by Nicola Walker
It’s hard to believe that Colin Hinds only opened the Tipsy Midgie in Edinburgh 14 months ago as it has already proven a haven for whisky lovers and huge hit with both locals and tourists alike. Having scooped both whisky awards at this years Scottish Bar and Pub Awards, Benromach Whisky Bar of the Year and Deanston Whisky Guru, I sat down with Colin to hear about his inspiring journey and talk about his love of whisky.
Firstly, I wanted to ask him about where his whisky journey started…. his first taste of Uisge Beatha! He laughs, “My very first time drinking whisky was when I was about 19 in Glasgow and we used to get a double Drambuie on the rocks at the Rotunda after we finished work – we thought we were James Bond! We went on to buying a bottle of single malt between three or four of us at about 20 quid a bottle. We honestly thought we were drinking the best of the best.”
Colins tastes have clearly matured as the Tipsy Midgie boasts an amazing collection of 3500 bottles of whisky, with over 800 open. He has also been a judge for the Scottish Whisky Awards for past 4 years, as well as writing a monthly whisky column for Edinburgh’s Bite Magazine. It wasn’t always about whisky however, as Colin began his career as a chef in Glasgow, starting out as an eager 14-year-old at a local Italian restaurant.
He then spent many years travelling the world and honing his craft in London, France, the Caribbean, and Australia, training under the likes of master chef Cheong Liew. Whisky, however, was in his blood.
He tells me, “Obviously, being Scottish, when I was travelling all around the world, people always asked me about whisky – so I became like an ambassador for Scotch whisky and learnt as much about it as I could. My grandmother’s grandmother started Cardhu distillery. So, there was a whisky narrative throughout the whole family.”
It was family in fact that brought him back to Scotland from his travels. Says Colin, “My sister was dying of Huntington’s disease, and I only came back for a year to look after my nephew. She then ended up exceeding the doctor’s expectations – she lived for about four years. So, I ended up staying for four years and then I just decided to stay in Edinburgh.”
It was in 2015 that Colin first decided to take the plunge into owning his first restaurant. He opened the successful Kilted Lobster in Stockbridge and later Rib-Aye Steakhouse and Whisky Bar in Leith. He wanted to use these projects to give back to society, and that’s exactly what he did, launching a charitable venture named ‘Cooking Up A Storm’.
Colin says, “Kilted Lobster was a seafood restaurant that also had a social conscience. We had a social aspect to it where we helped a lot of people who were suffering from different issues such as poverty or isolation. We would close the restaurant completely on a Tuesday and have whole families come in to have a proper dining experience, rather than going to a soup kitchen or something.
“Christmas Day was one of the biggest ones where we fed 120 people – 4 courses! Plus, we used to get them presents and stuff. So that was a really nice thing to do. I’ve always been a big fan of just helping people. When you’ve seen poverty and you’ve become lucky enough to be in a position to help people, you help them.
“We got recognition in the parliament as well as receiving the ‘Small Business Big Heart Award’ – it was great to get that because it was a UK wide award and we hoped to inspire other people to do a similar thing.”
I just thought, I could do that in my own style.
In July 2020 when things began to re-open after Covid, Colin decided to combine his love of both food and whisky and launched ‘Whisky Forager’ to rave reviews. He says, “I had been to a few whisky tasting events and met a couple of kind of famous whisky people who also did food pairings. I just thought, I could do that in my own style….and so Whisky Forager was born. I decided to turn the Kilted Lobster into Whisky Forager as a type of pop up within the restaurant and see what the response would be. We had the greats of the whisky world come along and everybody was absolutely overwhelmed with what we did.”
It was then his health took a turn for the worse. He tells me, “I got diagnosed with stage 4 throat and neck cancer and I had to go through chemotherapy and radiotherapy at the same time, in the middle of Covid. I couldn’t even have anyone with me. It was tough. It’s quite difficult for me to talk about that in a sense. I was 30 years as a chef and then suddenly I didn’t have the energy to run a restaurant, so I had to give up the lease.
“I was lying having chemotherapy when the idea just came to me, if can’t be a chef for a while, I’ll just open a whisky bar. So, I set out to try and find premises.
