Arbikie Distillery with Kirsty Black,Master Distiller 

Real Craft. Real Ingredients. Real People

Arbikie Estate is a family-owned working farm perched on the east coast of Angus; here crop is king. We painstakingly plant, sow, tend and harvest the fields that make up Arbikie. We are craftsmen of the soil.

Can you give us a bit of background about yourself and your journey in the spirits industry? Where did your distilling journey begin?

It has been a somewhat long, twisted and convoluted road to get to Arbikie and the spirits industry!  Over the years I’ve studied plant science, forensic medicine and had a career working in the medical device industry. Eventually, however, it was time to go to Heriot-Watt University with the goal to work in a brewery. Working at the Caledonian Brewery and Barney’s Beer I crossed paths with the future owners of Summerhall Distillery and helped them set up the distillery and design Pickering’s Gin; my interest in distilling had truly piqued and it was time to move brewing to the garden shed.  Which all leads us to today, at Arbikie, a true farm to bottle distillery that I’ve helped build from scratch.  From bolting together the stills to figuring out how to get alcohol out of a potato I have ultimately combined my love of plants, distilling and a nerdy desire to simply figure out how things work!

When was Arbikie Distillery founded, and what sets it apart from other distilleries? Can you provide us with a brief history of the distillery?

The first Arbikie Distillery was technically around in the 1700s but after a small break in production the distillery as we know it today began production in 2013 in a converted farm building. We are a farm to bottle distillery with all the raw materials used in the distillery grown on the farm.

Our journey started with the humble spud and our Tattie Bogle Potato Vodka. Driven by the desire to not let our farms ‘wonky’ potatoes go to waste, and fully aware of the effort and inputs required to grow them, we set about turning them into Scotland’s first potato vodka. From their we’ve expanded our offerings to include a range of gins, flavoured vodkas, and whisky. This includes the first climate positive spirits made from peas (Nàdar) and led the way in the revival of rye being used in the production of rye single grain scotch whisky.

Does Arbikie Distillery have any specific sustainability or environmental practices in place, such as water conservation, waste reduction, or renewable energy initiatives?

At Arbikie we place sustainability and environmental impact on level pegging with more traditional business considerations. We’re continuously looking for ways to innovate and reinforce our sustainability focus. For each decision we make, we try and consider the environmental impact and how we can do things better.

Starting at the farm level we look at new crops, alternative varieties, and new farming techniques, which require less inputs thus improving the quality of our soils, the surrounding environment, and our harvest.

In the distillery itself we closely monitor water and energy use and are actively working on improving both. For example, despite the rainy reputation of Scotland a future where water is in short supply is not hard to imagine therefore have been part of the Dŵr Uisce project through Bangor University and Trinity College Dublin whose goal is to improve the efficiency of water use.  Green energy has always been a part of the distillery set up with photovoltaic panels installed on the roof since we started but we are currently switching over our steam boiler to run on green hydrogen which will be generated on site, powered by our wind turbine – we aim to demonstrate to other distilleries the potential of hydrogen as an alternative fuel and drastically reduce our carbon footprint in the process.

How do you approach cask selection and maturation for your whisky? What impact do different types of casks have on the final product? Additionally, how do you select the flavouring process for gin distilling?

We operate an internal seasoning and reuse of cask programme to reduce the shipping and supply chain impact of this essential component in whisky. New oak casks are initially used in the maturation of our rye whisky before going on to be used as rye first fill and second fill casks for our single malt. This means for each shipment of casks received on site that each cask can be used at least 3 times compared to just 1 use before being shipped on to another distillery / use.

The casks play a number of roles in the maturation of whisky – there’s lots of reactions happening around flavour with compounds being added, removed and modified, but all complementing the flavours originating from our raw materials and fermentation that we’ve selected during the distillation process.

We make three different gins each of them aims to capture a different element of Arbikie. The first gin we released, Kirsty’s Gin, is potato based was about capturing our Angus home and what we encounter every day around the distillery. AK’s Gin, made from wheat, followed which is Alexander Kirkwood in a bottle – the father of the Stirling brothers and their inspiration for starting Arbikie Distillery. Finally we have Nàdar Gin, here we wanted to show what was possible despite our Scottish climate – made from 100% green peas it is climate positive with signature botanicals of lemongrass and makrut lime leaf, both of which are grown here on the farm!

What current trends do you see affecting the spirits industry, and how is Arbikie Distillery positioned to take advantage of them?

Sustainability and reducing environmental impact has to become the main focus for the distilling industry. Luckily as I’ve said we’ve always considered our environmental impact when making decisions and are always striving to do better. As well as the activities I’ve already mentioned we have lots of projects in the works. From reviewing all our packaging materials to, for example, ensure all paper is sourced from FSC forest and our bottle capsules are compostable, through to planting 1000 of junipers, native hedgerows and trees – we’re trying to think from a long-term point of view.

Why did you choose to partner with Glencairn Crystal as your preferred glassware supplier for tastings, and what benefits have you seen from using their products?

For us the name Glencairn represents good quality and is globally recognised within the whisky world.  The glass you drink your dram out of has such an impact on your drinking experience and we know with Glencairn our spirits will be presented in the best possible way.

Distillery Q&A

Read More From Our Fascinating Distillery Q&As

Discover More Stories