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Kirsty's Gin

A relentless salty gale blows off the North Sea weaving its way through the wooden slats and bricks of the old dairy that overlooks picturesque Lunan Bay on the east coast of Scotland.  Inside, the dairy cows are long gone, in their place is Arbikie Distillery which, although new and of modern design, is visibly tainted by the damp, salty air.  The rich reds, oranges and browns of iron oxide on unprotected metal fittings and the cask hoops that we entrust to keep our maturing whisky safe are daily reminders of our coastal location, the sea air ageing each of them before their time.

Distillery View

At Arbikie, rather than simply ‘endure’ these conditions we embrace our surroundings. Being a farm distillery everything we do is dictated by the seasons and our geographical location.  What crops we are able to grow, the growing season weather, when we harvest, and how long the crops can be stored all impact upon how and when we process the cereals and potatoes within the distillery and the resulting spirit. As there is no escaping our proximity to the sea we choose to celebrate it – in the first gin we produced, ‘Kirsty’s Gin’, we aimed to capture the elements that you encounter on a journey from the distillery down to the North Sea combing flavours from the soil, rocks and ocean. From the more fertile land the small, sweet berries of the blaeberry were used, bursting with flavour that added warm middle notes to the gin. Approaching the sweeping expanse of Lunan Bay, the soils become poorer, yet for some plants these are their conditions of choice - the Carline Thistle, a mass of spines and brown dry daisy like flower heads may not sound that appealing but, beneath the surface, the fragrant root is packed with flavour potential. On reaching the sea we again looked below the surface to the dense kelp forests that silently sway underwater anchored to the rocky seabed beyond the low tide line. The use of seaweed in Scotland dates back to the Iron Age if not before1 and varying usages are documented; including medicinal, veterinary and nutritional for both humans and animals, as well as a fuel, a fertiliser or for the production of soda ash and the extraction of iodine and alginates.2 Despite this long and varied relationship it is somewhat surprising, knowing the Scots relationship to all things alcoholic, that there are few references to using seaweed in alcoholic drinks.  For ‘Kirstys Gin’ we chose to incorporate a large brown seaweed from the taxonomic order Laminariales known, in Latin, as Laminaria digitata, as a result of the hand like shape of its fronds.  Kelp forests are thought to be one of the most productive and dynamic ecosystems that we have, providing food and shelter to marine animals whilst recycling nutrients.3 Thankfully for us large swathes of Laminaria grow all around our Scottish coastline and as such, can be harvested with limited impacts to the natural environment. The resulting gin is a tribute to the landscape that surrounds and informs Arbikie’s farm distillery.

As the farm team ensure they get the best out of the plants they grow, likewise we make sure we apply the same level of husbandry to get the most out of the harvest – distilling each to show off its unique character and flavours. Throughout our dual endeavours notes of salinity creep into our crops, our recipes, permeate our casks and, most of all, soak into our minds through the omnipresent and inspirational back drop of the North Sea.


All images courtesy of Arbikie Distillery.

End Notes

Go to footnote reference 1.

John Barber et al “Bronze Age Farms and Iron Age Farm Mounds of the Outer Hebrides”. Scottish Archaeological Internet Reports 3 (January) 2003.

Go to footnote reference 2.

William Milliken and Sam Bridgewater, Flora Celtica, Plants & People in Scotland. Edinburgh: Birlinn Ltd, 2013.

Go to footnote reference 3.

Scottish Natural Heritage (accessed 2019)

Kirsty Black

Kirsty is both Manager and Distiller at Arbikie Highland Estate.  She has been there since the distillery conception in 2014, overseeing all aspects of its conversion from a disused cattle shed to a multi award-winning farm to bottle distillery producing vodka, gin and whisky. 
Following obtaining a BSc in Plant Science, a PG Dipl. in Forensic Science and nearly 10 years working as an engineer in the Medical Device Industry the time had come to learn about alcohol. She graduated in Brewing & Distilling at Heriot-Watt University obtaining an MSc with distinction, The Watt Club Postgraduate Medal for best in school and the Brewers Company Prize for best in class. 
In conjunction with working at Arbikie Distillery she is an examiner for the Institute of Brewing & Distilling (IBD) and is conducting her PhD studies in Abertay University and the James Hutton Institute, researching both the potential to use legumes in intercropping systems and the conversion of the resulting crops into beverage grade alcohol.