Scotland Food & Drink toasted the start of its annual celebration of the sector, Scottish Food & Drink Fortnight, at our brand home in Angus.
This year, Scottish Food & Drink Fortnight (2nd - 16th September) will celebrate Scotland’s ‘Stories to Savour’ from across the country. This will mean telling the story of the brilliant producers, brands, retailers and individuals who promote, sell and serve Scottish food and drink.
Iain Stirling, Arbikie Director:
"Our story is one based on heritage, with an innovative twist and a sustainable legacy...Scottish Food & Drink Fortnight provides us with a great opportunity to tell our sustainable story and celebrate Scottish provenance.”
An Enduring History
The Stirling family have been farming at Arbikie for four generations. From father to son, they have gained an intuitive understanding of the land; sowing and harvesting the crops that now create our range of field to bottle spirits.
Farming in the Stirling family goes back even further - since 1660, initially on the west coast. The lands were passed through seven generations until great uncle Bill moved to Lunan Bay on the east coast of Angus in the 1920’s. He then passed it to grandfather, John, who then passed the land over to father, Alec Stirling, who expanded the acreage.
Alec's sons John, Iain and David were brought up together on the 2,000‐acre farm at Arbikie and are the visionaries and driving force behind what we know today as Arbikie Distillery. As with all farming families, the brothers grew up working around the farm, and it is this hands-on experience that gave them a deep understanding and respect for the land.
Despite pursuing careers away from farming, they have always stayed attached to the family lands - and now with the opening and growth of the Arbikie Highland Estate distillery, they returned to drive this exciting and continually evolving venture.
The lightbulb moment that led the three brothers to turn Arbikie into an innovative field‐to‐bottle distillery presented itself in a bar in New York circa 2010.
At around the same time, the Stirling's discovered an old map of the Arbikie Estate with a little corner marked ‘distillery’, indicating that spirits had been distilled on the property since the 18th century. It was a sign that they couldn’t ignore.
The brothers believed they had spotted a gap in the way old Scotch whisky distilleries evolved from the farm. They had a rich heritage of distilling right on their property, a whole farm at their disposal to grow all the ingredients needed, an empty building in a disused dairy, and they had a strategy.
“Our vision from the very start has been to produce the best single malt we possibly can ... We set this target that our first release was going to be an 18‐year‐old.”
- John Stirling, Arbikie Director
It was a statement of intent that there would be no compromise on quality. The whisky stills were only fired up in 2015, so we won’t see an Arbikie single malt for some time!
While the single malt casks slowly mature, our distilling team have been busy making other spirits over the past seven years...
Before our farm introduced the distillery, we were solely producing potatoes for major UK supermarkets. However, producing potatoes for supermarkets comes with a few specifications, including the shape and size of potatoes having to meet a certain standard. If they do not meet the requirements, these potatoes (and many other grown fruit and veg) are classed as ‘wonky veg’.
What is Wonky Veg?
Wonky veg is simply crops that don’t meet supermarket standards and unfortunately won’t be accepted by the supermarket. Wonky veg was counting for around 25% of our harvested potatoes! So, brothers John, Iain and David decided to put this wonky veg to good use by creating delectable Gin and Vodka.
With the ambition of creating a range of premium spirits inspired by and encapsulating the area, our distillery was established in 2013, before launching Scotland's first potato vodka in 2014, soon followed by Kirsty's Gin. Led by our master distiller Kirsty Black and production manager Christian Perez, our distilling team has continued to create and explore the best ways to showcase the landscape and distilling innovation through every spirit.
While all of our spirits are produced sustainably, we reached a key milestone when we launched the world's first climate positive gin & vodka, Nàdar. These revolutionary spirits are thanks to our Master Distiller, Kirsty Black, who researched and ultimately distilled Nàdar as part of her PHD. This project took a total of five years of research with academic partners, the James Hutton Institute and Abertay University. Kirsty also worked with Bangor University and Trinity College Dublin on Nàdar's lifecycle analysis.
Nàdar is distilled using homegrown peas and saves >1.53 kg of CO2e per 700ml bottle.
Recently, we were also given the green light to install a green hydrogen energy system at our distillery, which will allow us to move away from traditional distilling processes and instead, use zero-carbon green hydrogen generated on site. Once installed, this will make us the world's first distillery to be powered by green hydrogen!
The brothers continue to set ambitious goals, but ones rooted in the commercial reality of building a business that retains family ownership, whilst also celebrating their family’s over 400-year farming heritage. The Stirling’s are building a long term, legacy business and so commerciality, balanced with sustainable considerations are at the forefront of their planning.