The concept of Eau de vie – water of life – goes back centuries, but for one distiller in Scotland, it’s more than just a job – it’s a passion. Meet Kecia McDougall, the owner of Tayside Spirits and winner of the coveted Specialty Food Fair 2018 New Producer Award this year, who’s bringing eau-de-vie to a new level with an all-natural, all-Scottish approach.
There’s no question, eau-de-vie – and other fruit-based spirits – are having a bit of a moment. Cocktail competitions have opened the public’s eyes to new and different choices (no more “gin or vodka?”), and it’s no surprise that London is at the forefront of many of these top drinks lists.
As a result, today’s bars can give you a world of flavour in a glass. “The spirits industry is growing constantly and consumers are always looking for the next new craze – first it was gin, now rum is becoming increasingly popular – maybe next it will be Eau-de-Vie,” says Kecia, who is the proud distiller of Never.25, a fruit-based spirit that will change your outlook on what to order on a night out.
Unlike many distillers, who learn their craft as a family trade, Kecia actually has a somewhat unorthodox path to spirits. “I was a nurse for 25 years before Never.25 started and as a hobby had an interest in the craft spirit movement. I think that is where some of my interests crossed over. While nursing is a different type of science, you have to have the same methodical approach to situations, particularly when it comes to experimentation and development of products,” she explains.
Of course, it’s also unusual to be doing this in Scotland – and Kecia is blazing trails there as well, as the first to create a fruit-to-glass distillation in the country. “Traditionally eau de vie uses a fermented grape or fruit base spirit and then maceration. Because Scotland doesn’t have an ideal climate to grow grapes, the method needs to be altered slightly – but it really creates a product that utilises some of the best produce Scotland has to offer,” Kecia adds.
Never.25 is produced and bottled in a new micro-distillery in Tayport, Fife. Only the best fruits are hand selected and collected from nearby farms to provide the flavor of the spirit, and the process starts like whisky distillation, with Scottish wheat and barley comprising the base for the spirit, before introducing the fruit, also from Scotland.
With the focus on fresh fruit, the Never.25 range offers Strawberry, Raspberry, and Blueberry spirits – and these fruits pack a punch; the alcohol content of the eau-de-vie is 42%, and more than 50kg of fresh fruit are used in each “run.”
“We do also offer seasonal special edition fruit spirits like apple when available; for instance, we’re invited to collect wind-blown apples from amazing orchards in Fife that have been neglected,” Kecia says, noting that she’s always on the lookout for new flavours.
And for those who are looking for pure, Never.25 fits the bill well, with no essences, no flavourings, no sugars and absolutely nothing artificial added in the process. “The flavoured vodkas and gins in the market today are using essences and sweeteners and we wanted to give the market a totally natural product made with real fruit and with no additives,” Kecia notes. To keep the product pure, the distillery also takes the product through an extra step, called a “final pot distillation,” to remove the colour from the fruit maceration to avoid needing to add a preservative.
So what’s Kecia’s favourite cocktail? “No question, that would have to be our Hame Sweet Hame cocktail, that uses our Never.25 Blueberry and Aqua Faba as a vegan alternative to egg white. Just mix Never.25 Blueberry, Lemon Juice, Grenadine, Aqua Faba, and Soda Water – close your eyes, and you’re at home in Scotland!”