Monday, August 29, 2016

Shetland Reel Gin with David Howarth's The Shetland Bus

I've been going through the gin in the wardrobe trying to decide which ones not to write about (it's not been an easy choice) but I couldn't miss out Shetland Reel gin.

Shetland Reel is the first gin to be made in Shetland, Blackwoods made claim to being a Shetland gin, and for a while the original company behind the brand had plans to open a whisky distillery there, but in truth all they ever did was source a couple of botanicals there and put a Viking ship on the label. Blackwoods is a decent gin, worth trying if you find it, but the use of the Shetland name has always curbed my enthusiasm for it.

Shetland Reel (the name explicitly references country dancing and music, but I wonder if they're making a point about provenance as well) is made in Unst (predictive text badly wants that to read aunts...) which is as far north as both Shetland, and Britain, goes. Being 'the most northerly' is a nice usp to have, but it comes with some interesting logistical considerations and expenses, so anything you make there needs to be good to justify the inevitable price tag (it's around £35 which puts it firmly in the premium range, but you can easily spend more).

Shetland Reel is good, it uses local apple mint, but it's nowhere near as pronounced as the mint in Daffy's, rather it presents as a fresh, green, note that balances out the juniper, both of which feel like a supporting act for citrus. Basically a good crisp gin, light and elegant, and beautifully balanced. I'm currently enjoying it in a G&T but I'd like to try it on something like an English Garden cocktail, and maybe with mint rather than cucumber.

I'm watching Reel gin with interest, I love the idea that someone can go to Shetland and make a living doing this, it's exciting to see for lots of reasons, and it's made Christmas presents for daughters very easy for my father for the last couple of years.

Book wise, David Howarth's extraordinary account of the sadly under told story of the 'Shetland Bus' is a must. As a navy man it seems safe to assume Howarth was a gin drinker, and by the end of the book you'll want to raise a glass of something in honour of the men who ran this 'bus'.

For those who don't know the story there's a comprehensive Wikipedia article Here, but basically it was a joint operation between the British and Norwegians during the war to get agents and supplies in and out of Norway. Initially they used fishing boats to cross the North Sea in, and then later got 3 submarine chasers - which were safer. To avoid detection they would sail as late into the winter as they could, often in horrendous conditions. Howarth was a junior navel officer who helped set up and operate the base in Shetland - his tone is very much the stiff upper lipped sort, which is charming in itself, add that to the bravery with which these sailors faced very real danger (there were some terrible losses) - well, as I said, it's a story that should be better known.


  1. This is most worthwhile. Thanks. I have just read the Wiki essay on the heroic Leif Andreas Larsen (1906-1990)and the very great men of the Norwegian Volunteers. It is disturbing to think that the neo-Nazi movement is growing in Scandinavia and elsewhere. A few years ago I read a short book, My Friend Stieg Larsson, and it was hard to grasp that such evil had returned to European democracies.
    On a lighter note, I was charmed by your notes on favourite gins. I feel as if I am tripping between Proust and Colette. Did either of them drink gin? Do the French drink it today? I have yet to visit Edinburgh's gin joint, 56 North. Glasgow's Gin71 is lovely inside with beautiful old tiles that look like they belong in the Officers' Club in Lawrence of Arabia. You expect Peter O'Toole to make a spectacular entrance along with Jeffrey Barnard.
    Jack, Cheltenham-Glasgow.

    1. How naive (naif?) of me to ask if the French drink gin. There's the divine Piaf, for one, who enjoyed a glass of gin or three. I have just looked up a blog, THE GIN IS IN, and I have been perusing such seductive bottles as Pinnacle Gin, Citadelle Gin, Gin 1495 Interpretatio, Pink Pepper Gin and G'vine Nouaison. If you ever write that comic retro-novel on the theme of gin, please have your English characters visit the French capital. Paris is worth a Mass as the king famously said; and worth a Citadelle cocktail as well ... And now I am off on a drive to the Cotswold village of Stow-in-the-Wold where I shall drink nothing stronger than tea in a quaint little English tearoom. Those delicious high wolds of Gloucestershire bring out the teetotal Sabbatinarian in me. I don't know if the enchanting Margiad Evans (who lived in the Cotswolds) drank at all. Her writing like all great poetry is intoxicating in the purest of ways.