We're finishing our gin tour of the Scottish Islands in the North Sea on the Orkney Islands.
Orkney is an archipelago situated about 10 miles north of the coast of Caithness. It's made up of around 70 islands with nearly 600 miles of coastline. Only around twenty of the islands are inhabited and the population totals approximately 21000 people.
The islands are generally split into the North Isles and the South Isles with the largest island being called the Mainland.
Lying to the north of Mainland, the North Isles are the more extensive and has a number of moderately sized, inhabited islands including North Ronaldsay, Sanday and Westray. In island names, the suffix 'a' or 'ay' comes from Norse and means 'island'. Those described as 'holms' are very small in size.
The South Isles surround Scapa Flow, a body of water that has played an important role in travel, trade and conflict throughout the centuries. Vikings anchored their longships in Scapa Flow more than a thousand years ago. It was also the United Kingdom's chief naval base during the First and Second World Wars, but the facility was closed in 1956.
The Mainland itself is split into areas called East and West Mainland with Kirkwall, the capital and administrative centre, being the determining factor whether a place lies to the east or west.
Orkney encompasses Neolithic sites, tall sandstone cliffs and seal colonies. The 'Heart of Neolithic Orkney' is a group of 5,000-year-old sites on Mainland including Skara Brae, a preserved village with a reconstructed house, and Maeshowe, a chambered burial tomb incorporating 12th-century Viking carvings.
The land on Orkney is very fertile so most of the land is taken up by farms with agriculture being the most important sector of the economy and providing employment for around a quarter of the population. Tourism is another important sector with growing numbers of tourists visiting Orkney in recent years. Visitors are drawn to the islands' historical sites as well as several international festivals which take place throughout the year.
Distilling on Orkney
Orkney has a long association with the production of world class spirits and is home to Highland Park distillery which started production in 1798 and has won the accolade of 'Best Spirit in the World' on two occasions. Highland Park is on the outskirts of Kirkwall and boasts a 5-star visitor centre along with tours and tasting packages. Just half a mile away is Scapa Distillery, another award-winning whisky distillery. Production began in 1885 and is run by just three people.
In addition to the whisky distilleries, Orkney also has two award-winning breweries, the UK's most northerly winery, a rum distillery as well as several craft gin distilleries and producers.
Gins from Orkney
Situated on Orkney’s East Mainland, Deerness Distillery is thought to be the first new distillery of its kind on Orkney since 1885. The distillery was built by Stuart and Adelle Brown in 2017 with the help of their friends and family. Deerness produce a range of gins using their traditional alembic copper pot still and the production process is carried out entirely by hand.
Sea Glass Gin - The signature gin from Deerness Distillery has notes of warm spices, citrus and juniper. It features seven key botanicals along with Orcadian water and is a reflection of Orkney’s ever changing seascape.
Scuttled Gin - A special release created with the SCAPA100 initiative to mark the centenary of the scuttling of the WWI German High Seas Fleet in Scapa Flow on 21st June 1919. A percentage of the profits go to support the project. It's distilled using a variety of botanicals including juniper, tarragon, cassia bark, lemon peel, chamomile flower heads, green pepper, lavender and mint.
Vára Pink Gin - A pink gin that will take you back to the spring time with every sip. The name Vára means become spring in Old Norse. Made with botanicals including juniper, tarragon, rosemary, elderflower, lemon grass, lime, red grapefruit, rose, vanilla and cardamom. The gin is then infused with pink rose petals post distillation to give it its lovely pink hue.
Deerness Distillery also make a vodka and a rum-based coffee liqueur.
Based in Burray, The Orkney Gin Company make a range of handcrafted gins using the traditional cold compounding method. The process is labour intensive and the gin is produced in tiny micro-batches. Infusion is undertaken in stages, and constant, meticulous sampling for quality is carried out. Once the perfect balance has been achieved, the gin is blended, filtered and bottled.
Rhubarb Old Tom Gin - Made using the the traditional Old Tom style which was popular in the 18th century, the gin is packed full of rhubarb which can be found growing in abundance in the wild in Orkney. It is lightly sweetened and has hints of gorse flower and peppery juniper.
Johnsmas Gin - Inspired by the long, clear days of an Orcadian summer where the sun barely disappears below the horizon. This time of year is steeped in traditional Orkney folklore and is marked by bonfires, festivals, and music. Fragrant, fresh and light, a variety of seasonal botanicals are used to capture the clean and refreshing floral notes of summer in Orkney.
Mikkelmas Gin - The Mikkel Feast is traditionally celebrated by Orcadians from 29th September to 12th October, marking the end of the harvest and summer. The tradition still exists today with most parishes still hosting their own Harvest Home, a traditional meal and dance that lasts long into the night. Made using a combination of traditional botanicals including juniper berries, cinnamon and orange peel as well as locally sourced botanicals such as ling heather and wild rosehips.