Clear sea air, beautiful sites, great people and great gin, what more can you ask for?
Ever since l first visited Orkney a few years ago l have been fascinated with the Orkney Isles.
I remember arriving at the amazing St Magnus Church before a visit to the amazing Standing Stones of Stenness, The Ring of Brodgar, and the Tomb of The Eagles, which also turned into a magical experience as the seals had all just returned with their pups and could hear their haunting singing as you walked around the cliff edge. All great sites in Orkney, alongside the Italian Chapel and Broch of Gurness. Each time you go to Orkney you find something amazing that stokes your interest in history even further
Visiting any Scottish island is always a refreshing experience, but visiting places that still have so many archaeological and historical features still visible showcasing our roots and local traditions, is something l find special. Being able to see some of the features under water l also find interesting, all that history underwater waiting to be explored further and give more insight into life in Scotland and the islands. It makes me think of the Atlantis myths.
If you have a chance to visit Orkney on a good day when the water is at its clearest there is always a good chance of seeing the outline of some remains of old settlements only a few feet deep in these clear waters. Even on a bad day it can be pretty dramatic, and l still recommend visiting some of the ancient stone settlements along with the standing stones. No matter the weather, you’ll find this feeling of amazement at the structures still present around you.
Being a Scotsman l believe its important to stay in touch with who we are, our roots, local produce, community etc. Hence one of the reasons l love Orkney and all of the historical sites kept intact and protected, yet still natural features within the landscape, which you can touch and be part of, no barriers or conveyor belt tourism. You get a taste for the culture that existed, and the current that exists today along with how passionate Orcadians are about taking pride in culture and history (inc their own language, which is separate from Gaelic). I also love the feeling of community you get on the islands, and the local businesses.
I could ramble on forever about the historical sites and such on Orkney but lets talk about the other thing that may bring you to Orkney... the thing that’s important right now... The Gin.
When l meet people who are drinking gin or whisky l normally ask that classic question, what is your go to gin or whisky of choice? We all have our favourites. I am a whisky man, but I also enjoy a good gin. And Orkney definitely produces what I can honestly say is my favourite gin. It also comes with great packaging and logo, and created by a great team who locally source and care about the environment, which makes it even better.
When it comes to the distilling process we should thank our ancient alchemists. Our ancestors in Scotland were also among those who held juniper as one of our most sacred plants and knew of its medicinal properties as well as it just tasting great. Orkney Gin is distilled/redistilled with a unique blend of botanical ingredients with the end result being a lovely tasting refreshing Gin.
What l really find interesting about the flavours that are added is how they each bring out different depths in taste of juniper which is the main active ingredient in gin. Orkney Gin have a few gins for you to try, and you really should give each a go and see what you notice about the scent and taste of each.
I have tried my fair share of Gin and in all honesty Kirkjuvagr has got to be my fave. l have become such a huge fan of Orkney Gin, not only because l love Orkney and because of the aroma and taste of the gins that they create, but there’s something infectious about the passion and ambition Orkney Gin have as people for their creations, it is very real, and they care about sustainability, the environment, the sourcing of their ingredients, and their local community whilst creating jobs and providing something authentic and a little bit different for their customers. Including a space in Kirkwall where we can socialise, taste the product, see the distilling process etc all whilst giving that respective nod to our roots. There’s a purity there that makes you get really behind the brand.
It’s not all about making money (creating revenue from the products are an added bonus, and a well deserved one given what the company are doing and have done), its about creating something from our strong heritage and old myths, and bringing it back to life whilst creating a product that delivers, and hits the mark.
When l first went to Orkney a few years ago l was blown away exploring all of the amazing ancient sites and really hadnt explored the distilleries or social hot spots etc on the island yet, until my second time only a few months later. I had been travelling between the Islands for work and then by chance l was in Kirkwall and had the opportunity to meet with Stephen Kemp the managing director of Kirkjuvagr Orkney Gin. Stephen and his wife created the company together, and have enlisted a great team to take it further.
