What did you did you do before starting Orkney Gin Company?
Gary currently works for a local ferry company and sometimes helps us out in his time off. His employment has always involved the sea, which is where most of the ‘look’ of our bottles came from. I used to work for the local council, but once things took off, I decided to make this my full time job.
What inspired you to create your gin and distillery?
Orkney is a unique place with inspirational scenery, amazing ingredients and produce. We have always had a passion for gin and craft spirits. Over the years we found ourselves experimenting with different recipes as gifts for family and friends. In 2014, small gin companies were starting to make a fantastic name for themselves. We noticed a gap in the market here in Orkney and began working hard to build our little family business which opened in 2016 as Orkney Gin Company. Now Orkney Spirits Limited (so as not to confuse customers – we also make other spirits!) our range is inspired by local traditions, folklore and botanicals which would have been used in local family recipes for many generations. We believe in attention to every detail and think this comes across in our seven and eight times distilled spirits with home grown and hand-picked botanicals often picked less than a mile from our family home and distillery forming the basis of every product we hand craft.
How did you get from the idea to the finished product?
It took many years to get there. As mentioned before, we were making little batches of our own takes of spirits for friends and family for birthdays and particularly around Christmas. We got quite a lot of good feedback so began looking into how to make it commercially. It took us a good couple of years to get all the elements in place – sourcing our well-known ceramic bottles, getting licensing and choosing the best quality botanicals. The recipes took almost all this time. Lots of tasting, trial and error and plenty of fun! We were finally happy with the two main spirits which were both completely different to each other and to anything else on the market at the time – Johnsmas and Mikkelmas – meaning Summer and Harvest in Old Orcadian (Orkney’s dialect).
How did you launch your gins?
Our launch was very random to be honest. A family member got a little too excited about our new venture and decided to mention it to the organisers of a local music event (quite hilariously named ‘Glastonburray’) here on the Island of Burray, where we make our spirits. Our gins were bottled and ready to go and were greatly received by the locals. We spent the next few weeks making more for the growing demand of ‘Orcadians’ (people from the Orkney Islands) looking to try these new tasty Orkney gins and continued expanding thereafter.
Can you tell us more about your production process?
Back in 2014-2016, a ‘new’ type of gin production was re-emerging, with only a couple of distilleries making their gin this way. It is known as the bathtub method. Unfortunately in the early 19th century, the bathtub method got some bad press because large scale spirits companies were using it as an easy way to make their spirits using flavourings. This is NOT how we do it here. Every one of our gins are distilled seven or eight times (depending which one) then after distillation we add fresh hand-picked botanicals from Scotland and also high-quality dried botanicals when they cannot be sourced in Scotland’s climate, such as juniper from Croatia - so heat is not used on the botanicals at all. It is basically like doing gin production back to front, except it takes a lot longer with botanicals steeping in the gin for up to four weeks and then the lengthy process of filtering the spirit too. Although it does sound a bit painstaking, the botanicals are not heated in this process, allowing the fresh ones such as rose, heather and mint to retain their natural flavours and really ‘pop’ in a gin, giving it a truly unique flavour, smell and colour.
You're also branching out into other spirits - what have you made so far?
Last year we produced Scotland’s first Akvavit. A Scandinavian inspired spirit with caraway and lots of other tasty botanicals, sometimes referred to as ‘Scandinavia’s gin’. It is the only spirit so far which we have produced the ‘traditional’ way due to the fact that the botanicals used behave differently in distillation from our others. It is distilled for up to 48 hours in a small 250 litre still, giving it an incredibly smooth mouth feel and such a unique taste. After distillation and/or resting we also bottle, cork, label and pack our spirits by hand in our distillery in Burray. The whole process is truly a labour of love and a family effort, with only Gary, our children and me working in our distillery.
What's a normal day like at Orkney Spirits?
Our normal day is very varied and busy. It can include anything from admin and emails to full on production, bottling and labelling. Some days are lovely, we spend them out collecting botanicals up the heathery hills in Burray, and others are very hands on with all our production methods done by hand. Thankfully, since the last time we did an interview with you, we have purchased a four-receptacle bottling machine. Although these all still must be inserted by hand and corked by hand, small improvements like this do help us manage our time a little better and certainly don’t compromise the final product. We are always careful not to make any significant changes and ensure every bottle you see on the shelves is hand crafted and hand finished, right down to hand placing the tamper seals on top.
How would you describe your spirits in 3 words?
What makes your gins different?
Our gin is made from 7 times distilled premium grain spirit, using hand-picked botanicals from our stunning surroundings. The bathtub style requires no heat, which gives our gin a completely unique taste, Like no other! We always strive to create the best spirits we can, unique and even ground-breaking – with one of the first spiced gins, Scotland’s fist Akvavit, exceptionally smooth spirit distilled many times – but most importantly it is all done by hand with love by our tiny family team. Our efforts certainly haven’t been in vain as we have won quite an accolade of awards, including winning the Compound Gin category of The Gin Guide Awards, being named ‘Best in the UK’ and Gold twice in the World Gin Awards, Golds in The Spirits Business Awards and we have won several Great Taste awards gaining us a Great Taste producer status and even an amazing three-star great taste award for our Orkney Akvavit.
What are your favourite ways to drinks your gins?
What gins would you always have on your gin self, as well as your own of course!
We love gin, so it is hard to choose! Bathtub Old Tom Gin, Esker Gin and Forest Dry Gin are all amazing. For something very different I like to drink Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz Gin with lemon tonic.
What's next for Orkney Spirits Ltd?
We have really enjoyed creating Orkney Akvavit, so I think we will continue working on niche spirits with perhaps another gin in the pipeline too. I think we might have run out of room in our micro distillery, so perhaps we will need to extend or add another building nearby.
You might also like...