Gin is booming, without a doubt, but we’re also starting to see something of a backlash. A backlash against gin-and-tonic everything (see #StopFuckingWithGin), a backlash against flavoured gin (see Hayman’s Call Time on Fake Gin campaign) and a backlash against both a lack of transparency and the misuse of terminology such as “artisan” and “handcrafted”. There are certainly people out there making small scale craft gin by hand, but they have to compete against the big brands – brands with money and trademarks, many of which are not even making their own gin – just to get noticed. I believe that now, more than ever, these small businesses and micro-distilleries deserve a bigger platform and greater promotion, to which I hope to contribute. One such producer is Deerness Distillery.
Deerness Distillery launched in May 2017 and was Orkney’s first distillery in over 130 years. The enterprise was founded by Australians Stuart and Adelle Brown, respectively a chartered engineer and pharmacist, who moved across the world with their three children in search of a better work-life balance. In 2016, the couple decided to turn their hobby into reality by designing and building a distillery on land near their home with the help of family, friends and neighbours.
Having undertaken plenty of research and experimentation, initially producing six different gins each with different botanicals, Deerness Distillery launched with one gin and one vodka. The names of both spirits – Sea Glass Gin and Into The Wild Vodka – were inspired by their family life on the islands. The distillery’s logo, a striking and proud deer, designed by Caroline Harrison, was also inspired by the red deer bones found on the local sea stack, the Brough of Deerness, and which are said to have given the parish its name. The gin’s stunning label, again Caroline’s work, celebrates Orkney’s seascape while also bringing to mind tiny pebbles of sea glass and their frosted, translucent beauty. Admittedly it would be even more striking if the design was etched into the glass, rather than applied to a label, but clearly such costs would be prohibitively high for this small operation.
Sea Glass Gin is produced solely by the couple who do everything by hand including distilling, bottling, and labelling. Having made a conscious decision not to forage the land to produce their gin, the Browns instead choose botanicals that could, largely, be grown on Orkney and indeed the couple plan to build a polytunnel on their site to do just that. The botanicals they selected – juniper, orange peel, cucumber, mint, lavender, lemon leaf verbena and tarragon – are added to neutral grain spirit at different times during a 12-hour distillation process in their 300-litre traditional copper pot still (albeit with an additional reflux column) called Matilda. Being a London Dry Gin, nothing is added post-distillation except pure Orcadian water to cut the spirit back to a bottling strength of 43% ABV.
On the nose, Sea Glass Gin is delicate with plenty of citrus upfront and a good hit of juniper. To taste I found it fresh and herbaceous with floral notes. There’s a good amount of green juniper, citrus from the orange peel and lemon leaf verbena and a refreshing long finish with menthol notes and a slight pepperiness. Perhaps I’m just being influenced by the bottle, and the heatwave we are currently enjoying, but this strikes me as a light, summery spirit.
As one might expect, this makes a refreshing and enjoyable gin and tonic with lifted citrus and juniper. Deerness Distillery suggest a range of different garnishes from kiwi and blueberries. While these certainly look beautiful, I often find such garnishes add little to the aroma or the taste of a drink. A slice of lemon, on the other hand, certainly brought out the citrus but I still think this gin is worthy of further experimentation; an orange peel garnish, I think, would be more delicate than lemon and perhaps juniper or mint would be worth trying too.
Since its launch, Sea Glass Gin has won a trio of silver medals and been selected as a finalist in two categories – London Dry Gin of the Year and Excellence in Branding – at The Scottish Gin Awards (the results of which will be announced on Thursday 20 September 2018). They’ve also expanded their distillery, opening a tasting room, a viewing area from where visitors can watch the distilling process, and small shop stocked with local arts and crafts from the parish and across Orkney. All this, while still remaining a small family-run operation with an ethos of working in harmony with their surroundings and promoting local businesses, and their parish, to the wider world.
Deerness Distillery’s gin, and vodka, is truly handcrafted with passion and love. Not only that, but they also care about their community and their environment. With flavoured vodkas in the pipeline, plans for a liqueur range, a small batch rum and a new gin coming out this year, they are exactly the sort of business we should be promoting and supporting, and certainly one to watch!
Purchase Sea Glass Gin direct from Deerness Distillery at £34 for 70cl or £14 for 20cl (43% ABV).
With thanks to Stuart Brown, Managing Director at Deerness Distillery, for the complimentary bottle of Sea Glass Gin.