For this year’s International Scottish Gin Day the supporters were paired with a few of the official gins of the event.
One of the gins I was lucky enough to be put together with was Ice and Fire Distillery. Hand on heart I wasn’t familiar with them so I was very excited to get to know them a little better. I was also excited to help you lovely lot get to know them a bit better.
I guess that’s where this little blog/Q&A comes in… I sent the lovely and obliging Jacqueline Black from Ice & Fire Distillery a series of questions designed to trick her into giving the internet all the info on her gins, her brand and a little about her… It worked!!
Before we go any further, in the interests of transparency Ice & Fire gave me a 100ml bottle of both their Crofter’s Tears and Caithness Highland Gins to let me test the goods!!
Prior to getting into this here blog I feel that it’s super important we all know what “crofting” is… So, to save everyone time, I’ve only went and googled it:
Crofting – the practice or system of farming in crofts
Not really that helpful so I’ll look up “croft” and we’ll see how we get on….
Croft – a small rented farm, especially one in Scotland, comprising a plot of arable land attached to a house and with a right of pasturage held in common with other such farms
So it’s a little farm near a house… Brilliant… Now we know.
The brand Ice & Fire has come about in an effort to sustain a life of crofting (told you knowing what it was would come in handy… First sentence… Bam no worries… I’ve got you). Anyway in times gone by crofters would make illegal whisky to sustain themselves but now, Ice & Fire make two completely legitimate spirits… One being gin… And they make two of them The other spirit they make is rum. But they also have another reason for distilling –
“My brother Iain, who is our distiller, was diagnosed as being terminally ill with cancer. We started the distillery for him so he could have a job at home which could fit around his life. He was previously a gamekeeper and used his knowledge of the hills and ingredients to produce the recipes for the gin and rum”
The brand is designed around representing the area in Caithness where the spirits are made and the lives of the team making them.
The label shows the mountains of Morven and Scaraben, the crofthouse and the Wade Bridge at Latheronwheel and the stag represents distiller Iain having been a gamekeeper throughout his life.
“It had to represent the provenance, the people and the place. It is all about where we have come from”.
The botanicals used are, for the most part taken from the very doorstep of the distillery. This again swings back round to that locality and the importance of the area to these guys. The botanicals have been around in the Highlands for generations –
“Iain picked the botanicals from the hills around us. Purple heather flowers in Crofter’s Tears, salmonberries and rhubarb in Caithness Gin and whin flowers and honey in the Raider’s Rum”
I asked about the distillery itself –
“We started the distillery in July 2018 with 2 gins and then progressed onto making rum as well. We distill and bottle everything on our croft in Caithness. We use copper Hoga stills from Galicia in Spain and our hero ingredients in each spirit is always something we can pick from our doorsteps”
The still they use started off as a little baby 5 litre alembic still (basically a small still with a tube coming from it into a kinda wee tub typa thing – a bit like the ones you find in gin schools I think) then they got a 10 litre on, a 20 litre, a 100 litre (Monty) and now they have two 200 litre bad boys… Lovely.
Back onto the subject of the botanicals I did enquire as to what Jacqueline’s favourite botanicals to use was –
“The purple heather is absolutely beautiful when cut and this is the design we based our bottles on”
I was then curious which is the hardest to balance –
“Scaling up from the experimental batches into a full size is the most difficult thing. The ingredients don’t scale up on a linear basis so you have to keep tweaking until you can get the balance right on a larger scale. Things like cardamon are particularly difficult to scale up”
The name probably doesn’t come from where you think it does… It’s nothing to do with Game of Thrones…
“Ice and Fire comes from the Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights which we see a lot in the winter months in Caithness. We have fantastic dark skies up here and the proximity to the North pole!!!! compared to the rest of the UK makes it a fantastic place to see the phenomenon.”
Imagine living somewhere you can see the Aurora Borealis… Outstanding. I think you’d kinda have to name the brand after it given how special that really is!
To discuss the gins in a little more detail is, I think, quite important. I plan to do a mini review for the Caithness Gin shortly but with the Crofter’s Tears I only had enough to do a quick taste and make a cocktail so the majority of the notes are from the Ice & Fire website…
It’s a London Dry gin which is never not a great thing! The purple heather which is the star of this particular show only blooms in July and August. The squad pick them by hand and then blend with juniper, cassia bark, cubeb and other botanicals to really make something quite special.
The Caithness is a more citrusy gin with some fruity goodness added in for your pleasure. The botanicals in here are local rhubarb and salmonberries, juniper and fresh lime peel to name a few… I can’t wait to put this through a mini-tasting.
Do you know how long it took them to get their flagship right?… I do… And in 30 seconds you will too…. Reading speed dependent –
“There were dozens of recipes and it took about 6 months of Iain playing the mad professor before I put my foot down and said we had to go for it”
I mentioned earlier that they also make a rum… I’m still trying to get into rum but apparently it’s distiller Iain’s favourite…
“Iain actually prefers making the rum. He prefers the taste and the experimentation with rum. It smells fantastic just coming off the still, you really get the flavours coming through”
I can appreciate the smell from rum when its in the still must be wonderful…
We’ve talked alot through my social media about the pandemic this year and I am always interested to know how it is affecting the brands we love… So I asked Jacqueline… And she told me –
“Business wise it has been pretty devastating for us but no more than anyone else. It is what it is and there is no point in moaning about it because we all have to make the best of it. It is hard when you are running a business but you have to look at the bigger picture and the devastation it has had on peoples’ lives. We immediately went into producing hand sanitiser and have now given away 3000 litres for free to the local community. We are still supporting and supplying any local schools, health professionals and businesses who request it”
She then told me that the hardest thing about it has been –
“The feeling of not being able to do more to help people.”
I’m honestly a bit annoyed at myself that I didn’t hear about Ice & Fire through the Pandemic Praise and the fact they did sanitiser… We could’ve heard about them months ago!!!
Anyway I then asked a series of random-seeming but still on topic questions…
Other than gin what’s your tipple?
“A nice cup of tea – you can’t beat it”
It’s been a rotten day… What cocktail are you having and which of your gins are you making it with?
“Anything with grenadine or passion fruit. Both of these are my favourite fruity flavours.”
Favourite snack to have with gin? Any particular recommendations of food to pair with your gin?
“Crisps and cheese..yum”
To close off the questions I asked Jacqueline two further things…
The first was to shout out some local businesses –
“We have so many fantastic local businesses that have soldiered on through Covid and are trying to support the supply chain so I am afraid it has to be more than one, JA MacKay Grocers, Thurso, Bin Ends in Wick, Glencoast in Helmsdale and John O Groat Brewery”
The second was to sum up the brand in one phrase –
Which I think is just lovely.
The last important piece of info is they have a dog – Sam… I just wanted to make you aware of this… There is a photo of Sam on their website and hes a handsome devil.
Remember folks… This year sucks for everyone… If you can buy gin please buy direct from the brand… If they don’t have their own webshop it takes two minutes to drop them a DM and ask where is best to purchase from.
Secondly support local businesses if and when you can.
And, finally, please give generously to the hospitality industry as it’s taken a real kicking this year and its an industry literally every person uses, needs and would be sorry to lose. I’m personally supporting The Ben Scotland who you can find via this link —> The Ben Scotland Website