First for Orkney as island rum producer sets sail

Orkney’s first rum distillery officially launches its new spirit this weekend, with an infamous island pirate providing inspiration for the brand.

J. Gow Rum, created by VS Distillers Ltd, is named after Orcadian pirate, John Gow, who was executed in London for his crimes, in 1725.

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. Collin is a son of Orkney Wine Company founders, Emile and Marjolein van Schayk.

J. Gow rum, with its creator, Collin van Schayk of VS Distillers. Image by Fionn McArthur,
Collin van Schayk with his new J. Gow rum. Image by Fionn McArthur –

Part of the Orkney Wine Company’s premises on Lamb Holm have been specially adapted and zoned off for rum production, with two 2,000-litre molasses fermentation and distillation stills installed.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise assisted with the equipment and marketing costs of the project.

Production of J. Gow spiced rum began in April, with the first batches now bottled, labelled and ready to go 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 Collin. “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, and our location on the shore of Lamb Holm.

“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.”

Collin said creating and bringing the new rum to the market had been a long process.

“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 now be bringing J. Gow to the market.”

Made with a blend of spices from around the world, the rum also includes two locally grown ingredients that Collin is keeping a secret.

“Our production process has unique elements and ingredients, which have added real depth to the rum’s flavour,” said Collin. “We’re very pleased with the results and look forward to hearing what everyone thinks of it.

J. Gow rum will be officially launched in Kirkwall on Saturday (21 October), with free samples available from 10am in The Brig Larder, and from 12pm in Judith Glue’s. Collin van Schayk will also be in the Orkney Hotel from 6pm, offering samples of J. Gow to business owners, shopkeepers and bartenders.

The new rum’s tasting notes describe it as “light golden in colour, with a smooth rounded sweetness. Subtle citrus and cinnamon notes with a slight hint of vanilla and a warming spice finish.”

Further information can be found on the VS Distillers website at and on the VS Distillers Facebook page.


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