Up Helly Aa

Distilled in Scotland

Saxa Vord Distillery

First Produced


Still Type

John Dore 100 litre copper pot still

Buy From

Up Helly Aa

  The Up Helly Aa Story

Shetland Reel was started by two couples; Frank & Debbie Strang and Stuart & Wilma Nickerson, with the aim to build the most northerly distillery in the UK. Saxa Vord Distillery is located on the site of a former RAF base on the island of Unst in Shetland.

Shetland Distillery Company are the first ever distillers to operate in Shetland and bring an innovative, creative industry to an often-forgotten part of Scotland. Shetland Reel’s core range is comprised of their Original, Ocean Sent and Simmer expressions – each represents a different aspect of the Shetland islands.

Unst means everything to Shetland Reel – their distillery, their botanicals, and staff all call it home. Located 60 degrees north of the equator the island is on the same longitude as Alaska and the southern point of Greenland. It is home to flora and fauna not found anywhere else other on earth and provides a beautiful backdrop to enjoy a G&T. 

Each year during the cold month of January, Shetland is illuminated the fire festival Up Helly Aa which draws visitors from around the work to watch Shetlanders celebrate their Nordic heritage. Each year Shetland Distillery company releases a limited-edition navy strength gin as an ode to the maritime history of Shetlanders. Three previous expressions have been released, each distinct from the last, and all have been aged in ex-whisky casks. 

The Up Helly Aa range focuses on experimenting with cask ageing and navy strength gins to create flavours not commonly found in gin. Previous expressions have seen their award-winning gins aged in ex-bourbon casks and ex-sherry casks to celebrate the world-famous Up Helly Aa festival.

The 2019 expression is a blend of three ex-whisky casks from Aberlour, Glen Livet, Glen Garioch, and an ex-sherry cask that has help previous expressions. The casks were filled with Ocean Sent gin at 60% and aged for 3 months.

Using locally sourced botanicals give a flavour that reflects the terroir of the islands and provides an opportunity to experiment with unusual ingredients such as the bladderwrack seaweed used in their Ocean Scent. 

  Key Botanicals

  • Bladderwrack Seaweed

  • Citrus Peel

  • Almond powder

  Tasting Notes

Juniper and citrus from the gin followed by rich sweetness from the sherry casks on the nose – subtle oak flavours but still maintains a freshness from the gin.

Delicate sweetness and wood notes followed by a bold juniper and gentle warmth from the spice.

The addition of tonic lets more citrus flavours come through and lift the subtle whisky flavours to make a refreshing G&T.

Serve with your preferred tonic or ginger ale and a twist of orange peel.


  • Original
  • Ocean Sent
  • Simmer
  • Rhubarb & Bramble liqueur

  Key Personnel

  • Stuart Nickerson (Master Distiller & Director)
  • Debbie Strang (Director)
  • Mark Turnbull (Distillery Manager)
  • Luke Rees (Production)
  • Graeme Sharp (Brand Ambassador)


  The Scottish Gin Society verdict

Ocean Sent is our favourite Shetland Reel expression, and this edition of Up Helly-Aa has taken it to new levels. The first thing you notice is the pale hay hue in the bottle, due to the cask maturation. It is a juniper led gin, with a hint of sherry on the nose, that gives way to citrus. We tried it neat, which had real oomph, with light tonic, and ginger ale. Our preferred serve was with ginger ale, plenty of ice and a twist of orange zest, which complemented it perfectly.

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