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Ginterview: David Stirling, Arbikie

Owner, Arbikie Highland Estate.

· Arbikie Gin,Farm to Bottle,Scottish Gin

I often say choosing a favourite gin is like choosing between my children (which is why I don't have any)

What's your desert island gin & why?

"'Kirsty's Gin' by Arbikie - Our Master Distiller Kirsty chose the botanicals of seaweed, Carline Thistle and Blaeberries to capture the the elements of sea, rock and land that influence our distillery. Our base spirit is distilled by us on the estate, allowing us to specifically tailor it to complement the gin’s botanical flavours. It brings the land and sea perfectly together. Our infamous local pirate, Captain Kidd, and tales of gin soaked adventures on the high seas is also an inspiration!"

I have many different favourite bars depending on the occasion.

What's your favourite bar for:

  • A. A Dry Martini & Date Night? 
  • B. A Red Snapper & Brunch? 
  • C. Gin & a party?

"A. Having lost all my decision making powers to my Texan wife, The American Bar would be an appropriate choice.

B - When caught and eaten fresh the Red Snapper is exquisite. Toss in a little lemon, some spice, and the fish does the rest of the work. Therefore a lazy brunch on a Caribbean beach of course.

C. Slight bias here by having an involvement in Highlands in the Greenwich Village. Fabulous cocktails and plenty of fun and frolics in NYC."

Which drinks professionals have inspired you & how?

"Charlie Maclean, his passion and knowledge of Scotch Whisky is incredible. Dale DeGroff for starting an new era of great cocktails with classic recipes, fresh ingredients and snappy service."

Do you have a favourite Gin Botanical? (Yes. Really.)

"Our seaside inspired gin has kelp and it brings a fresh crispness to the palate."

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If you were a gin or a gin cocktail which would you be and why?

"I would choose Arbikie gin. Today consumers are undoubtedly taking a greater interest in the provenance of their food and spirits. People want to know more about what they’re eating and drinking - 'farm to bottle’ is purely an extension of the the 'farm to table’ movement. Consumers want fresh ingredients that are nutritious, safe and have the ability to trace their origins. 

As a farmer's son, I feel we were are perfectly placed to fulfill this appetite. Our farm distillery is blessed with extraordinary terroir. The finest growing soils in the UK are complemented by the natural elements of this area. Our crystal clear Highland waters are fantastic for spirit making. In addition, we went about reintroducing the traditional ‘farm-to-bottle’ methods of Scotch whisky distilling and applied them to the production of all our spirits. So there is complete control and a genuine authenticity to what we do and that makes a difference to the quality and the taste."

Angus Winchester says olives are the devil's testicles. Thoughts?

Yes, the devil is also in the detail. Olives actually have to be processed and the most popular way uses the power of sodium hydroxide. A chemical bath to make them edible, no thanks!

Which gin has your favourite packaging? How important is this?

Aviation which has a distinctly Art Deco vibe reminding me of an era of glamour and my favourite building design, the Chrysler, in NYC. I believe taste is paramount. Using and being able to trace the finest ingredients and distilling methods are also more important than packaging.

Do you have a preferred tonic?

Great to see an array of tonics on offer with various flavours. I usually focus on the amount of sugar in them before making my choice.

What's your favourite trade event?

Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans.

What's your favourite food to pair with gin?

Inspired by fantastically authentic tapas of Lobos restaurant, I would go for an array of cured meats or if you want to get a little bit more adventurous, try morcilla – a bit like a Spanish black pudding.

How did you get into the Gin industry?

My two brothers and I had a vision to create a single estate farm distillery producing both white and brown spirits which we launched in November 2014. We basically grow, harvest, ferment, distil, bottle, label and mature on site. We have been making headlines with our 'farm to bottle’ production in the UK with our single estate spirits being viewed much like premium Single Vineyard wines - based namely our provenance, home grown ingredients, distilling techniques and focus on taste. We can even tell you which field on the farm our spirit comes from!

What do you love most about your job?

Meeting people who have a love for their craft and an eagerness to learn more.

And the worst bits?

Travel, I wish the great Doctor's tardis was a reality.

If you could share a martini with anyone who would it be?

Andrew Carnegie, his story of a penniless Scot going over to America and becoming the richest man in the world would be an amazing story in and of itself. But then for Carnegie to actually take his wealth and think about it and actually do so much good with his wealth, it takes it to a different level as far as I'm concerned. If you consider that by his death in 1919 he had given away $350m.

Do you have any recommended reads for gin lovers?

The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart. A fabulous account of the history and science behind the spirit. Stewart's passion for horticulture is apparent throughout. Our farm distillery is an embodiment of this.

What are your Gin goals?

Our story is authentic. It starts in a field. It is not something dreamed up in a marketing department. We believe in drinking the way we eat, goodness from the ground up. All of our spirits are made from scratch. We use traditional 'Scotch whisky' distilling methods using copper wash and spirits stills before our gin is then passed through our copper 42 plate vertical column stills.

Arbikie Distillery

The ability to have total control of the process from start to finish ensures exceptional quality and integrity of the product. For instance, Arbikie has been recognised and selected by the Slow Food Movement. 98% of UK Juniper is under threat from a pathogen and Arbikie has undertaken to grow juniper in different soil types on the farm to help sustain and protect this species as part of the Ark of Taste catalogue.

What advice do you have for aspiring Gin professionals?

Perfect your craft. Source the best quality ingredients and don't overlook the provenance of your water. At Arbikie we have brought the knowledge and experience of four generations of farming together with the art of distilling. It is merely part of the journey.Therefore listen, observe and learn the whole process from the field to the glass.The more knowledge of all these aspects, the better.

What's your pet Gin industry hate?

There is a fine art in distilling and making spirits from scratch takes great skill. I believe buying in 'grain neutral spirits' misses the essence of this craft and the effect it has on the final product.

If you aren't drinking Gin what is your tipple?

We have created 'The Beet' which is a fabulous concoction using our homegrown Chilli vodka and beetroot as an alternative to the Bloody Mary. It has wonderful bonfire notes and smokiness from the chipotle chilli. There is an intense heat and a lovely creaminess to finish.

What's going to be the next big gin trend?

Single Estate as consumers, much like their experiences in the food industry, wish trace the origins of their spirits. This is becoming a focus in the USA. The effect can for instance be seen with New York State recently passing legislation that a 'farm distillery' needs 75% of its ingredients to be grown in State. Other States are following it's lead.

Any other pearls of wisdom or Gin rants?

Have fun and immerse yourself into this wonderful industry, you only get out what you put in.

Where can I send readers to find you online?

Visit the Arbikie 'A Club' over the Edinburgh Festival... details here.

Get tickets to The Gin Whore Tour - enjoy tasting 4 gins & plenty of giggles at a venue near you!