Alumni in Focus

Ciarán Russell

Liquid Innovation Manager, Sipsmith Gin

Ciarán Russell

Ciarán Russell, Liquid Innovation Manager at Sipsmith Gin in London, graduated from RGU in 2017 with a BSc in Bioscience with Biomedical Science before studying an MSc in Brewing and Distilling at Heriot Watt.

Why did you decide to come to RGU to study Biomedical sciences?

Leaving school, I was unsure what I wanted to do outside of something scientific. The biomedical sciences programme seemed perfect, as it allowed me the versatility to figure out what I wanted to do, while I was studying. I opted for the Bioscience with Biomedical sciences, rather than the applied route as I knew I wanted to go on to further study and it gave me a wider option for this.

Can you tell us a bit about your career journey since leaving RGU?

I went on to complete an MSc in Brewing and Distilling, and from there I moved into a production distilling role at Sipsmith Gin in 2018. After 18 months, I moved into my current role in liquid innovations. I now handle small scale distillation experiments, paired with analytical work on the quality of the liquids we create.

Did you always know you wanted to go on to study Brewing and Distilling and work in liquid innovation?

My plans definitely developed on the way. I was working in a whisky bar through my time at RGU and took a lot of trips into Speyside to visit whisky distilleries. It was here I realised I wanted to work in this industry and went about speaking with some of the teams there and shadowing some of the production teams at the distilleries to better understand what was going on. In my MSc, I focused on gin production and modes of flavour delivery into the distillate then began working closely with the innovation team when I started at Sipsmith because of this.

Were there any skills or knowledge gained on your course that have particularly helped you in your career so far?

The lab skills have been incredibly helpful. Being able to perform and understand analytical testing on products using a variety of methods is key in the quality aspect of my role. Testing for consistency in congeners in the finished product using GCMS analysis would’ve been much harder if I hadn’t learned it before. In addition, Microbiology and Biochemistry have been incredibly useful for being able to manage yeast cultures and better understand the process of fermentation for use in production.

Can you tell us a bit about your role and what it entails?

In essence, my role is to create new products. This can branch out in several ways, not only in the production of gin, but also in liqueurs and non-alcoholic products, as well as canned and draft cocktail offerings. Each of these come with their own barriers, that I need to be prepared for – such as pasteurisation and preservative testing in non-alcoholic options, and flavour stability in gins.

Most of my time is spent in experimentation, and flavour profiling of certain botanicals to better understand how they will come together in a gin. I also handle the liquid quality, ensuring every batch is consistent. This is done through organoleptic assessment (the assessment of flavour, odour, appearance, and mouthfeel of a food product), next to quality tasting notes, and then further analytical testing is performed if needed. As we use organoleptic assessment, I also lead our production team in training for tastings and flavour assessment.

Can you tell us about any of the new products you’ve developed at Sipsmith’s? Do you have a favourite?

We have a rotating limited edition offering for which I have developed 3 liquids – Chili & Lime, Strawberry Smash, and Sipspresso Coffee Gin. Of these, I think Chili and Lime is my favourite. It uses a blend of seven chillies, from heat-focused ones (Carolina Reaper) to sweeter and more chocolatey in flavour (Ancho-Mulato). The resulting gin is multi-faceted and works on many different levels. That and I got to eat quite a lot of chillies through the production of it to get the balance right, which was a lot of fun!

What is your perfect gin pairing?

I love a classic gin and tonic with a slice of grapefruit. Simple, and refreshing. That or using our Sipsmith Sloe Gin, with bitter lemon. Sweet and citrussy, perfect for summer!

Do you have any advice for alumni looking to get into less-well known sectors following a biomedical degree?

I think just go out and ask to try your hand at anything you think you might have an interest in. If I hadn’t gone to work with production teams at distilleries while I was studying, I wouldn’t have gained the insight into an industry I love working in. Even if you don’t like it, it’ll help you realise you want to do something else. I saw that I loved working in a more hands on environment, and in creative development which highly influenced what I then went on to do.

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