The farm and its crops are at the heart of every bottle that leaves Arbikie Highland Estate but behind each potato are a bunch of multitalented, dedicated and very modest men called Jim, Eck, George, Kenny and Andris.
The farm and its crops are at the heart of every bottle that leaves Arbikie Highland Estate but behind each potato are a bunch of multitalented, dedicated and very modest men called Jim, Eck, George, Kenny and Andris. They do generally try and avoid the limelight but today we’ve sat down with them to try and coax out the secrets to growing such great raw materials and learn about their daily lives on the farm.
Tell us a bit about what you do at Arbikie?
Overall everyone has to be pretty flexible at Arbikie; we are at the mercy of the weather and it dictates what we do each day. We do, however, each have areas that we specialise in.
Jim sows cereals and plants potatoes but also applies his blacksmith and welding skills for repairing machinery both in the farm and, when he (and, actually, everyone else!) hears calls for help, the distillery.
Eck oversees the fertiliser and chemical side of the farm; responsible for spraying and spreading but, come harvest time, it’s all hands on deck driving the combines or potato harvester.
George also spends his days driving tractors or the combines but excels when it comes to fixing things simply having a knack at making things work.
Kenny’s main focus is the life cycle of growing potatoes – from planting them in the ground through to grading and boxing them up he is involved in every step. Culminating in them being loaded onto a supermarket lorry or into the washer, the first step in turning them into our potato vodka.
During harvest Andris is responsible for running the grain drier; making sure that the cereals from the fields are dried down to a moisture content suitable for storage. The rest of the year he drives the forklifts managing the movement of the harvested produce around the farm and onto lorries as it is sold.
What’s the best part of your job?
George is happiest when driving his tractor and Andris when he is loading lorries. Kenny enjoys working outside when the weather is good. For Jim, it’s the satisfaction of getting the harvest in and seeing the results of all their hard work and for Eck, well, there isn’t one part he doesn’t enjoy!
How long have you worked on the farm?
In total we have three nationalities and 81 years of experience working on the farm! Jim is the front-runner with 31 years under his belt but is quickly followed by Eck with 27 years then Andris and George with 12 and 11 years respectively. Kenny may have been employed on the farm for the shortest time (6 years) but was brought up at Arbikie so has been around the estate all of his life.
What’s it like being responsible for ensuring the best ingredients are produced for Arbikie drinks?
We have always grown all our crops to the highest standard so the distillery hasn’t really affected how we go about things. Getting the best possible product starts at ploughing – if you get things off to the right start that continues right through to the harvested product.
What do you do in your spare time?
Overall, there is a love of the outdoors and spending time with family. Weekends see our green fingers turn to our gardens and our mechanical minds to our cars and odd jobs around the house. Jim takes his pleasure in farm life even further, participating in ploughing competitions and restoring vintage tractors – with which his local club spends time raising money for charity.
What makes Angus such a great region for growing potatoes?
The good soil and the climate – we get a mixture of rain and sun without, normally, much frost or snow due to our coastal location.
What’s the biggest challenge you face in your role?
Definitely the weather (a recurring theme) due to the huge influence it has on what we do and when we do it. Whatever the task, be it spraying, sowing, harvesting or drying, when the weather is right long hours follow to ensure the task gets done before the weather turns again.
What do your friends think about you working for a drinks company?
The distillery is always a topic of conversation and interest usually culminating in people asking for some free tasters!
What’s your favourite Arbikie Drink?
This one divides the group. Kenny boldly plumps for the Chilli Vodka yet Eck & Andris are firmly in the gin camp; drinking it straight with Andris preferring to enjoy it with a sandwich. Jim & George, however, are fans of the potato vodka, but again drinking it straight, pure, over ice.