Island distiller sets sail

Inaugural rum from Orkney producer inspired by 18th century pirate

J. Gow Rum, created by Collin van Schayk, embraces the story of an infamous Orkney pirate

THE first rum distillery on the Orkney Islands has launched its inaugural spirit, with a notorious 18th century pirate providing the inspiration for the product’s branding.

J. Gow Spiced Rum, created by VS Distillers, is named after the Orcadian pirate John Gow, who was executed in London for his crimes in 1725 after a successful piratical career off the Iberian Peninsula.

VS Distillers is a new venture by Collin van Schayk of the family-run Orkney Wine Company, based on the small island of Lamb Holm.

Part of the Orkney Wine Company’s premises on Lamb Holm has been specially adapted for rum production, with two 2000-litre molasses fermentation and distillation stills installed.

Production of the spiced rum began in April, with the first batches now bottled, labelled and on sale. The company is also importing barrels from Italy and France, with plans to lay down and mature spirit for future releases.

“We were looking at how we could diversify the business and do something different that wasn’t gin or whisky,” explained van Schayk. 

“We all like rum, so it was an obvious choice.

“It’s a first for Orkney and fits in well with the seafaring traditions of the islands.

“You also can’t get away from pirates when it comes to rum, so we decided to embrace that element and connect the brand with Orkney’s very own privateer, John Gow.”

For van Schayk, the launch of the rum has been a long time coming.

“We first applied for a licence in January of last year and, naturally, there were several hurdles to jump before production could begin,” he said.

“Our track record in wine production and our understanding of the fermentation process certainly gave us a head start, but it was still a steep learning curve at times.

“Suffice to say, we’re delighted to be bringing J. Gow to the market.”

Made with a blend of spices from around the world, the rum contains two locally-grown ‘secret’ ingredients; the spirit is described as having subtle citrus and cinnamon notes with a warming spice finish.