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Saxa Vord

or

A Reel-y interesting place

 

You may be excused for asking "Saxa Who" if you've not already heard of Scotland's most northerly distillery. No, not that Orkney one, but the one tucked away on an island called Unst which is one of the group of Shetland Isles. Embarrassingly I'd remotely heard of Saxa Vord some time ago but then promptly forgotten about it, so when I booked my trip to Shetland I was thinking more of photography and R&R than distillery visits. It was only when I started mentioning my forthcoming trip that a couple of people asked if I'd be visiting the distillery.

Saxa Vord distillery is on the site of the old RAF base of the same name which in its time was home to various aircraft (English Electric Lightning, Phantom F-4 & Tornado F3) during the cold war years when they typically escorted Soviet TU-95 probing flights out of UK airspace. Over the last few years Frank and Debbie Strang have been regenerating the old RAF base, turning it into a resort comprising self-catering accommodation, a hostel and a bar / restaurant. The distillery itself is the brainchild of Stuart Nickerson and his wife Wilma. Yes, that Stuart Nickerson we all know and love from his Glenglassaugh days.

In 2013 Stuart submitted plans for the distillery to Shetland Isles Council which were granted and the first commercial distillation was in September 2014. OK, let's make one thing clear; at the moment we're talking Gin and not whisky. The brand is called Shetland Reel Gin and Stuart currently produces three expressions; Original Gin which uses sweet scented leaves of apple mint grown locally on Unst, Ocean Sent Gin which is influenced by the seas surrounding Unst and even features native Bladderwrack seaweed and Simmer Gin which is named after the long Summer twilight hours. Simmer Gin features a recipe of eight botanicals including orange peel and liquorice root.

But what about whisky? Stuart has plans to begin whisky production and they may even come to fruition in the next 1-2 years according to distillery manager Mark (Turnbull), but more of that later.

 

How do you get there? it's true, we're talking north, very north, in fact 60 north and that's well north. Unst is actually closer to Norway than it is to Aberdeen so getting there is an adventure in itself, as I found on my recent visit. You'll probably start by travelling to Shetland which means a 12 hour overnight ferry from Aberdeen, or a flight from Aberdeen or Edinburgh. Travelling from Munich I flew Munich to Edinburgh then onwards to Sumburgh (Shetland) which is a 45-50 minute flight. Did I say adventure? The runway literally begins where the sea ends which makes the approach interesting, even more so than a previous flight to Wick. The plane banks towards a distant island but even to the point where the wheels are down and you're only metres from land, you're actually only metres above water. Then there's the runway, the main road to the airport and south of the island crosses it so of course you need to stop local traffic when a plane's landing or taking off.

Here you see a Loganair flight from Aberdeen coming in to land.

   
 

Before my trip I e-mailed Stuart asking whether I might be able to drop in at some point. He apologised saying he'd personally not be there but I could call in advance to arrange a convenient time. Sadly I forgot to take the details with me so couldn't do that, however my interest was piqued and I decided to try anyway. A drive to the north of shetland took me to the first ferry which in turn took me to the next island called Yell. If I thought Shetland was remote then Yell is at another level but I took the advice of my B&B hosts to venture away from the main road and explore the side roads. Definitely a good tip offering stunning scenery! After a bit of exploration my journey continued northwards to the second ferry from Yell to Unst. Just ten minutes later I find myself on Unst and heading further north towards Saxa Vord resort which is eventually sign-posted from the main road shortly after the field containing the Viking long boat and Viking grass-roofed house. In the corner of a courtyard opposite the craft brewery is the entrance to Saxa Vord distillery. As I approached the doorway wondering whether anyone would be there it opened and a chap introduced himself as Mark, asking how he could help me. Mark turned out to be distillery manager, distiller and general good guy who immediately invited me in whilst apologising he was in the middle of measuring out his latest distillation from a very large container into slightly smaller ones. Let's just say good hand-eye coordination are needed here.

Once finished he invited me to look around and even asked if I wanted to take any pictures. Now there's hospitality and I don't need asking twice so a quick run back to the car to collect my camera before he could change his mind.

What I found was a small (I believe craft is the in word) still in the corner of a large warehouse-type building, a comfortable visitor / tasting room to the side and obviously lots of storage. Pointing to one area the length of the side wall Mark explained that was the area currently planned for their whisky production. He explained that they were hoping to begin in two years if not next year.

 
 

  

 
 

Meanwhile, back at the whisky; Saxa Vord may not yet be producing their own whisky but they are bottling whisky. They buy a selection of single malts, vat them and bottle their own blended malt under their Shetland Reel label. So far they have released two different batches with batch 1 being released in late 2015 as a limited release of 1800 bottles. It comprised four Speyside and one Islay malt and was bottled at 47% abv. It won a gold medal at the San Francisco world spirits competition. Batch 2 comprises Speyside, Highland and Islay single malts and is again bottled at 47% abv after being reduced from cask strength with local Unst water. As I write this article batch 3 is currently being bottled and a release for Christmas-time is planned. My own tasting notes for batch 3 will be online in the near future.