At the time I first went Orkney Gin was only starting to build momentum creating its first gin whilst building an artisan distillery, visitor centre and shop in the town of Kirkwall. The building itself was still very much a skeleton, Stephen offered to give me a tour showing me around the building, l could feel the excitement he had and could instantly feel myself getting equally excited about the development of this company. Especially when he also started discussing clean energy, sustainability, local ethical sourcing and everything that brands today should be thinking about. He really had passion about everything from the ingredients and the brand logo and what it represents, to a clean distilling process and giving something back.
I find truth in the saying that the people behind the closed doors that make your food, serve you drinks etc make a huge impact on how the product represents itself and your memory of it. I remember when l was a child my gran would make me mashed potatoes and no matter how many times l tried to make such a simple recipe even with my gran looking over my shoulder instructing me l could never replicate them. So l firmly believe that the people distilling the gin at Orkney Gin are creating something that can’t be replicated, and they’re doing it with the additional ingredients of good intent, passion and most important love for what they are doing. This is something that also creates a living for them, and this is why I hope it continues to do well as they’re great people and doing things the right way.
When Orkney Gin created Kirkjuvar Gin they wanted to make sure that their was an ode to roots both Scots and Norse, and finding your way back home safely, and had hoped that it would become a signpost of their brand and part of their success. They created this lovely tasting gin with locally sourced ingredients one being Angelica which was brought to the islands by our Norse seafarer ancestors centuries ago and they added to the magic with some additional local produce such as Ramanas Rose, Burnet Rose, Borage and the traditional Orkney Bere Barley which is prounounced as Bear Barley.
Everywhere l go now l always look for Orkney Gin Distillery with the vegvísir. Now you’re probably asking yourself what is the vegvísir. The vegvísir prounced VEGG-vee-seer is an old compass which helped those at sea or during harsh weather to find their way back home... a bit like we might need it after a few gins too many. Its a very distinctive symbol and one that was important for those at sea, which Orkney Gin have incorporated onto their bottle tops, and added to some of their awesome merchandise that can be purchased at the distillery on the waterfront. Wherever you find a bottle I recommend taking IT back home along with you.
When I returned to the distillery recently it was amazing to see it completed. It is so sleek and stands out in Kirkwall, as soon as you get off the ferry and go along the Main Street the vegvísir definitely stands out and guides you to the distillery. The infamous mythological sign post definitely works. The distillery has a great bar and coffee shop, so if you can spare time, check it out. There is even a visibility window where you can watch the process, a store where you can buy their gins the original Kirkjuvagr, and their two additions Arkh-Angell which is strong enough for the toughest Viking, and the sweeter Harpa which has a really vibrant fruity hint to it. They also have their own artisan chocolates, T-shirt’s and products with the infamous vegvísir sigil symbol and some books etc. Its a really great environment with a good vibe, and whether you’re a tourist from further a field or a Scottish native, I highly recommend going along and checking it out and grabbing a gin or a tea/coffee and some chocolates. You’ll find the staff some of the friendliest people you’ll meet also.
Orkney Gin Distillery in Kirkwall has regular tours from 2pm every day apart from Sunday’s and launching soon is the Kirkjuvgar Gin making experience. I had a little sneak preview of this and you will love it. The experience includes a full day tour, then you get the time to craft your own gin in one of the coolest looking spaces you could get your inner alchemist on in... you’ll get what I mean when you visit, under the guidance of Orkney Gins distiller. Alongside the option of creating your own personalised bottle you can take home with you. Win win.
After my most recent distillery tour, which included a viewing of the Orkney Gin video (which you need to check out as it’s a great film), I ended up back in Norway, this time Hordaland. It was funny going to see some traditional music at King Haakons Hall in Bergen, and seeing the link to Orkney displayed, as King Haakon himself spent quite some time in Orkney where he died at the Old Bishops Palace (check it out whilst you’re in Orkney) and was laid to rest at St Magnus Cathedral for some time until he was taken back to Bergen. I enjoyed exploring whilst repping some really cool Orkney Gin merch featuring the vegvísir along the way, and then indeed finding my way back home to wear it on my adventures around Scotland.
I’ll rep Orkney Gin whenever I can, home and away, and will always have high praise for them as a product and as a brand... and as people. They’re a brand you definitely want to keep your eyes on, as I think they’re going to continue to do some interesting things... infact after what I’ve seen on my preview, I’m pretty sure of it.