Shetland Reel – an interview with Debbie Strang

Shetland Distillery Company have been crafting Shetland Reel Gin since 2014 in Saxa Vord on the island of Unst in Shetland. It is the most northerly distillery in the UK and the small team here take great pride in creating a top product! We caught up with Debbie Strang to find out more about distilling spirits, the excellent drinks on offer from Shetland Reel, and how they have adapted to face recent challenges.

I love the burst of orange citrus in our ‘Simmer Gin’ and the caraway seeds and liquorice at the end that give it a warm and gentle spice. We can also report that most local people tell us that this is their favourite too. In fact, this was never meant to be a core gin but after everyone enjoyed it so much, we couldn’t stop producing it!

Debbie Strang from Shetland Distillery Company

Q. How did Shetland Reel start? What is your story?
A.
Shetland Distillery Company has been in full time operation since October 2014 and is based at the former RAF Saxa Vord on the northern most inhabited island in the UK, Unst, Shetland. I, myself was in the Air Force and although I’ve always been a gin and tonic drinker I never imagined we would open or operate a gin distillery!

The development of the distillery was part of the regeneration of Saxa Vord and as the tourism season is very short, the distillery would allow some year-round employment on site. Although our original plan was to create a Whisky distillery (an idea not completely forgotten about!). Looking at it now there seems to be lots of craft gin distilleries but back when we were starting in 2014 there really weren’t a lot. As the industry began to boom and the interest in gin soared, we went from having just 1 gin to 3 core gins and many, many more since.

Shetland Reel is made at the most northerly distillery in the UK

Q. How long does it take to make your gin?
A.
Our distillation takes just one day, and then we let it settle for 14 days before bottling, labelling and packaging. However, the development of the gin can take weeks, sourcing the right botanicals, working on the taste profile, putting it out to tasting panels and finalising it. One of our recent gins took 16 versions to get it absolutely as we wanted!

Shetland Reel - Simmer Gin

Q. What is your personal favourite product and why?
A.
Simmer Gin! The third of our core gins, although our recent Festive Hawthorn nearly moved this off the top spot. I love the burst of orange citrus and the caraway seeds and liquorice at the end that give it a warm and gentle spice. Also, because we named it after the special summer light in Shetland, “Simmer Dim”. Being able to attend events and tell everyone about how special the summer days and evenings are in Shetland is a real highlight and we hope we can share the Shetland story through our products.

We can also report that most local people tell us that this is their favourite too. In fact, this was never meant to be a core gin but after everyone enjoyed it so much, we couldn’t stop producing it!

Bottling Shetland Reel Gin

Q. What has been the biggest highlight since starting the company?
A.
There have been lots, but I think it is the development of the distillery team, bringing a new skill of distilling to the island, a skill that wasn’t there before we started.

We are a very small team and have to constantly develop especially recently with all the additional challenges that COVID-19 has brought, but each team member is passionate and committed to creating top quality spirits. I often think we give off the impression of being far larger than we are but really we’re just a very hard working, small team and one which I’m very proud of.

Shetland Reel from distilled in Unst

Q. What one thing do you wish people knew about the business/industry?
A.
Scottish Craft Gin is a phenomenal product and has experienced huge growth over the past few years, but it’s important we continue to focus on quality over quantity. For us, we know our spirits are top quality and we thrive to ensure everything else is too, from our branding to bottles and everything in between.

Saxa Vord on Unst in Shetland

Q. What makes Shetland Reel stand out?
A.
Our location is everything, being the most northerly distillery in the UK we have a fantastic story to tell, and we aim to tell everyone about Shetland through our gins. Whether it is through a locally sourced botanical, or by using Shetland dialect. If you want to see an example of the Shetland dialect then head to our website, each gin has an English and Sheltie description! Our aim is to persuade people to visit, but for those that don’t we want to draw them to the islands through each sip of our gin and we love getting to chat to people about the gins and the place we call home!

Virtual online tastings from Shetland Reel

Q. What is next for you?
A.
We export to several countries and we want to do more. We want to keep producing more quality gins and have started a range called ‘Single Batch Creations’, where the run of gin will be very limited, only produced once and sold only from the distillery.

We are also now offering exclusive virtual online tastings and have set up click and collect, our virtual tastings have been going down a treat and seen a great uptake. It’s a great way to get everyone involved and do something a bit different, especially in these uncertain times. The packs include notes about the ties to Shetland of each gin and are a great way to experience a taste of the isles from the comfort of your own home.

There is so much more to come from the UK’s most northerly distillery.

Please visit https://www.shetlandreel.com/ to have a look for yourself!

Shona LawranceBy Shona Lawrance
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.

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