“I found this unit next to Holyrood Distillery, who will be releasing their first whisky in about a month, and Tipsy Midgie was born. We already do quite a lot of whisky traffic from them. I couldn’t believe there was a bar lying empty for about the best part of 18 months right next to a whisky distillery. It seemed crazy not to open up a bar here. But then, I suppose not everybody has the same collection and stock of whisky that I’ve amassed over the years.”
I want to make whisky as inclusive as possible.
Colin certainly has plenty to keep him busy and has some amazing ideas for Tipsy Midgie. He says, “On Thursdays we do a Distillery Discovery night where we invite different distilleries to come down, and they chat about what makes their whisky unique, the history of it or what they’ve got planned for the future. You get anything from five to even nine drams for 20 quid. Obviously, we could charge a lot more than that, but I want to make whisky as inclusive as possible. So, I try my absolute best to make sure that the overheads get taken care of and we look after people.
“On Sundays we do a thing where I pick three different drams from one distillery and you get all three drams for £10, which is just incredible value. It’s so popular, we have people that queue up from around half past four just to get in. We only ever use the senior members of staff from distilleries to do the tastings because our crowd are very whisky orientated, so anyone we get in to do stuff needs to be at a certain level. I think that’s really helped our reputation as well.
“Whisky wise we use a combination of what I like, what the guests like and what’s new and exciting. We also work really closely with lots of distilleries – in fact I’ve visited over 90 distilleries so far. It’s a 100% personal experience that we offer, and I think our reviews reflect that. I love to spend time with the customers and look after them.”
I can really relate to people because there are so many people from different parts of the world that don’t have the same flavour profile.
I was also keen to find out from Colin what transferable skills there are in moving from chef to whisky bar owner. He told me, “Having a great nose and a great sense of taste, plus having a great repertoire of flavour to fall back on. I can really relate to people because there are so many people from different parts of the world that don’t have the same flavour profile. So I think having that knowledge of worldwide cuisine really helps me help them relate to the whisky.
“It was tough the past couple of years because my cancer treatment affected my taste buds and it was brutal. Luckily it didn’t affect my nose, but I’ve had to recalibrate my taste buds using different techniques that I found online. But I’ve managed it.”
The design of Tipsy Midgie is something that’s been incredibly important to Colin, and he has put a very personal stamp on it. He says, “I suppose I’m quite a creative, artistic person. We’ve recently redone the front facade of the bar, the toilets and I have done all the resin work on the bar myself. So, we’re always looking to upgrade each kind of individual aspect of the interior and the exterior.
“I am also in the middle of making whisky tables. At the moment, I’m working on a Glenmorangie Signet Table, which is taking way longer than anticipated, but hopefully within the next year or two each table will have its own personality. It’s a wee bit of DIY project and it takes about £500 worth of resin to actually make it happen.”
As well as these amazing tables, Colins partner, Adele Conn, has added her own whisky based paintings to the walls. These are a lovely addition and when distillers visit, they are given the opportunity to sign their own personalised whisky painting, making it quite a collection to behold.
“We’re looking to open another Tispy Midgie, mainly due to how successful it’s been here in the first 12 months
There plenty of things still in the Tipsy Midgie pipeline as well. Colin tells me, “We’re looking to open another Tispy Midgie, mainly due to how successful it’s been here in the first 12 months. It really made me think, we could probably do something similar elsewhere. I’d like to do each whisky region in Scotland, but we would probably look to do Glasgow first.”
Colin hasn’t hung up those chef whites either and tells me, “I still do some private dining stuff. Recently, I did a collaboration with Master of Malt for a Burns supper and another one with Angels’ Share Glass. I catered their anniversary dinner as a private chef, so I’ve been keeping my hand in. I’ll never give it up.
“I am also hoping to open up another restaurant, maybe in six months to a year, when I am physically able to do so. I guess we’ll open Whisky Forager again and I’d definitely have a look at doing the same thing in terms of helping out the community. I would be cooking, but not to the same extent as I was previously – I’m getting old now, nearly 50 – and 48 as a chef is about 150 in normal years!”
Colin certainly has big dreams for the future and whether he is behind the bar or creating culinary delights it’s clear that his passion is to be a host first and foremost. He says, “My guests are brilliant, they are absolutely brilliant. I love looking after them. It’s a whisky connection but it’s also an emotional connection. I just love hearing different peoples’ stories.” Well, I’ve certainly enjoyed hearing his.