Tonic for Unst with gin production

Britain’s most northerly gin distillery is set to begin operations in Unst next month. And it will have a true Shetland flavour, with botanicals such as juniper sourced in the isles.

The Shetland Distillery Company, headed by Scotch whisky industry veteran Stuart Nickerson, applied for planning permission last year for a boutique whisky distillery in one of the disused RAF buildings at Saxa Vord.

Whisky production is still Mr Nickerson’s intention, but any spirit produced in Scotland has to be aged for a minimum of three years before it can legally be sold as whisky. Gin, on the other hand, does not require ageing.

“I can confirm that we have ordered a gin still and that it will be installed at Saxa Vord in June,” Mr Nickerson said. “At the moment we are still finalising the secret recipe but our plans are to include at least some botanicals from Shetland, and preferably from Unst, in the first few batches.

“Eventually, we hope to source all the botanicals from Shetland. With the use of polytunnels you can grow most things.”

Mr Nickerson added that though no official name for the gin was being released, “we do have something in mind.”

The development has been welcomed in Unst with proprietor of neighbouring Valhalla Brewery Sonny Priest saying that the distillery should help draw more visitors to the growing establishment of drinks companies at Saxa Vord.

Mr Priest added: “I am absolutely delighted that they are going to go ahead with it. It is something that has been spoken about for a long time. “Hopefully this will be a bit of an attraction to add to what we do.”

Unst-based North Isles councillor Gary Cleaver said: “I am pleased to hear that this business has got faith in Unst. If they do this right, there’s no reason why this should not lead on to bigger things.”

This is not the first ‘Shetland gin’, and neither is it the first to be associated with a planned whisky distillery.

The controversial company Blackwood’s, under the management of Caroline Whitfield, announced plans for a whisky distillery at Catfirth in 2002, and later transferred attentions to Unst. It produced Blackwood’s Dry Gin, distilled on the Scottish mainland but with botanicals said to be harvested in Shetland.

The company went into adminis­tration in 2008 but, under new ownership, continues to make and market two varieties of “Shetland” gin, as well as “Premium Nordic Vodka” and Jago’s Vanilla Cream Liqueur, all manufactured on mainland Scotland.

Mr Priest said he was very confident the new company would have a far better long term prospect in distilling than Blackwood’s. Having spoken extensively with Mr Nickerson, there was no doubting his expertise, commitment and track record of success, he said.

Mr Nickerson is in partnership with Frank Strang, owner of the Saxa Vord site. In an article for the Shetland Life magazilne last year he said he was enthusiastic about Shetland as a site for a distillery, “because it is the last remaining part of Scotland that doesn’t have one.

And it is the most northerly –  it’s got a fantastic USP (unique selling point). And once you get to Shetland – I’ve lived in Orkney, I’ve lived all over the mainland – but Shetland has something unique, definitely.”

Tom Morton

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