How is your distillery called and where are you situated?
Our distillery is called “Duh u boci” (eng. The Spirit in the Bottle). We are situated in the capitol of Croatia, Zagreb.
Why the pilot theme?
Distillery “Duh u boci” is owned by two “old” friends, Hrvoje and Tomislav, that meet almost 25 years ago in the Croatian Air Force Academy pursuing “pilot” carriers. Hrvoje is still an active pilot and flight instructor in the major Croatian airline. When we discussed spirit branding with our agency we though that the name “Old Pilot’s” would fit our story/history. Two “old” friends and “pilots” that decided to start spirit business together. We could identify ourselves with the name and branding agency thought it would fit the market as there is only one gin in the world that uses aviation theme. Thus name “Old Pilot’s” and old aircraft on the label.
How would you describe your gin? What were your goals?
The distillery was started out of passion for the finest spirits and with desire to create something premium and unique. It is hard to state anything is unique in today’s global world but in the Croatian market we think we are pretty unique. Our gin is made with 6 Croatian sourced botanicals: Juniper, Orange, Olive Leaves, Lavender, Sage and Angelica. In our recipe we also use smaller amounts of Coriander and orris root sourced outside Croatia. Our goal was to produce gin that is mouth forward, floral and fruity oriented but still “full bodied” and with enough aftertaste to call it 3D. Botanical oils stay in the mouth for long time. Although we knew that in Croatia gin is not “solo sipper” but rather a G&T mixer (in Croatia we use grappa for solo sipping 99 percent of the time), we aimed to create a spirit that could be drank on its own. And something that’s pretty to mix with tonic. Spirit that you don’t have to “hide” with strong tonic and hand-full of garnishes that changes flavor and colour of the gin. Our gin has Mediterranean soul that puts up with any tonic.
Can you describe the perfect cocktail / g&t for your gin?
To all of our customers we say: take the drink whatever way you like it and with anything you like it. That’s the most important thing. As a distillers that worked hard to harvest all those essential oils and flavors we recommend to garnish your G&T with fresh grapefruit or orange peel, fresh sage leave and 2 juniper berries. Something that already exists in our gin.
How is Croatia doing? Is gin taking off?
Croatia is tourist country famous for its wines. Especially red wines grown along the seaside. Craft beer is also getting stronger and stronger but there is plenty of room for craft distillers and craft spirits. Gin really took off couple of years ago and is still rising. The market is packed with foreign “brand”/industrial names that cannot compare with truly handcrafted spirits. We have already proved that on a couple of blind tastings. What we have to compete with is not the taste but enormous marketing budgets that “brand” companies have and we, small craft producers, don’t.
Where do you see yourself and your gin heading? Where do you want to be – say – 3 years from now?
Since the release of our first product feedback is extremely positive and we have received tremendous support which gives us strength to continue. Our goal is to continue to improve the present flagship recipe using iStill’s Extractor technology and to develop a new gin recipe based on fruit. Strawberry based gin for spring/summer and Clementine based gin for the autumn/winter.
Also we would like to be the first distillery to produce Croatian high quality bourbon and whiskey, as to present day nobody is producing that over here. In Croatia, we only import foreign brands. In 3 years from now we see ourselves having bigger iStill with agitator and fermenting and mashing capabilities in order to be able to produce grain based spirits and using our present iStill mainly for extractions. The future is bright!
How difficult/easy was it to set up your distillery? What were the biggest learning points / steer aways if you were to do it again?
The distillery was easy to setup. We had some setbacks with regards to transferring the recipe from copper alembic still to iStill as tastes and flavor profiles where not the same. Also, along the way we learned a lot about how to position our botanicals in the still and how to position and size of the herbs bag, different mixture ratios and a whole lot of other variables affecting our end product. We managed to overcome that and from present point of view we wouldn’t do anything different. There is plenty of room for improvements but our learning curve is steep.
You use iStills to make your gin and followed the 4-day workshop in Amsterdam. Why did you choose iStill? Has the workshop been worth your while and money?
We are proud of iStill and invite everyone to visit our distillery in order to see what kind of technology we are using. We are the first Croatian distillery using the robotized iStill column and extractor. We opted for iStill and its robotized version as it gives as an option to do more “side” works while the distillation process is running. Hands-free operation which gives us more efficiency. When you nail down the recipe and temperature/power settings it can be run by the people who know nothing about distilling. Unbelievable.
The 4-day workshop was a turning point in our decision to start our own distillery. You get the chance to see how much you know, what other people are doing, what can be done and above all you learn a LOT about distilling, mashing and fermenting. Real booster. Also, it is one thing to see or read about the technology and completely other thing to see the stills in action. To feel the quality and craftsmanship. We recommend doing the course before making the final decision on buying or starting up their own distillery. It is certainly worth the money.
Any famous last words?
What about a quote? “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.”
We live by that saying every day!
Hvorje and Tomislav …
“Duh u boci” Distillery …
Old Pilot Gin …
Pilots turned into distillers …