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Shetland distillery launches first product

The first product the Shetland Distillery has been launched. Shetland Reel Gin is distilled using botanicals that include an apple-mint, specially grown on the island of Unst.

Unst, the most northerly island in the UK, is home to Shetland’s first distillery. The distillery is located in the supplies building of the former RAF Saxa Vord site and is operated by The Shetland Distillery Company.

Established last year to create a gin and whisky distillery, the company is a partnership between Scotch whisky industry specialist Stuart Nickerson with his wife Wilma and Saxa Vord owners Frank and Debbie Strang.

Nickerson, who has a long pedigree in the malt whisky industry, latterly reviving Glenglassaugh Distllery and then selling it to the BenRiach group, identified what he described as a great opportunity to produce gin on the most northerly inhabited island in the UK before turning to company’s longer term aim of producing a Scotch whisky at the same location.

“We have created a truly authentic Shetland gin which has a genuine Unst provenance,” he says. “That means we only 

produce the gin at the distillery at Saxa Vord and we procure at least some of the botanicals, notably the apple-mint which is grown in a polytunnel here in Unst.

“We are developing our plans for Shetland’s first ever whisky, but that is a longer term project. 

“The gin is a fantastic Shetland product embodying all that is good about the islands. It will help us to establish a reputation and gives us a strong platform to build on.”

Nickerson added that they had taken time to get the recipe right, trialling numerous batches before deciding on the eight botanicals that are in the gin. “Getting the balance of apple-mint right in particular was especially important,” he says. “We produced three versions among groups in the UK and Ireland and compared them with market leading brands. The overwhelming response was extremely favourable, with all of our gins standing up well and one in particular being a clear favourite.”

Frank and Debbie Strang took over Saxa Vord after the RAF departed nine years ago, turning it into an award-winning tourist resort with year-round self-catering accommodation and a seasonal hostel and bar/restaurant.

Mr Strang said: “The launch of this gin is a great lift for Unst. We hope it will bring more visitors and be the start of something much bigger. In Shetland we can take the amazing landscapes and seascapes for granted, but they are spectacular and it’s nice to be able to offer a little taste of the island above all others to those who have not been here or who aren’t able to come.”

Economic and community development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) awarded almost £17,000 to The Shetland Distillery Company.

Elaine Jamieson, HIE’s head of business growth, said: “We are delighted to have supported The Shetland Distillery Company towards developing the micro- brewery in Unst. Shetland Reel Gin is a welcome new addition to our high quality food and drink offering, branded on a strong sense of provenance. The market for hand crafted gin is growing and this is an excellent time to launch a product with authentic credentials which could also have a positive impact on island tourism.”

The gin is being distributed by the Shetland Distillery Co with an RRP of £29.99.

20 August 2014 - Felicity Murray The Drinks Report, editor