11 Foodie Questions with… Shetland Reel

One of the reasons we started Scottish Scran was to discover and highlight the depths of Scotland’s larder.

We knew the basics, but as we develop more and more recipes, we came across some amazing foodies and suppliers of food and drink that perhaps deserve some extra recognition. Or we just love their products so much we wanted to say hello to them!

Below is our chat with the wonderful Shetland Reel, the gin distillery that’s closer to Norway than it is to Edinburgh! Shetland Reel products are inspired by their stunning surroundings and use local botanicals to create unique gins that embody the very place it originates from.

We have to put our hands up to say we were very big fans long before we created Scottish Scran and Sonja has even been to the distillery, so we’re very excited that the lovely team there spent the time during lockdown to talk to us.

Tell us who you are, what you do and describe Shetland Reel

I’m Debbie Strang, one of the four co-founders of Shetland Distillery Company, the UK’s most northerly distillery and Shetland’s one and only. 

I mainly look after the brand development, marketing, communications, events (all currently virtual) but like any small business with a very small team, we often cross-over into other areas as required.

How would you define Scottish cuisine in three words and why?

Distinctive, hearty, flavoursome.

What was your favourite Scottish dish growing up, who made it and why was it your favourite?

I didn’t grow up in Scotland and was first introduced to Scottish cuisine when I was posted to RAF Lossiemouth as an Operations Officer, so of course haggis at Burn’s Night is one of my first and most memorable experiences.  And still a strong favourite.

Scottish Scran note – have you had a Burns Night meal? Here’s our take on how to plan a Burns Supper: All About the Bard & Planning the Best Burns Night Menu

Tell us the story of Shetland Reel’s beginning, how did it come to be?

Shetland Reel began as part of the regeneration of the former RAF Saxa Vord, in Unst, the UK’s most northerly inhabited island. 

The tourism season is short and we were looking to create some year-round, permanent employment on the site.  The Supplies Depot on site looked like the ideal building for a distillery and had the unique selling point of ‘the most northerly’ experience of doing business in and from Shetland.

We set about finding partners who would share our vision of creating top quality products from the edge of the UK and were fortunate to find Stuart Nickerson, who has a pedigree in the drinks industry that is second to none, and his wife Wilma who is also skilled at distilling and creating fabulous gins. And so we are a company owned by two married couples.

There were no major changes until covid and 2020 when everything changed and still is changing.  We have looked at every part of the business to see how we need to adapt to the increasing on-line sales and the temporary loss of the hospitality business.

Where did the passion for all things gin come from?

Craft Gin was a means by which we could tell the world about the many aspects of Shetland, and draw people to our islands through our different gins.

By using local botanicals, such as our bladderwrack seaweed (Ocean Sent Gin), or by naming one of the gins after a Shetland dialect word, Filska (meaning high spirited and flirty) or after an aspect of Shetland like the Simmer Dim light in summer (our Simmer Gin). 

The possibilities are endless, there is so much to tell about Shetland.  

In practical terms, gin is relatively easy to produce and get to market, and that too was an attraction in the early days.

Scottish Scran note – We have relatives born and bred on Shetland and had a visit planned in 2020 where we were hoping to revisit the distillery. We can’t stress enough how amazing Shetland is to visit once you are able! – Phil & Sonja

What makes Scotland the perfect place for what you do?

Our location is everything and central to our branding. 

We are rooted in the community, the culture, the heritage, the environment and this gives us endless inspiration to create new and exciting gins.  

What’s the hardest part of doing what you do? 

The logistics of the business and finding better and more efficient ways to move stock is always uppermost in our mind, but after 6 years we have probably dealt with most challenges!

What’s the best part of what you do?

I have lots to chose from!  The gin business is a very friendly sector and I am extremely proud of our small team, their passion and professionalism which gives the impression we are far bigger than we actually are!

But seeing people’s reactions to our new gins is also fantastic, and we now have such a loyal following that when we highlighted our first Single Batch Creation Gin of just 121 bottles in January in a newsletter, they all sold before we were able to officially launch!

Scottish Scran note -We tried and failed to get a bottle of this! – Phil & Sonja

What do people assume about running a gin distillery? Is it correct?

I find that people assume I have tasted every gin in addition to my own and want to get my opinion on them.

I think people would be surprised that despite dealing with gin all day every day, I often forget to actually pour myself a gin and tonic from time to time, and remember what we have achieved!

What do people get wrong about gin, any top tips?

You know, whilst we all want to try gins as recommended, in the suggested glass, with the recommended serve and preferred mixer – if you have a really good quality craft gin, you can pair it with whatever you like and just enjoy! 

Shetland Reel Simmer Gin is my personal favourite, but I was at a music event in Shetland when someone suggested I drink it with lemonade rather than tonic, and they were right, and I have done so ever since (with a slice of orange and a sprig of rosemary!)

What’s next for Shetland Reel?

Our Single Batch Creations are a new initiative which will be smaller runs of a gin that will only be created once, and will only be available direct from the distillery. 

We will also collaborate with others, last year we developed a gin with the Shetland Folk Festival Committee to celebrate their 40th event, which of course wasn’t able to take place, but we launched it, sold all 500 bottles, and were able to make a donation to the voluntary committee as planned.

Also, whilst we can’t see people face to face at the moment, we are doing our best to stay connected and offer Exclusive Virtual Gin Tasting packs – for 6 people and above.  They are proving so popular to celebrate birthdays or just to get in touch with friends.

Other than yourself, who or what are your favourite Scottish products/producers?

Of course, I am behind the array of wonderful producers that are part of Taste of Shetland (Shetlandeli, Shetland Fudge and Thule Ventus – Shetland Salt Fish, Lerwick Brewery are definitely worthy of mention).  

And the Kilted Fudge Company in Aviemore is also great!

Scottish Scran note – We have emailed all of these excellent foodies to see if they’d like to appear in our 11 Questions series!

Next Time…

A HUGE thank you to Debbie and the team at Shetland Reel for taking the time to talk to us, they have been doing amazing work and if you haven’t tried their products then you really need to. Truly excellent gins.

You can find more information about Shetland Reel on their website here, you can get their gins delivered to your home, find some delicious cocktail recipes or even try their virtual tastings!

You can also say hello to them on social media, they share a behind the scenes look at what they do and let you know where you can find them. Follow them on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Next time, we are very excited to speak to the award-winning Gary Maclean, Scotland’s national chef and the Masterchef: Professionals champion in 2016. Wow!

We learn a little about the man behind the food and why he believes that Scotland has the best larder in the world.

Which Scottish foodie, server or producer would you like us to talk to? Let us know and we’ll drop them a line!

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