Monday Interview: Paul Miller, Eden

IT’S gone past four in the afternoon and Paul Miller is making the rounds among 100 or so guests who are getting a bite to eat after 18 holes at The Dukes to mark the official launch of Eden Mill’s Golf Gin. The shotgun start got off late, and the winning stableford score is an outrageous 56 posted by the team from Glasgow’s Wild Cabaret and the Guildford Arms in Edinburgh. Even so, the crowd seems in good humour as Miller presents the prizes.

Paul Millers first love  apart, perhaps, from Paris, is the pre-sales of the private casks of whisky from the Eden Mill distillery

As founder and chief executive of Eden, he thanks his trade audience for their support which has taken sales of Eden’s beers and gins to £1 million in the most recent financial year to March. Guests are then invited for post-meal drinks at The Old Course Hotel, where the fourth-floor balcony played a key role in the formation of Eden Brewery and its sister distilling operation.

As the former sales director of Molson Coors in Scotland, Miller was obliged to look after Pete Coors on the brewing chief’s biennial golfing trek to St Andrews with his top distributors. Sitting in the fourth-floor bar at 3am back in 2006, Coors first asked for a chiropractor, followed by a request to tour the nearest brewery or distillery later that day.

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“I didn’t have a clue where we could find a chiropractor, and I couldn’t think of any distilleries or breweries anywhere in the area,” Miller recalls. “It made me realise that this place really should have something like that, and that’s when I started putting a plan together in my head.”

He stayed at Molson Coors until the end of 2010, then spent a year working as a liaison between the Scottish Government and the alcohol industry – a period in which he realised he’s “probably not suited” for politics.

But the plans to create an independent drinks company were still churning away in the back of his mind. When he discovered that a former paper mill in Guardbridge might be available, he was straight in with a proposal.

With a career spanning wine, whisky and beer at Oddbins, Diageo, Glenmorangie and Molson Coors, Miller understood the challenges in setting up a such an operation. After considering various funding routes, he settled on private backing from a small handful of investors.

His partner represents a trio of Glasgow-based executives in the field of telecoms who “are hugely enthusiastic about what we do, but don’t really get involved at all”. They allowed Eden to get off the ground debt-free, which was one of Miller’s key priorities.

“They are not interested in a short-term returns, but in something which is long-term and sustainable,” he says. “Businesses like ours, where we are doing real stuff and making real things, is quite exciting for most people.”

Eden’s first beer, 19th Brew Golden Ale, appeared in September 2012 and has been joined by five other blondes, porters and ales. The company introduced its first gin in October of last year, using Australian galaxy hops as a botanical to link the two crafts of brewing and distilling.

The newest Golf Gin is a limited-run production flavoured with conventional botanicals as well as shavings from the traditional hickory clubs produced by the nearby St Andrews Golf Company. It follows the limited-run Love Gin from earlier this year in what is expected to become a regular rotating line-up of seasonal products.

Sales in the current year are expected to treble to £3m, with gin accounting for about a third of revenues. Beer sales are projected at roughly £1.3m, with the remainder coming from brewery tours, merchandise and pre-sales of the private casks of whisky that is Miller’s first love.

Eden distilled its first whisky in November of last year, and last week took delivery of a 10,000 litre washback tank that will boost production to one hogshead per day. That equals about 100,000 litres annually, alongside 500,000 litres of beer and 50,000 litres of gin each year.

The beer and gin give Eden breathing space to mature its malts, which for the moment are available only on pre-sale. Private cask owners get the opportunity to select their own ingredients, or they can rely on Eden’s distillers to create the style of whisky desired.

Eden is also creating a “Founders Club” for its single malt business which should raise about £500,000 after costs. It will have 50 members strategically spread around the world who have influence and shape opinion in their local beverage market.

Each will pay £12,000, giving them the right to own one of Eden’s first 100 hogshead casks. They will then have the exclusive right to buy a further three casks in 2017, 2019 and 2021, and receive invitations to play in a Founders Club golf tournament at St Andrews every two years.

The first drams are still a few years away, but Miller remains fixed on his ultimate goal.

“Our ambition is to make the best small-batch single malt whisky in the world,” he says. “Gin is one of the things that we love making, but ultimately we set up to create a whisky distillery.”

30-second CV

Born: 1961 in Bellshill

Raised: Eaglesham

Education: St Aloysius’ College, Glasgow; Paisley College of Technology

First job: Delivering cream door-to-door on a Saturday morning

Ambition at school: The ambition I always had which I knew I would never realise was to do better than my father had done. He was the youngest of 17 children, and worked his way up to a good job and a good home for us. How can you compete with someone who starts with nothing and gets to that, when you have started with so many privileges?

Can’t live without: Exercise, and the backing and support of my family in what we do

Kindle or book: Book

Favourite city: I went to Paris recently for the first time in ten years, and I had forgotten how much I love being lost in Paris with nothing specific to do

Favourite mode of transport: Walking and running

What car do you drive: Audi A5

What makes you angry: Red tape and negative people

What inspires you: Oh my goodness, I don’t know where to start. It will sound so horribly cheesy, but it is true – the fact that we are creating something that is long-term and sustainable

Best thing about your job: We are creating real jobs – that feels very important to me