Reviews of affordable whiskies with some entertaining tales along the way…
You may not have heard of the Saxa Vord Distillery but it is, in fact, the most northerly distillery in Scotland and began producing gin in 2015. I first encountered it at a gin tasting in early 2017. Now, gin isn’t really my drink but I went along to that event with an open mind and one of the spirits that stood out for me was Shetland Reel.
We were told that evening that the distillery had plans to produce whisky in the future, the first time a legal distillery would be established in Shetland. It seemed an exciting project at the time, though I confess it rather faded in my memory as dozens of other new distilleries stole the headlines. Then, during the latest Scotch Whisky Auctions monthly free-for-all, I spotted a Shetland Reel blended malt. I decided that someone who made a decent gin could probably source a decent blended malt and soon, it was mine – for the very reasonable sum of £30.
The Shetland Reel brand and the Saxa Vord Distillery were established in 2013 by Frank and Debbie Strong in partnership with Stuart and Wilma Nickerson. Stuart Nickerson has been in the Scotch whisky industry since 1979, with several stints as distillery manager at various locations. Frank and Debbie meanwhile were responsible for regenerating the former RAF base at Saxa Vord in Unst. They converted the site into an award-winning tourist resort with a hostel, self-catering accommodation and bar/restaurant.
Sadly, the distillery hasn’t yet been able to bottle any whisky produced on-site but they have at least sourced some spirit distilled elsewhere. Batch 1 of the Shetland Reel blended malt was released in November 2015 and included malts from four Speyside and one Islay distillery. 1800 bottles were released at 47% abv.
Shetland Reel Blended Malt Scotch Whisky
Smell: There’s a bit of maltiness, some fresh lemon and lots of vanilla but you can also find some raisins, some sea breeze and a touch of smoke. There’s also some oaky citrus stuff going on and a little bit of liquorice mingling with the peat. Pepper and maybe some cinnamon mixed in there, too.
Taste: The peat smoke is quite punchy on first arrival and it brings some peppery heat with it. The longer the whisky rests on the palate, you start to get dry oak and barley grains come through. Sea salt. Touch of brine. More oak. More pepper. More smoke – particularly on the finish. A splash of water toned down the heat a little and brought some fruit notes through – both dried and fresh. An almost buttery vanilla quality to it.
Thoughts: This is a surprisingly powerful little dram. I don’t think I was quite expecting it to be just as smoky. That’s not a complaint, of course. If you like things peaty, there’s a lot to enjoy here and it never becomes one-dimensional. The smoke is only one part of the whole and while it might not be the most complex whisky I’ve ever come across, there’s enough going on to make it interesting. Especially when you give it time – it seems to find more personality the longer it sits in the glass. A wee unexpected hidden gem.
Price: Originally available at £45. I paid £30 in a recent auction. At the original price, it would be a decent little purchase – at £30 it’s a steal.
For more on Saxa Vord and Shetland Reel visit https://www.shetlandreel.com/