Photo: Archives Old Pilot’s Gin

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The story of Old Pilot’s Gin is a story about Hrvoje Bušić and Tomislav Anadolac, two pilots who created the best gin in the world made from Croatian ingredients

Many contemporary industrial giants owe a great deal to the garage as a place of creativity where something new, original and successful is made. Amazon, Google, Apple, Disney, Microsoft, and Ferrari are just some of the biggest corporations in the world whose founders started their career in tiny rooms yet reached the top. In the Zagreb neighbourhood of Rudeš there is also a garage where the wonderful story of Old Pilot’s Gin was launched two years ago, also reaching the top. It is the story of the best gin in the world. The gin that won two Oscars at two of the world’s most important competitions: the San Francisco Spirits Competition and the International Wine and Spirits Competition in London.

A microdistillery named Duh u boci (‘genie in a bottle’) was founded by Hrvoje Bušić and Tomislav Anadolac, two former military pilots. They met some twenty years ago at the academy for military pilots in Zadar, and their friendship, curiosity and hedonism as regards a good drink resulted in the Duh u boci distillery and Old Pilot’s Gin. The cosy place on the outskirts of the city, which is a combination of a distillery and a showroom, is dominated by two Tomislav and Hrvoje’s pleasures: bottles of different beverages collected all over the world and posters of airplanes and heroes who have written the history of the air force.

Where did you get the idea to become ‘garage’ distillers?

Being a pilot and travelling a lot can turn any person into a citizen of the world, providing them with opportunities to try a lot of different things. Primarily bourbon, whisky and gin. The idea originated in Hrvoje’s head. Since he is still an active pilot and is constantly on the plane, he needs a kind of an outlet. So, he began thinking about how to start producing distillates, in other words, he started brewing at home in his kitchen. In the process, he also got me hooked on the idea that we could produce our own type of spirit. We wanted to make whisky or bourbon, but since it takes a lot of time for them to reach the market because of the barrel-ageing, we chose gin instead – made exclusively from ingredients from Croatia. We started producing it out of passion, because we love it and because it is exactly the kind of drink we would like to have when we get together with our friends. For more than two years we studied gin making. Hrvoje then went to the homeland of gin, the Netherlands, where he underwent a distiller training and got a certificate; that’s when we started creating our own recipe. I think that, in the beginning, we’d made around 50 versions of the drink (we felt a bit like Walter White from Breaking Bad) until we were satisfied with the final product. We love challenges, and this one was like flying into the unknown for us. To use the jargon of aviation, it was our version of the Charles Lindbergh’s flight. Now that this story has become a success, we are enjoying the ride.

One of the most famous sayings about gin is by the late British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who once said that gin and tonic saved more lives than English doctors. In Croatia, as well as in the world, gin is currently going through a real renaissance. This especially applies to craft gins…

We liked gin a lot as a drink because it is universal and it is always trendy. It’s like a good men’s jacket. At the same time, you can have it served on the rocks or as a part of many cocktails, the most famous of which is gin and tonic. In addition to selling a drink of the highest quality, which is confirmed by the medals we received around the world, we also sell emotion. We may have made our lives a little more complicated by sticking the labels and writing the information on them by hand, but we wanted everything to be hand-made. So that our customers can feel the passion that we put into making each of the bottles. And you can only accomplish it by this kind of boutique manufacturing. There is something that connects our craft distillery with art: choosing the ingredients, then preparing, sticking and writing the labels, as well as wax-sealing the bottles as the final act of creating both a story and a drink.

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