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Boost for island life thanks to Shetland spirit

WHISKY trade veteran Stuart Nickerson has launched the first gin to be legally produced on the ­Shetland Islands.

Shetland Reel Gin is being made at the islands' first distillery, on Unst, the ­archipeleago's most northerly isle. It is based on a recipe including apple mint grown on the island, as well as ­juniper, coriander and citrus peel. The name is inspired by the islands' musical tradition but give a nod to the gin's authentic Shetland origins.

The Shetland Distillery Company is located on the former RAF site at Saxa Vord, which is also home to award-winning holiday accommodation and the Valhalla Brewery.

Its gin will initially be sold to outlets in the Shetland Islands, with distribution later widened to specialist spirits shops on the mainland. Interest has also been noted in export markets such as the US, Canada and Germany.

Mr Nickerson drew on his long career in the spirits industry to develop the recipe, having been part of the team which developed Hendrick's gin for William Grant & Sons at the Ailsa Bay Distillery in Girvan.

While whisky distilling will ultimately be the main focus, the firm has introduced a gin because it is a "drink that is in the ascendancy" and it can be brought to market more quickly than whisky.

Mr Nickerson, who owns the business with wife Wilma and Saxa Vord owners Frank and Debbie Strang, said there was also a motivation to prove gin could be made in Shetland.

A previous attempt to establish a distillery at the site, by Blackwood, failed to get off the ground. Mr Nickerson said: "One of the main drivers was that there had been a project here in the past focused on whisky, and it didn't happen. Yes, a gin came out of it, but it was never produced here. The other reason was that we wanted to prove to people we we are serious about what we are doing with whisky."

While apple mint, an aromatic form of mint, is currently the gin's only local ingredient, Mr Nickerson said there is no reason why juniper, coriander and cinnamon could be cultivated on the islands for the gin.

He said: "You can grow most things in poly-tunnels. Ultimately we want to try to source more Shetland botanicals than we are doing at the moment."

Shetland Reel is the latest in a series of Scottish gins to enter the market, following in the footsteps of players such as the Spencerfield Spirit, the firm behind Edinburgh Gin, and NB Gin, made in North Berwick.

Asked how he feels Shetland Reel can thrive in a crowded market, Mr Nickerson said: "We wanted a unique point of difference, and we believe we have that both with the flavour, and secondly by having a huge geographical point of difference."

The business has been supported by a grant from Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

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