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Bottled from nature: Orkney Gin Company

Riding the Scottish tide, stellar Orkney gins make their mark at the 2021 London Spirits Competition.

Hailing from Orkney, a stunning set of islands of the north course of Scotland, Orkney Gin Company handpicks botanicals from the wild environment and infuses them to make high-quality gins like Orkney Akvavit and Kirkjuvagr, both of which bagged medals at the 2021 London Spirits Competition. Their bottle designs seek inspiration from washed stoneware and glassware on the sea shore, with the Selkie-Woman logo bringing forth an element of mystery and magic amongst the Scots.

Distilling the spirit seven times in the bathtub method, gins at Orkney Gin Company are made in the traditional Orcadian manner. Owners Gary and Andrea Watt are both admirers of nature and Earth and have built the family-run distillery's ethos to be all about materials and ingredients gathered from the Isle of Burray.

We spoke to co-owner Gary Watt, who told us about what’s next for Orkney Gin Company, and how they continue crafting award-winning gins.

“My background is actually at sea, which is definitely where we get most of our inspiration from. Andrea and I are massive gin lovers, which has brought us into the crazy world of distilling and making our own spirits. It's something we have always enjoyed, creating our own versions of spirits for many years as gifts for friends and family,” Gary Watt told us.

Tell us a little bit about Orkney Gin Company.

Orkney Gin Company was formed in 2015 and we brought out our first spirits, Johnsmas and Mikkelmas, in early 2016. Our spirits are inspired by the Orkney Islands and our unique local heritage. The Orkney Islands have so much history from the Stone Age to the viking settlements, wartime history, and more. We have a keen eye for sourcing local botanicals which have been used in traditional recipes over many years and enjoy creating spirits that reflect Orkney's traditions, folklore, fresh ingredients, and emotion.

According to you, what makes a great spirit?

Passion, ingredients of the utmost quality, plenty of time (it takes a lot of trial and error), and in Orkney Gin Company's case, Andrea's amazing taste buds!

What would be your typical day at work?

As we are a tiny family business running from a micro distillery, so our daily routine varies a lot. Mornings normally start with fulfilling online orders and any trade orders, ready for the postman coming at around 12.30. We grab a quick lunch and when it's a nicer day we take our two dogs for a walk up the heathery hill above the distillery. The summer months are a great time to collect botanicals such as the heather flower. Normally we have a couple of spirits in various stages of the process: botanical steeping, distilling, and some in resting periods too. We try to distill in larger quantities to save energy, so on these days, I get up very early to get the still on as it can take over 24 hours to complete. Normally afternoons are filled with production (like bottling or hand labelling), paperwork or developing new ideas which can be great fun.

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The Orkney Akvavit, Source: Facebook

How often are you firing up the stills and how long does a batch take?

We try our best to work as efficiently as possible. We use a 250 litre custom-built intelligent still which is very eco-friendly. All of our spirits vary and some are produced almost the opposite way around. Our Orkney Akvavit takes up to three days, then it is distilled incredibly slowly for over 24 hours. Once it is finished, we rest it for a couple of weeks before hand bottling, corking, labelling, and boxing. I would say our spirits average around 3-4 weeks from production, beginning to bottling.

What excites you the most about your brand?

I think it has to be thinking outside the box. We distill our spirits up to eight times for an exceptionally smooth mouthfeel and use only the best botanicals we can source as we know this makes the flavours so much more special. We were one of the first bathtub gin producers in Scotland, making a sweeter Old Tom Gin from rhubarb which was almost unheard of at the time. We created the first Scottish Navy Strength Old Tom, Johannistag (it was a limited edition so unfortunately, you can't purchase it now, but definitely one of our favourites!), and the groundbreaking Orkney Akvavit - Scotland's first Akvavit, which is traditionally a Scandinavian distilled spirit.

What spirits do you consider your flagship spirits and why?

We get asked this a lot, and my honest answer is, our flagship gin hasn't been released yet. We made one many years ago and have been waiting for the perfect time to release it, and excitingly, it doesn't look too far away. Our Orkney Akvavit is certainly the overall flagship spirit - maybe not just ours, even Scotland's too!

Are you working on something new right now?

Absolutely. We always are, but as I mentioned above, our flagship gin is not far away and it's a true stunner. We have worked really hard to make this spirit special - going as far as creating our own bespoke bottle to contain this lovely fresh gin.

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An Orkney stairway heaven, Source: Facebook

Where can we find your products?

There are so many stockists and I think in this industry, we sometimes don't know some of them as there's a wholesaler between us and the shops, restaurants, and bars. We sell online and almost every local shop and bar here in Orkney stocks Orkney Gin Company's spirits. We sell across the UK as well.

What are some of the spirits you have on your personal shelf?

I love Akvavit (sometimes spelled Aquavit), so I have some of the classics and some unique ones too. I think it would be silly in this industry to not try competitors' spirits too, so you can often find these in our pantry. We love to see what's new and being talked about so often we buy these to try them for ourselves. At the moment though the star of our shelf is our new gin - Akvavit.

Do you have a favourite cocktail?

This one is a stunner, and we've actually never spoken about it publicly yet. David from the Speakeasy UK works with us to make some really special cocktails, and came up with this one, made using our Mikkelmas - a warming and smooth gin.

The Seven Seas cocktail is a great mix of citrus and spice: 60 ml Mikkelmas, 30 ml Cucumber Juice, 30 ml Lemon Juice, 15 ml Ancho Reyes Rojo, 15 ml Green Chartreuse, and crushed ice.

Shake ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Strain into glass with lots of ice. Garnish with dried chilli and cucumber.

What are some upcoming drinks trends, according to you?

I think anything unique is certainly a great start, however, I'm not sure that is a trend. We have noticed that gorgeous bottles are getting bigger, with many companies having bespoke ones made.

Lastly, what are you drinking right now?

Definitely our new gin, Akvavit. It's bright and refreshing. Perfect with tonic and lots of ice, and even better on a sunny day!

Header image - Orkney gins, Source: Facebook

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