What made you decide to create your gins and set up The Orkney Ditillery?
My wife Aly and I are both 'born and bred' Orcadians and we live in Kirkwall where we grew up. 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 (now known as ‘Origin’) in the months following and before releasing to the market in August 2016. Since then, we have added to our core range; Arkh-Angell our Storm-Strength Edition; Aurora, our beautiful winter-spiced edition gin; and Beyla – a raspberry and honey Old Tom. Each, like our flagship gin, Origin, 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.
Can you tell us more about the botanicals you use and your distillation process?
We use two, 200L direct-fired copper pot stills and everything is bottled on-site by our production team, Kenny and Shane. 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's your favourite way to drink your gins?
We always recommend serving our gins with lots of ice, a good measure of spirit, a slice of dehydrated orange (or pink grapefruit in Arkh-Angell’s case) and Fever Tree’s Indian Tonic. Our Aurora gin pairs perfectly with Fever Tree Spiced Orange Ginger Ale, loads of ice, a wedge of orange and a cinnamon stick. Our most popular serve at the bar is Beyla, served in a large copa glass with lots of ice, fresh raspberries and a light tonic or lemonade for those who prefer things a little sweeter! There’s something for everyone in our range.
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 named as the 'Gin Destination of the Year' at the Scottish Gin Awards, we received a 5-star accreditation from Visit Scotland, and in August last year we were acknowledged as TripAdvisor’s ‘Travellers’ Choice’ for 2021, which puts us in the top 10% of attractions worldwide!
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 your Garden Bar?
During the outbreak of COVID-19 we had to adapt and for us this meant opening a brand new, outdoor garden bar we call ‘Oot The Back’. Located to the rear of our distillery, Oot The Back is equipped with 10 quirky, individually heated booths, allowing those who visit to enjoy their drinks in a socially distanced and safe environment, and it is very much set to remain a permanent feature of our distillery. There’s nothing like it in Orkney at the moment and we are seeing customers return again and again for our pop-up foodie events and quirky cocktails! As well as our distillery bar, Oot The Back is dog friendly so feel free to bring along your four-legged friends.
Can you tell us more about the rebranded bottles and how they were developed?
We’ve been continually developing the Company now for almost six years. A key component of our brand development plan has always been this move into the super-premium packaging category, which now aligns the package with the modernity and high quality of other aspects of the brand and the Company’s operation. We are incredibly pleased with the result of the time, money and hard work that has gone into the production of the new design – we hope our customers are too!
It was a project that we worked closely on with Stoelzle Flaconnage who are an industry leader in bespoke premier spirits packaging solutions. It was important for us to create a design that encapsulated everything that is Orkney Distilling and that showcases our Norse heritage:
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' and to receive one of the highest awards from Visit Scotland, just one year after opening. It is always an incredibly proud moment when our gins are nominated for, and the recipients of gin awards.
A project that had been a long time in the making (and definitely one of the hardest secrets we’ve had to keep!) was our collaboration with Craft Gin Club! We were delighted to have been selected by their team to be their December Gin of the Month where we exclusively launched a brand-new gin with them – ‘Yuletide – Christmas Spirit of Orkney.’ It was a fantastic opportunity to be able to work with their team and introduce our gins and our story to a brand-new audience and on such a large platform. Keep your eyes peeled for Yuletide appearing on our online store and in our distillery this Christmas!
What's next for Kirkjuvagr Gin and The Orkney Distillery?
With our distillery and visitor centre firmly established, and a wide portfolio of gins that appeal to a range of consumers, we now 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. Whether you’re at The Orkney Distillery for a drink after a long day of sight-seeing, visiting us to learn how we craft our award-winning spirits or just to relax with friends and family, you are guaranteed a warm welcome and excellent customer service that is ‘unmistakeably Orcadian’
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