What made you decide to create your gins?
My wife Aly and I are both 'born and bred' Orcadians and we live in Kirkwall where we grew up, and we really wanted to create a high quality new brand for Orkney that was reflective of us and the place we come from. We started Orkney Distilling Ltd in February 2016 and we developed our first product, Kirkjuvagr Orkney Gin in the months following and released to market in August 2016. Since then, we’ve added a further four gins to our core range; Arkh-Angell our Storm-Strength Edition; Harpa, our more prominently juniper-led summer edition; Aurora, our beautiful winter-spiced edition; and Beyla raspberry and honey Old Tom. Each, like Kirkjuvagr, is inspired by its local surroundings and borrows from local stories and legends.
What's the story behind the Kirkjuvagr name?
Kirkjuvagr (pronounced 'kirk-u-vaar') is the thousand-year-old Viking name for our town, Kirkwall. It means 'church in the bay' and was as much a descriptive term as a place name when it was first used. It was an identifiable place for sailors to head to.
What's the distillery like and and what can visitors expect when they come to the distillery?
In summer 2018 we opened The Orkney Distillery, which overlooks Kirkwall’s historic harbour and seafront. In 2019, The Orkney Distillery was awarded the Gin Destination of the year at the Scottish Gin Awards, recognising our commitment to showcasing Scottish Gin in a rural community and for our collaboration with other local businesses. Visitors are welcome to the distillery all year round and we host daily guided tours where one of our fantastic guides will explain the distillation process and talk the visitors through our unique botanicals. After enjoying a sample of our gins, finally our guests can decide their favourite to enjoy as a perfect serve at our bar.
Can you tell us more about the botanicals and distillation process?
We use two direct-fired copper pot stills and everything is bottled on-site by our distilling team, Louis and Nikki. Our botanicals are of extremely high quality as a result of our association with the Agronomy Institute of the University of the Highlands and Islands. They have provided us with amazing botanicals, such as angelica root, calamondin fruit, meadowsweet and local roses, all of which feature in our core recipes. They also occasionally provide unique plants and fruits that are only grown in tiny batches. Presently, we are looking at a way to use more of these locally grown and harvested botanicals by distilling one-off seasonal batches using exclusively locally sourced botanicals.
What have been the biggest challenges and achievements so far?
Getting the distillery open for the public and distilling the first drops of spirit was a major challenge in 2018, and not without several headaches and delays. Then certainly our biggest achievement was to be named Gin Destination of the year, just one year after opening. It is always an incredibly proud moment when our gins are nominated for, and the recipients of gin awards – Arkh-Angell has been our most acclaimed product so far, both in terms of design and flavour.
How would you describe your gin in 3 words?
Smooth, More-ish, Unique
What's your favourite way to drink your gin?
Kirkjuvagr in a large gin cocktail glass, add a large piece of orange peel, a couple of ice cubes, and some fever tree tonic. Aurora pairs perfectly with Fever Tree Spiced Orange Ginger Ale, loads of ice, a wedge of orange and a cinnamon stick. Recently though, our most popular serve at the bar is Beyla, served in a large copa glass with light tonic and fresh raspberries.
Which gins would you always have on your gin shelf?
Caorunn Gin and Crossbill Gin are enduring favourites of Aly and I. They're both premium Scottish Gins and are both fantastic! Our nearest neighbour, Rock Rose Gin is also a really nice gin.
What's next for Kirkjuvagr Gin?
With our distillery and visitor centre firmly established, and a wide portfolio of gins that appeals to a range of consumers, in 2020 we hope to keep growing the brand in the United Kingdom and abroad. The Scottish Gin market is more dynamic and innovative than ever, and we want to continue to be recognized as a high-quality Scottish Gin in that context, whilst continuing to develop our range of products and the visitor experience we offer at the distillery.