A skip and a jump over the Pentland Firth takes you to the archipelago of Orkney – though I would recommend the ferry from Scrabster to Stromness. Then it is a delightful mere blink of an eye to travel to the Isle of Burray. Bit of poetic licence there as it was just under 30 miles of horizontal rain to get us to the land of the Orkney Gin Company. The environment is flat and seemingly harsh, but the people are the opposite, it’s like being cuddled by an over-enthusiastic auntie. I love them already.
The rain stops and the sun licks the land dry and under a rainbow the Gin Bus comes to an abrupt halt. Sheep are on the road having a doze, so we pull off the road by Echna Loch. MollyDog squeals with delight at the expanse of water and throws herself in. Time to uncork today’s bottle of Mikkelmass Gin from the Orkney Gin Company, who are also based in Burray.
The bottle is in stoneware, as rugged and evocative as Orkney is beautiful, with a selkie motif. The selkie comes from local folklore and are seals that can transform into human form and be alluring! Can’t wait to make their acquaintance – but in the meantime, I’ll uncork and try another kind of spirit – the Mikkelmas Gin. It is Orkney Gin Company’s celebration of the end of the harvest and my glass is soon holding a good measure and two pebbles instead of ice.
Mikkelmas Gin is of the bathtub school – compounding the botanicals directly with the 7 times distilled grain spirit and letting time and infusion to take its course. There is no prohibition style roughness or amateurism to be found as with bathtub gins of old. This is a modern update on the traditional steeping method. Craft orientated means that the call of the seasons can be tasted in the different batches making Mikkelmas true to its artisan roots.
No news on the botanicals – other than they are foraged on Orkney and from further afield, so here we are doing a tasting rather than having botanical banter. There is pronounced juniper that is oily and fills the mouth and this leads up to a middle level of spiciness. A piquant edge that prickles from Christmas up to pepper. This makes for a warming gin rather than a citrus floral Springtime taste. This is autumnal and wintery. Then in comes a mouth fill of surprising creaminess - this comes from the spirit and the bathtub method and then a vanilla accord plays in the mouth. This is not just a fantastic gin - knowing the taste and that it comes from Orkney - it is astonishing.
This is a rare gin – one that is distinctive yet versatile for mixing. With tonic, I’d recommend a 1:2 ratio, or try it with ginger ale to accentuate the spice and a good quarter of lime to add freshness and cut through the heat of the pepper notes (squeeze the juice into the glass and drop in the lime wedge carcass). Use it as a toddy with hot water, lemon and honey – just pretend to be ill or claim Man Flu. With orange, make a gin butter for Christmas pudding. Or my favourite – freeze the bottle so the gin goes viscous and sip neat, allowing the gin to heat slowly on the tongue. The sensation of going from ice cold to it vaporising in the mouth is as pleasing as a baby panda sneezing.
So, I leave you with the image of a man and his loveable tail wagging numskull barking in circles from a sparkling loch. This idyll is bottled and called Mikkelmas.
Now as we fade to cinematic black it’s time to smuggle a soaking MollyDog into the Sands Hotel