A limited number of bottles of the world’s first honeyberry gin are due to hit shelves in the next few days.
The pale magenta tipple is the brainchild of Stewart Arbuckle, who planted Scotland’s first ever orchard of honeyberries on his farm at Invergowrie, near Dundee, in 2014.
The honeyberry, also known as blue honeysuckle, is native to Russia and very tolerant of cold weather. This makes it ideally suited to the Scottish climate.
The crop has been hailed as a superfruit due to its high levels of health-giving nutrients.
The purpley-blue berries are packed full of antioxidants, containing up to four times as much as the similar-looking blueberry.
They also have higher levels of vitamin C than an orange and nearly as much potassium as a banana.
Honeyberries have a multitude of uses and can be made into everything from juices and smoothies to jams, pickles and sauces.
But that’s not all. Mr Arbuckle believes they have enormous potential to create an eclectic range of artisan alcoholic drinks.
The new gin is the first, but he has already working on creating wine, fizz, liqueurs and port-style beverages from honeyberries - with the first bottlings expected in a couple of years.“It was just a small crop this year because our orchard is young,” he said.
“The best way of adding value to a small crop is to turn it into something and so the first thing we’re doing is gin. “We’ve sold a few punnets of the fruit in our farm shop this summer but our key focus for honeyberries as a whole is the alcohol.
“Firstly there’s a lovely romance about it. And to have our own version of vineyards here in Scotland, where we’ve got a grape-like fruit that is perfect for wines, champagnes and ports, would be amazing for both the product and potential agro-tourism down the line.”
Honeyberries are ideal for wine-making because of their particular properties.
“The main thing is their tannin structure,” he said.
“They’ve got more tannins than a grape, and that’s what makes world-class wine.
“And they’ve also got very high brix levels - that’s the sugar levels within the berry.
“Tannins and brix are the two things honeyberries have got in common with the grape, which makes them very interesting.
The gin has been created not far away from the fields where the berries are grown, at what is probably Scotland’s smallest distillery.
Tony Reeman-Clark set up the boutique Strathearn Distillery, near the village of Methven in Perthshire in 2013 and is chair of the newly formed Scottish Craft Distillers Association..
He was responsible for concocting the brightly coloured booze.
“I think Stewart is really going to change the face of fruit-growing in Scotland,” he said.
“The honeyberry gin captures the whole essence of craft distilling.
“It’s novel, it’s innovative, it’s high quality, it has great provenance and it’s good for Scotland. “That’s the ethos of Scottish craft distillers.
“The project also presented a great opportunity to be the first. But it’s only step one - we can do lots of things with honeyberries.
“Craft distilling is a new and growing industry here, which provides a great wrapper around big industry.
“We are small, nimble and adaptable. We can innovate in order to be traditional.
“This is a really exciting time for Scotland.”
Scottish leaders have welcomed the new crop and its wide potential.
Rural economy minister Fergus Ewing said: “This is a great example of the sort of innovation I want to encourage in Scottish farming, where producers identify and make the most of emerging economic opportunities.
“Scottish soft fruit is already world-renowned and the honeyberry is an exciting edition to our growers’ repertoire, and there are an increasing number of craft distilleries in Scotland capitalising the growing global appetite for our artisan products.
“I wish this project every success.”
It’s hoped this is just the start of new honeyberry industry. A further ten growers have planted the crop this year, and it’ thought production could reach 5,000 acres across the country in the next decade.