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Shetland Reel Gin marks island’s first distillery

The UK's northermost distillery will produce gin made with botanicals grown on the island of Unst. Picture: Wikimedia/CC

The UK's northermost distillery will produce gin made with botanicals grown on the island of Unst. Picture: Wikimedia/CC

  • by ALISTAIR MUNRO
 

THE most northerly gin in the UK has been unveiled - with a unique twist.

Shetland Reel Gin is made with botanicals, including apple-mint, specially grown in the island of Unst.

Unst, which styles itself as the “island above all others” because it is the most northerly in the country, 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 and his wife Wilma and Saxa Vord owners Frank and Debbie Strang.

Shetland Reel Gin was unveiled to the sounds of a jingle written and performed in person by American country singer-songwriter Jim Salestrom.

Mr 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.

He said: “We have created a truly authentic Shetland gin which has a genuine Unst provenance.

“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.”

Mr Nickerson added that they had taken time to get the recipe right, trialling numerous batches before deciding on the eight botanicals which are in the gin.

“Getting the balance of apple-mint right in particular was especially important,” he said.

“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.”

Mr Salestrom, who began playing with Dolly Parton in 1979, is a friend of Mr Strang’s and seized the opportunity both to launch the gin and play a special concert at the tiny Baltasound Hall in Unst tonight.

“I was delighted to take up Frank’s invitation to come to Unst and enjoyed composing a little song to mark the very special occasion of the launch of the gin,” he said.

“I’ve travelled the world many times in my career, but Shetland is a truly unique place and it’s great to be here.”

Mr and Mrs 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.”

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