Meet the Maker: Louis Wright, Head of production, Kirkjuvagr Orkney Gin

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Louis Wright

Q: Where do you work?

A: The Orkney Distillery is situated in the heart of Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands, just off the north coast of Scotland.

Q: How long have you worked with Orkney Distilling?

A: I have been part of the team for just over a year now. I graduated with a degree in History, funnily enough; and although I’d been interested in the spirits trade for a few years I never anticipated a production-based role. I joined Orkney Distilling, initially as a trainee distiller, but now I manage all aspects of production here.

Q: Describe the production process.

A: All of our gins are distilled using two direct fired, handmade Portuguese copper pot stills. Both have a capacity of 100 litres, so it’s entirely small-batch production and a very labour intensive process. We also use a range of unique Orkney-grown botanicals, including our signature angelica root, grown on the Isle of Westray.

Q: What’s a typical working day like?

A: Typically, I will steep our botanicals overnight and start distilling the next morning at around 8am. Distillation time is around five hours so I can usually get some other jobs done: cutting or bottling gin or preparing any orders to go out. After lunch, we often have a 2 o’clock distillery tour and tasting, which I take from time to time. Then it’s time to clean the stills and, if necessary, charge the stills and weigh the botanicals for the next day’s distillation. Bottling and packaging is the other major aspect of the job and I also spend a fair amount of time experimenting with new products.

Q: Please provide brief tasting notes for your products.

A: In short, our signature gin, Kirkjuvagr, is smooth, balanced with a delicate sweetness. Arkh-Angell, our Navy Strength, or Storm-Strength as we call it, is bold and intense. Harpa is more notably juniper-led, so sweeter and perhaps more traditional. Aurora is a spiced gin that starts off sweet and finishes with a tingling warmth.

Q: What would you say sets your products apart?

A: What sets our brand apart is, undoubtedly, our Orkney Islands location. Every product we release is inspired by Orkney’s Norse history: the bottle, name, the label design and the botanicals chosen to create the spirit itself. Kirkjuvagr Orkney Gin is unmistakably Orcadian and everything we do at the distillery must evoke that spirit.

Kirkjuvagr Orkney Gin
Kirkjuvagr Orkney Gin

Q: What one fact should bartenders know about your products?

A: It’s pronounced ‘Kirk – U – Vaar’. The ‘J’ is silent and you’ll find a phonetic spelling on each of our bottles as a reminder. But in terms of the spirit, Kirkjuvagr is incredibly versatile: excellent neat, perfect in a classic G&T and ideally-suited for a Martini – we do a superb Espresso Martini in our distillery bar.

Q: What’s your favourite part of the job?

A: My favourite part of the job is being able to tell the story of Kirkwall and Orkney through our gins. People are fascinated by what island life is like and most are surprised by how modern, innovative and outward-looking Orcadians are – and I think we are testimony to this.

Q: What’s your favourite way to drink your products?

A: I’m quite traditional in this respect and I’ll always go for a classic G&T. Arkh-Angell, our Navy Strength, makes a fantastic G&T garnished with some pink grapefruit. I’ll always order that at the distillery bar.

Q: What’s your career highlight so far?

A: Two things stand out. Firstly, being at the Scottish Gin Awards when Arkh-Angell won a silver award. But probably the best feeling was releasing Aurora, the first gin I designed, trialed and eventually released. Hearing the really positive feedback was very uplifting.

Q: Who do you admire in the industry and why?

A: I would have to say Zak Shenfield at Strathearn. We’re a similar age and he, like me, ended up distilling without having done any formal training. I did most of my initial training with Zak and he’s always at the end of the phone for advice. He’s super talented and works for a fantastic, innovative distillery.

Q: How do you relax outside of work?

A: Mainly exercise. I play football, go to the gym or run most nights of the week – either for enjoyment or the avoidance of guilt. At the weekend I’ll always have a few beers or whiskies to relax, often whilst watching football.

Q: If you could invite anyone for a drink who would you ask, where would you go and what would you drink?

A: Oh that’s a tough one… I’ve always been a massive Joy Division fan and I’m gutted I’ll never be able to see them live, so maybe I’d meet Ian Curtis for a beer instead. But if he couldn’t make it, I always appreciate meeting my Dad for a pint when we can.