Thinking Big

There has never been a distillery on Shetland before, well not legally anyway: Blackwood’s Distillery will be the first. Three years into the planning the distillery, 10 miles from Lerwick, is due to be finished next year, and four years later the first ever whisky from Shetland will be available to buy from this young, energetic and innovative company.

However, not content with making whisky history, while the distillery gets up and running Blackwood’s has been pioneering some completely new drinks with a unique provenance and a distinctive taste, and which are already getting noticed around the world.

It all began when Caroline Whitfield found herself living in London with a young family, with all the worries which young mothers have: schooling, child safety, terrorism, and quality of life. Caroline had loved visiting distilleries on holidays to Scotland, and being the workaholic, entrepreneurial, type decided to build her own one on Shetland.

The company is only three years old, and Caroline always says she doesn’t necessarily look for people from within the drinks industry, but she looks for the right kind of people to get involved when building up her team. The company has been handpicked and is small: only twelve people work there full time but the result is a team of people who work well enough together to avoid the usual office politics, and who are united in a common – if slightly ambitious – goal: taking over the spirits industry.

The main players at Blackwood’s are a diverse group, though a small one, made bigger when in the summer many people on the Islands are employed part-time to pick botanicals for next year’s vintage gin. But it is this diversity which has doubtless facilitated the rapid strides with which Blackwood’s Distillers has become a global brand so fast.

Their products can now be found in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Iceland, the United States, Italy, and even the Falkland Islands. All in all, Blackwood’s products are now available in 30 countries, and the company was voted Scottish exporter of the year for 2004. Not bad for a company which began selling its spirits the previous year.

Recognition from the industry did not take long to follow. At the World Spirits Awards in Austria in 2004, their vodka and their dry gin both won gold awards: both spirits were awarded 95 points out of 100 by the judges.

Local Ingredients

Caroline stresses that the particular taste of each drink comes down to the ingredients, which could not be found anywhere apart from the remote islands where the company is based. All the ingredients which can possibly be sourced from the islands themselves are harvested there, from the unusual angelica, wild water mint and sea pinks which give the gin its peculiar twist, to the cream for the vodka cream liqueur, which comes from the cows which roam the craggy hills all year round.

The natural Shetland spring water is also a crucial ingredient in the Nordic vodka, which is ‘ice-filtered’ to give it a crispness which is extremely individual.

World domination surely must follow, one assumes, but Blackwood’s is not forgetting its roots. It has a presence at this year’s Edinburgh Festival at one of the main venues – The Assembly Rooms – where three specially tailored cocktails made with Blackwood’s spirits are for sale. Minty Bitch, Gin Fresh and High Martini are available throughout the duration of the Festival at The Assembly Rooms bar, and 10% of the profits from sales will be given to Waverly Care, the Scottish charity for the HIV community.

So not only do the great and the good of the arts world get to drink some innovative new cocktails this year, but they are also contributing to one of the most important charities in the country.

All of which points to the kind of company which has everything in proportion. It maintains a firm notion of where is from, but also has a determined resolve about where it wants to get to, and with products of this quality there is absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t arrive as soon as they like. We here at can hardly for the whisky.

The Products Reviewed:

Blackwood’s Vintage Gin: ‘An undoubtedly intriguing gin. Firstly, the colour has a hint of green, which is lovely, and the taste is much more complex than your average quality gin, but also very clean. Fabulous with tonic; you know you’re drinking something different.’

Blackwood’s Nordic Vodka: ‘Crisp, bracing and it has the smoothest of finishes? the ice filtering, whatever it is, seems to have a lovely effect. It’s clean yet distinct, with a definite kick.’

Jago’s Vanilla Cream Liqueur: ‘A fresh taste, very subtle but lovely. Not as sickly as Baileys Irish Cream, and a thinner consistency. We drank it straight, but imagine it would be good for freezing, in certain types of recipe, or also just simply over ice.’

For more information about Blackwood’s, or to buy their products online,