process of distilling and after extensive research, came to realise that she had all the ingredients required – fresh juniper, spring water and other delectable hedgerow details – right there at home to craft a beautiful, bespoke gin.
Successfully securing grant funding for the project, Helen began foraging for and making gin in between studying for and attending classes at the University of Glasgow.
“I learnt a lot about time management during that time, juggling the farm and distillery and my joint degree. I had my distillery licences and dissertation due the same week,” Helen said.
Named after the farm, Badvo is a London Dry style gin, officially launched after Helen’s graduation (her parents made her promise she’d complete her degree before embarking on her gin-making career!) The University was so impressed by the product, she was tasked with creating their signature gin, named 1451 after the year the historic seat of learning was founded.
Currently working on new products, with ambitious plans to build another distillery in the pipeline and with continuing business ties with the University, Helen is entirely settled back in Perthshire, with the area offering everything she needs to support and grow her business as well as providing easy access to the A9 and the transport links which can see her in Glasgow within two hours.
“I found myself gravitating back to this area and returned to it really looking with renewed eyes,” said Helen. “I realised how special this area’s history and heritage are. Of course it is beautiful and peaceful too. I think that mistakenly, younger people think that the only opportunities available for them here in Highland Perthshire are in hospitality but I don’t feel that’s the case. It is possible to have a career in a place like Pitlochry.”
Helen’s family have been integral to the growth of her fledgling business. An old book handed to her by her father revealed that she comes from a long line of innovators who, over the past 400 years, have continually worked to rejuvenate the farm. Her mother now works for her full-time while Helen still works on the farm for her dad.
“I wanted to get back to that small batch, 100% foraged from the farm, gin. During the warmer months, my mum and I go out each morning and forage – we gather juniper, nettles, honeysuckle, apple blossom and other wild plants and put them straight into the still,” says Helen. “We’re then responsible for bottling and labelling the gin. There’s something physically satisfying about seeing something through from its complete beginning to the end product.”
Local businesses and the wider community she grew up within have provided immense support along the way, something Helen feels would have been trickier to find in a larger urban setting.
“My community has been amazing and so supportive of what I’m doing. It was a steep learning curve going out looking for grants. I found it extremely difficult to be taken seriously as a younger woman in the industry with some people attempting to charge me more or just refusing to work with me. Being able to rely on the steadfast support of my local community has been really valuable.”