Kirkjuvagr Gin from Orkney
Stephen Kemp and his wife Aly are the owners of Orkney Distilling Limited and they create a distinctive range of Kirkjuvagr craft gins inspired by their island heritage.
Kirkwall is the best existing example of a medieval Norwegian town and we wanted our brand to remain rooted in our Norse heritage. We wanted Orkney’s cultural influence to be reflected in our products and brand and I believe we have achieved this.
Kirkjuvagr is the old Norse name for Kirkwall, and this bold drink has a home, the Orkney Distillery, which stands on the shore of the town. Stephen kindly told us more…
Q. How did Kirkjuvagr start? What is your story?
A. It all started back in 2015. My wife, Aly and I, attended a few weddings and events around the country, and had noted the growing number of really interesting craft gin products as we travelled. We noted however how absent a strongly branded, Orkney craft gin was. We went on to develop a lot of fairly detailed ideas, but it wasn’t until that Christmas when our friends were also discussing with interest the many emerging craft gins that Aly and I decided the time was right!
From there and through some mutual friends we got in touch with an already established craft distiller and the following week I was at their distillery learning the art of gin making and the distilling process. Fast forward 6 months to the 6th August 2016, and we launched our first, original expression – Kirkjuvagr Gin! Needless to say it took a lot of time, effort, dedication and hard work to see it through to fruition in such a short time.
Q. How long does it take to make your gin?
A. It’s very interesting, because we distil by hand, bottle by hand, label and package by hand and have no real industrial processes it is quite time consuming, but that’s the craft element of our gin making. Each gin can vary completely but roughly it would take around two weeks. Our Beyla gin is an exception as it draws flavour and natural colouring from the raspberries so the time between distilling and bottling depends on how long it takes them to fully discharge their flavour and colouring during the maceration process.
Q. What is your personal favourite product and why?
A. Arkh-Angell, our navy strength gin is definitely my favourite. Arkh-Angell was the name of Aly’s late father’s fishing boat so it has very special family ties. Our key local botanical is Angelica Archangelica, and the plants from the UHI Agronomy Institute provided for us were grown from seed take from the wild Archangelica growing in the village of Pierowall in Westray, where Aly’s Dad was from. Pierowall is the only place in Britain where this particular Angelica plant exists, and it was taken there centuries ago from the North by Faroese fishermen. This incredible coincidence meant that the product simply had to carry the name Arkh-Angell.
Q. What has been the biggest highlight since starting the company?
A. Probably seeing our Distillery building open on the shorefront in Kirkwall, opening our doors to the public in June 2018. Being able to serve the public a G&T in our very own bar has been fantastic as well as offering our distillery tour experiences. We’ve also loved being able to hold events in our building, from small intimate music events, community gatherings, an annual bridge competition, to even a wedding or two! The distillery building allows our brand to have a physical home and has meant we can employ some additional, local staff who are also invested in our brand and local heritage as much as we are.
Q. What one thing do you wish people knew about the business/industry?
A. This is an interesting question, – I think there are a few things but maybe the impact that of living and operating on an island has when it comes to producing a premium product is a key area that I don’t think is always fully understood by the consumer. For example, all our empty bottles are shipped up via NorthLink Ferries, and we then ship them back out again with support from NorthLink Ferries for onward distribution across the country. So I guess it is important to let our customer understand that whilst producing by hand on an island like Orkney adds enormous value to the fantastic food and drink produce from here, the time and costs involved for a rural, island business are extraordinary.
Q. What makes Kirkjuvagr stand out?
A. Our branding! Kirkjuvagr is the old Norse name for Kirkwall, and our building stands proudly on the shores of Kirkwall Bay. Kirkwall is the best existing example of a medieval Norwegian town and we wanted our brand to remain rooted in our Norse heritage. We wanted Orkney’s cultural influence to be reflected in our products and brand and I believe we have achieved this.
Q. What is next for you?
A. For a while now we have been working with EMEC and other partners to examine sustainability and potential use of locally produced green hydrogen as a means of decarbonising the spirits production process. Last year we were “HySpirits” feasibility study which was supported via the UK Government’s Industrial Fuels Switching Strategy. We’re now working to further this study and hope to continue to develop a more sustainable process solution, that is very much in context with Orkney’s entrepreneurial spirit. One day, we may just be able to produce a zero-carbon spirit right here in Orkney – which could be a world first!
To find out more and to sample the Kirkjuvagr Gin range for yourself, please visit https://www.orkneydistilling.com/
A young quine with an energetic sense of adventure but dire sense of direction! Born and bred in the North East of Scotland with a long loving appreciation of the Scottish islands.