In a new series called Hamiltonic, Northern Soul’s Gin Correspondent Robert Hamilton samples the best gin and talks to the people who make it. This week, he chats to the good folk at Arbikie Gin and sips a few samples.
A recent article in The Guardian asserted that we are in the middle of a ‘ginaissance’, a boom in gin drinking that saw Britons spend £1.9 billion in 2018. I suspect that, with the worry over Brexit, this figure will rise and rise. But there’s another consequence of this gin rush – for the first time England had more distilleries than Scotland. Traditionally, Scotland has always held sway because of its whisky, but England has edged in front. I mention this because this month’s Hamiltonic is focused Arbikie Gin, a Scottish craft gin supported by the weight of Celtic distilling knowledge and history.
Its brand ambassador, David Robinson, says that the Stirling family firm, run by brothers John, Iain and David in Arbroath, was losing a third of its produce because of the demands of the supermarkets. They decided to use the waste, primarily potatoes, to make a vodka which formed the basis of their award-winning gins, AK’s Gin and Kirsty’s Gin. The gins use local botanicals such as kelp, carline thistle, honey and blueberries. “We know exactly where they come from. They were developed by our master distiller, Kirsty Black, a graduate from Herriot Watt.”
Black, who has “full control”, joined Arbikie in early 2014 and has quickly established a reputation for quality and distinction, winning Scottish Gin Distillery of the Year in 2017. I sampled AK’s and Kirsty’s gins neat, though tasting suggestions included premium tonic, blueberries, thyme and orange zest. I agreed with Robinson that the higher quality of the Arbikie Gin allowed it to “sipped like a whiskey”. The AK, distilled from wheat, is sweet on the palate with honey and caramel notes, while Kirsty’s Gin, made from potato vodka, has more of an air of the sea as its botanicals include kelp. It is creamy and smooth with a finish of pepper and orange. As midday approaches, I could carry on sipping these flowers of Scotland a while yet.
Robinson tells me of an award at the prestigious China Wine and Spirits Awards and the release of a two-year Highland Rye, the first to be made in Scotland for more than 100 years. It was made in honour of Alexander Kirkwood Stirling, grandpater of the farm, who recently contracted Motor Neurone Disease. All the proceeds of the Rye’s sale went to Motor Neurone Disease research. I read also of a three-year-old rye as well as limited editions of gin and vodka to celebrate the 130th anniversary of Arbroath FC’s 36-0 win over Bon Accord in 1885. They have laid down a single malt which will be released in a decade or so.
Arbikie Gin is an exceptional farm-to-bottle single estate distillery guided by the vision of the Stirling brothers and the knowledge of a highly skilful master distiller, Kirsty Black. While England may be winning the numerical battle, I would argue that Scotland retains the edge in the distilling stakes and that Arbikie is a prime example. As Burns might have said ‘a gin’s a gin for a’ that’.