Reel gin launch start of big things in Unst

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The first bottles of Shetland Reel Gin were cracked open yesterday at a tasting in Unst to mark the launch of the first product from the only distillery in Shetland.

Gin launch 2

Shetland Distillery partners L-R Wilma and Stuart Nickerson and Frank and Debbie Strang. Photo: Paul Riddle.

Shetland Reel Gin is produced by Shetland Distillery Company and its launch was celebrated by an approving crowd at Saxa Vord Resort, owned by Frank and Debbie Strang, who are in a partnership in the gin venture established last year with with Scotch whisky specialist Stuart Nickerson and his wife Wilma.

The gin – a potent 43 per cent distillation infused with eight botanicals including Unst-grown applemint – was generally hailed by the crowd as distinctive, flavourful and pleasant to drink. Its final recipe is the product of extensive blind testing. The partners worked hard to get the historic first 50 bottles ready for the launch.

Blackwood Distillers pioneered the production of Shetland gin in recent times but that brand is no longer in production.

Shetland Reel Gin will likely be followed by other iterations on the gin theme, and Shetland Distillery hopes down the line to be producing whisky – though this will be in four years time at the earliest.

Gn Lanch 3

Country star Jim Salestrom provided the entertainment. Photo: Peter Johnson

The guests had a special treat – the Emmy award winning country singer-songwriter Jim Salestrom was on hand to play his self-penned jingle for the gin launch plus a bunch of other tunes. Mr Salestrom and his wife Pam flew specially from the USA for the launch. He was to continue the entertainment later yesterday evening with a gig in Baltasound Hall.

Mr Nickerson, who is regarded as something of the whisky wizard in the industry who has managed to turn around ailing brands, said that they had created a truly authentic Shetland gin with a genuine Unst provenance.

“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 botanicals which are inn the gin. Three versions were produced an tried against market leading brands in the UK and Ireland.

Mr Strang, who took over Saxa Vord from the RAF, turning it into an award winning resort, said that the launch of the gin was a “great lift for Unst” that would hopefully 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 its nice to be able to offer a little taste of the island above all others to those who have not been here or are unable to come.”

Highlands and Islands Enterprise awarded almost £17,000 to Shetland Distillery. HIE head of business growth Elaine Jamieson said that Shetland Reel Gin was a welcome new addition to Shetland’s high quality food and drink.

The distillery is located in the supplies building of the former RAF Saxa Vord site and is next to the well-established Valhalla micro-brewery.

About Peter Johnson

Reporter for The Shetland Times. I have also worked as an employed and freelance reporter and editor for a variety of print and broadcast media outlets and as as a freelance photographer and film maker/cameraman. In addition to journalism, I have experience in construction, oil analysis, aquaculture, fisheries, the health service and oral history.

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