With so much controversy over how many distilleries hide behind misleading labels indicating where their product is actually made, the Arbikie Distillery is a breath of fresh air in more ways than one. Based in a beautiful part of Scotland, Arbikie is one of the few distilleries genuinely making their spirits from scratch. In their pursuit of excellence they grow their own potatoes, they use botanicals typical of the area, make their own base spirit, and even bottle and label everything at the farm. It is a unique distillery, and a hardworking one.
The focus is all about growing their own ingredients as well as sourcing botanicals locally. This ensures there are fewer food miles, and even the primary waste from distilling is recycled to feed the cattle. At Arbikie Highland Estate they are committed to keeping their environmental impact as low as possible.
What’s the story?
The Highland Estate is a working farm and one of the largest potato farms in Britain. The Stirling family started farming on the west coast of Scotland in the 1660s, but after many generations moved the farm to the east coast of Angus around 1920s. It is currently owned by three brothers – Iain, John and David Stirling.
The brothers all grew up working on the farm, and after they pursued careers away from the family land, they all returned to work together to start something new on the estate. It was something they all felt passionate about – they turned an empty farm building into a distillery right smack bang in the middle of the farmland.
They believe premium spirits can only come from quality ingredients, and with years of experience in farming, they have an upper hand when producing those ingredients. Quality ingredients are the core of premium spirits. Nearly all the ingredients are planted and harvested at the farm or immediately nearby, and even the water comes from their underground lagoon.
From Potatoes to Vodka
Arbikie Vodka is the first potato vodka distilled in Scotland! At the Highland Estate, they grow three different types of potato, which contribute to the smoothness of Arbikie vodkas. There’s actually a team who separates the types of potatoes from the good, the bad and the ugly… Seriously! Consumers have forced supermarkets to sell us only perfect potatoes; therefore to avoid waste, the ‘ugly’ misshapen ones (although just as delicious) are used to make vodka.
Arbikie Vodka is triple distilled in copper-pot stills. In fact, Arbikie is the first single-estate distillery to distil all their spirits in the same stills. For vodka, they also use a 40-plate distillation column. The final spirit is extra smooth and very pleasant on the palate.
Arbikie Chilli Vodka is made by soaking Chipotle Chillies in Arbikie potato vodka. The chillies are from Scotland’s first chilli farm, called Chillilicious. No artificial flavourings are added: the flavours are simply from the potatoes and from the chilli itself. The outcome is slightly smoky and earthy with just enough heat. A perfect cure for those Sunday-morning hangovers when used in a Bloody Mary!
The most recent addition to the Arbikie vodka family is Strawberry Vodka. Unlike the previous vodkas, this one is made with a wheat base. Both wheat and strawberries are grown on the estate, and each batch is expected to be different as the crops of strawberries change from year to year depending on the coastal weather. Again, nothing artificial is added, it’s all natural and you can taste it! Even at 50% ABV the vodka is smooth and has strong strawberry-jam flavours. Delicious!
From Vodka to Gin
Both Arbikie gins are unique and produced entirely on the estate. Again, unlike many other gin distilleries, Arbikie actually make their own base spirit (rather than ‘importing’ it from Birmingham…), before the botanicals are added to create gin.
Kirsty’s Gin uses Arbikie potato vodka as its base and Kirsty, the master distiller at Arbikie, has carefully selected a lovely balance of botanicals. The kelp, carline thistle and blaeberry are picked locally and represent the Angus farmlands. This is a floral and delicate gin, so make sure you appreciate the flavours by serving it with a premium-quality tonic, or drink it neat with ice to get the most out of the gin itself.
The latest addition to the Arbikie gin selection is AK’s Gin, dedicated to their father, who is a big fan of honey. Unlike Kirsty’s Gin, AK’s has a wheat base. Both honey and wheat are grown at the farm. Other botanicals include thistle, mace, cardamom and black pepper. This gin is sweet and slightly spicy, a must-try for all the honey lovers. The recommended garnish is a sprig of thyme and some orange zest, but some love it with a sprig of rosemary or even with a maraschino cherry. Personally, I love using fresh herbs as garnish when possible.
All Arbikie Gins and Vodkas cost around £35-45, but they are worth every penny! If you want to save few pounds order directly form their website as the price is slightly cheaper and there’s no delivery charges.
And then there’s Whisky
It would be a shame to have a farm in Scotland with a distillery without making any whisky… Recently Arbikie Distillery kick started their whisky production. It will be a long wait (their first release will be a 14 year old single malt), but definitely worthwhile. The barley is grown at the farm, obviously, and the spirit is double distilled in copper-pot stills before it is left to mature in various casks.
With the use of Woodford Reserve bourbon casks as well as sherry and red-wine barrels, you can expect rich and deep honeyed notes with a hint of saltiness brought to the distillery by the coastal winds. The water is collected from their underground lagoon. First the rain water runs through surrounding hills, whilst it filters through over 400-million-year-old rocks on its way down to the lagoon.
The first Arbikie Highland Estate Single Malt casks are currently available for purchase in limited numbers only.
The distillery is in a stunning location overlooking Lunan Bay. When the weather is on your side you feel like everything is possible! And I am sure for Arbikie Highland Estate everything really is!
How can you have anything but respect and appreciation for a distillery which is so aware and so in control of its whole production process? Placing the distillery at the epicentre of the farm, and in the middle of its core ingredients, was an ingenious idea, and the benefit can be tasted in the final products. When I had a chat with Christian, the distiller at Arbikie, it was clear that a lot of time and effort goes into crafting these unique spirits. Christian stressed that when you are trying something new you must try it several times before you get it right, but if you are patient enough the outcome is well worth the effort, and this is certainly true with Arbikie.
It is a big frustration to me that during this current gin craze, people jump onto the gin wagon without fully owning the process, using misleading labels to brand their product. Not everyone has the chance to grow their own produce, but most distilleries can at least make their own base spirits locally – yet many choose not to. So, it is wonderful to see Arbikie Distillery’s commitment and integrity when it comes to their ingredients, distillation methods and even to their marketing. The benefits of this approach are there to be tasted!! I’m looking forward to seeing what they do next, and of course to the whisky…
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