Gin Extremes: From Shetland to Scilly

Drinks blogger James Robertson reviews gin from either end of the UK.

WHO would have thought that you would find a gin distillery on the southern tip of the UK on the island of St Mary’s, part of the Isles of Scilly, and then 776 miles as the crow flies there is another one on the most northerly part of the UK, as in Unst, Shetland?

Hilary and Arthur Miller run the Scilly Spirit Distillery on St Mary’s where Hilary’s family have lived for generations. Hilary originally came up with the plan to start the distillery in 2018. After attending courses in distilling and understanding the process of making different types of spirit, the distillery is up and running with tours and a gin school. They even have the option of the “local refill” for anyone wishing for a top up of their gin and anyone on the mainland can return their bottle with the same option.

The Island Gin comes in a stunning bottle that was inspired by the iconic Bishop Rock lighthouse. In January 1665, a spice trade ship was wrecked off Bishop Rock, pouring Javanese peppercorns into the sea surrounding the island. Peppercorns are one of the key botanicals in the Scilly Spirit Distillery’s Island Gin.

The most important aspect is the gin itself. Scilly Spirit’s Island Gin has a classic juniper note to it, with a hint of lemon peel and limes; there is also a subtle note of pine needles and conifer. On the taste, all these flavours combine, but there is also an orange peel note, a touch of spice, and sweet fennel.

Bottled at 44%, it is available at £44.90 at and

Meanwhile, 776 miles north on the island of Unst, the Saxa Vord Distillery can be found in the old RAF airbase of the same name. This is the home of Shetland Reel gin. If the gin on the Scilly Isles has the inspiration from the local lighthouse then there is a connection here too. A few miles north is the Muckle Flugga lighthouse. Originally called the North Unst lighthouse, it was renamed in 1964. Brothers Thomas and David Stevenson designed and built the lighthouse in 1854 to protect ships during the Crimean War. Thomas’s son, Robert Louis Stevenson, was with them during some of the time when the lighthouse was built and it was at this time that the inspiration came for the story Treasure Island.

Shetland Reel Gin is made by Mark Turnbull, with many of the botanicals being sourced locally on the island. One of his gins includes bladderwrack seaweed collected on the shores below the distillery itself. Shetland Reel Simmer Gin takes its name from the summer twilight known as “Simmer Dim”. Two of the key botanicals along with juniper are orange peel and liquorice root. The orange is certainly noticeable, along with a hint of anise and a floral, earth herby note. Bottled at 49%, it is available at £38.50 at and

Read more of James’ reviews on his drinks blog, The Grape & The Grain.