 

     

 

My heartfelt thanks to Mark Turnbull for his hospitality and taking the time during his busy schedule to welcome this eccentric Yorkshireman for an unplanned visit. Thanks again Mark and good luck to the whole team for the future. I can't wait for the start of your own whisky production.

 

 

A selection of previous Dram-atics highlights

 

  The Liquid
 

 Karui-WOW-Ahhh

Glen-CLASS-augh

Glen-DROOL-nach

Class of 64-65

 
 

 
 

Elementary my dear Sukhinder

Fab Fo(u)rties

Drams at Dawn

Prohibition Three Ways

 
 

 
 

Matching Malts to Music

       
 

       

 

  Festivals & Events
 

Limburg 2016

Limburg 2015

An annual Pilgrimmage

Limburg Crooks & Nannies

 
 

April 2016

coming soon-ish

 
 

Limburg - Whet Dreams

Autumn 2013 Speyside

 

     
 

 

 

 

 

 

  Getting About
 

St. Magdalene / Linlithgow

Islay Revisited

     
 

     

 

  The Maniacs
 

Motor Maniac meets Malt Maniac

Anoraks Bottles & Castle

Nosing New Make

Blend of Maniacs

 

 

  The Malt Maniacs Awards - MMA  
 

MMA 2016 It just gets better & better

MMA 2015 The Gathering of the Drams

MMA 2014 Unplugged

MMA 2013 Unplugged

 
 

 
 

MMA 2011 Winners

 

 

   
 

 

 

  Malternatives
 

A brace of luxury

Debussy plays Pitaud

     
 

     

 

Date

Other major features  

May 2013

Duelling Drams - Man vs Clipper  

April 2013

100 points - Perfect Percy, Eggs-otic Isles Egg & Mug, Sixy bunny  

March 2013

International Whisky Day - Raise a Glass & Raise Awareness  

February 2013

A Horse, A Bow & a Dear  

Autumn 2012

The Olympkins, Getting old and Grainy  

May-Jun 2012

Dalmore Constellation, Independence?  

Mar-Apr 2012

Investment grade madness, Glenglassaugh, 5th IWD, 1000th Review, April Fool, Going dotty, age verification  

Feb. 2012

It's a rum old do, Growing old gracefully, Four Imperial sisters  

Jan. 2012

Onwards & Upwards, Canadian Whisky Awards  

Dec. 2011

HP 70's Orcadians  

Sept-Nov 2011

Malt Maniacs Awards 2011 - A weekend in the life of a Postmaster General  

June-Aug 2011

Bits Bytes & Drams, Glen Garioch 1994, Angela D'Orazio - Mackmyra, Trinity of Two Earls

May 2011

Don't bug me with ads, A dram fine evening

April 2011

Cry me a River, Golden Oldies, The Shackleton Legacy, Two Weddings and a Whisky

March 2011

Masters of Photography, Memory and the Middle Cut, Sampling again, Dave Stirk 5, Choosing choice Choices

Feb. 2011

Festival time again, Spam Galore!, Drams & Trams

Jan. 2011

Lookback at 2010, New Job? Three Thirties, ToC, Overdosing on sherry casks

Dec. 2010

December's Advent-urous drams, Nant Distillery, The road to Certification

 

Nov. 2010

Journey to end of Scotverse, Wick, Pulteney, Balblair, Knockdhu, Homecoming, Tweetup, Chilling with Cooley  

Oct. 2010

The John Walker, Sampling with Master of Malts, Changing jobs, Whisky Round Table  

Sept. 2010

Playing Chinese whispers, Oktoberfest, SMWS Spirit Cellar, 500,000  

August 2010

Elementary my dear Islay, Handbags at dawn, Dram-arkable 500, Cheapo Challenge, Ah Dooagh, 1 from 3 left  

July 2010

Age matters. A series of whisky reviews concentrating upon 'Age'  

June 2010

Jules Rimet, pickles & crisps. Mon coeur, mon amour oh mon sherry. A taste of the great outdoors.  

May 2010

The highly-acclaimed and record-breaking "Desert Island Drams"  

April 2010

My peat's bigger than your peat, A foursome with a famous Scottish bird  

March 2010

Sample Mania tasting notes, The Good, the Bad & The Loch Dh-Ugly, A return to sanity, The Choice of Managers  

Jan-Feb 2010

Keep taking the medicine, It's Festival time, Maker's Mark, Sleeveless in Munich  

Dec. 2009

All power to bean-counters, protecting Scotch, seasonal drams, Definitive Xmas Drams, 2009 Whisky Awards  

Nov. 2009

How it all started, Bonfire night, Autumnal musings, EU Tax & Duty, What's in a (whisky) name?  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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