Green-minded Scottish distillery lets customers refill gin, vodka and rum

NB Distillery head of production Steve Ross and sales chief Rhona Hartley with the dispenser that will be used to refill customers' bottles. Photograph: Scott Louden
NB Distillery head of production Steve Ross and sales chief Rhona Hartley with the dispenser that will be used to refill customers' bottles. Photograph: Scott Louden
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An award-winning Scottish boutique distillery is offering customers a new refill service for its gin, vodka and rum in a bid to cut waste and help combat pollution.

NB Distillery, based in East Lothian, is thought to be the first in the country to make such a move.

It’s the latest green initiative by owners Vivienne and Steve Muir, who started out creating bespoke spirits in a pressure cooker on their kitchen table and have set out on a mission to minimise the environmental consequences of their operations.

Their custom-built premises, which opened last year, use solar panels to help power the distillation process, while rainwater is collected to run the distillation condensers. Used botanicals such as juniper are composted and the leftovers of fermented molasses from their rum production is fed to a local farmer’s cattle. They have also switched from a bottle manufacturer in Italy to one in the UK to cut the climate cost of transport, as well as reusing as much packaging as possible.

The latest scheme means customers can bring back their old bottles and restock on their favourite tipple, saving money and reducing their ecological impact.

“Our aim is simple and that’s to do everything we can to reduce our carbon footprint,” Vivienne Muir said.

“Many people keep hold of their empty NB bottles as they think they are too nice to throw away.

“Customers have got in touch to tell us some of the interesting things they have created from the old bottles, such as table lamps.

“So we felt it was quite appropriate to offer a refill service. We’re doing an official refill Saturday each month but people can come and fill up their bottles any time.”

NB Distillery has moved from the Muirs’ kitchen table to premises near Tantallon Castle, not far from North Berwick – the NB in the company name.

The drinks range includes a London dry gin, voted best of its kind at the World Gin Awards, a 57 per cent proof navy strength gin, a citrus vodka, a full-bodied rum, a light fruity rum and a limited-edition samphire gin.

Vivienne Muir added: “The UK currently recycles around 50 per cent of its glass, which is very low compared to other countries.

“Launching an initiative such as this, whereby consumers directly recycle, is something that should be considered more widely in the drinks and other industry sectors.”

Iain Gulland, chief executive of Zero Waste Scotland, welcomed the refill scheme. “There is a growing number of consumers who actively seek out and choose more sustainable products,” he said. “Businesses can tap into that market by adopting more sustainable practices, such as enabling customers to use their own containers.

“As well as doing away with excessive packaging, customers can also benefit from choosing to purchase the exact amount they require and further minimise on waste.

“Businesses will also save money if they embrace ways of making resources last.”

Research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation suggests that Scottish businesses could save £1.4 billion a year by implementing simple resource-efficiency measures.

Zero Waste Scotland, which distributes Scottish Government and EU funding, supports businesses in their efforts to prevent waste through its Circular Economy Business Support Service and Investment Fund.