Play Hard

How The Borders Distillery are sustainably crafting Scotch Whisky, Vodka and Gin

From distillery tours to bottled Christmas spirit, The Borders Distillery are the epitome of suave sustainability.

Written by Becky Hardy
Published 10.11.2022

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It’s the one gift you never need to fake a happy reaction for.

You always know you’re going to use it and enjoy it. Be it as part of your new favourite cocktail or served neat on the rocks, saved for a special occasion in your crystal glasses or finished at pre-drinks before you head outout; even if you grab it as a last resort for that notoriously difficult person to buy for, a bottle of their favourite tipple is always a guaranteed winner.

But that’s no excuse to get lazy with your liquor. Why not make your – or that certain someone’s – next serve even more special?

Ditch the Smirnoff for a bottle of Puffing Billy; swap your Jack Daniels for a Lower East Side whisky; and trade in the Gordon’s for the Kerr’s. In other words, delve into the world of The Borders Distillery.

The first Scotch Whisky distillery in the Scottish Borders since 1837 (and housed in a restored Victorian factory), The Borders Distillery may be inspired by the industrial heritage of their hometown of Hawick, but it’s their spirit of enterprise and innovation that is driving this distillery into the future with style.

See, The Borders Distillery have committed themselves to bottling the true spirit of the Scottish Borders. What that means is, their whisky is made from barley grown on 12 local farms – barley which is helped to grow by the organic by-product of their distilling process. It also means that all their water is drawn from an underground lake beneath the distillery; pure water, which takes around 50 years to filter down from the Scottish hills that surround them.

Their Scotch whisky is made using only three natural ingredients (malted barley, water and yeast) and marks the return to the Borders of an industry that has been absent for more than 180 years. You can take a distillery tour to see how the magic happens and can enjoy a complimentary whisky tasting experience when you visit. But it’s not all about whisky at The Borders Distillery.

They also craft delectable gin and vodka from their locally sourced barley, and have got some pretty neat blends, too. And if you’re looking to go all out for Christmas this year, you can even become the owner of your very own private whisky cask, with a unique opportunity to purchase one of a limited number of casks with a filling date of your choosing.

We caught up with Kirsten Blackburn, Head of Marketing, to find out how The Borders Distillery can get you in the Christmas spirit this year.

What’s The Borders Distillery all about?

The Borders Distillery is about discovering the true spirit of the Borders. The region offers whole-hearted Southern hospitality, but the uniqueness of our county also lies in its industrial past. This contrast of rural soul mixed with hard graft makes for an interesting place to live and we want to capture this unique quality in our spirit.

We’re also what you would class as “new kids on the block” – most other Scotch distilleries have been in operation for decades, whereas we sprung onto the scene in 2018. This means, in a sense, we get to write our own story and establish ourselves as an experimental distillery with new tales to tell.

What would you say your local area lends to the creation of your spirits? 

Technically, it takes three key ingredients to make whisky: water, barley and yeast. But the magic comes with a secret fourth ingredient: people. These elements all play a key role in making The Borders Distillery spirit sing.

For the water which goes into the spirit, we draw from an underground lake deep beneath the site and, right outside our front door, the River Teviot offers a sustainable source of fast-flowing water – perfect for cooling the spirit as it comes from the stills.

We only use locally grown Scottish Borders barley, all harvested from 12 local farms lying within 35 miles of Hawick. This helps to keep the delivery of our barley as eco-friendly as possible, whilst also supporting the local economy. It was also important to our founders to build a business that would create jobs, develop a skilled workforce and offer career opportunities to local people.

You create four key spirits at Borders Distillery. Can you give us a brief history of each spirit and why you think they’re special?

Kerr’s Gin was one of the first products produced at The Borders Distillery and uses our barley-based New Make Spirit to form award-winning gin. Kerr was a Hawick man who travelled throughout his life collecting botanicals from around the world. The spices used in our gin are inspired by his discoveries – think citrus, coriander and clove. We’ve also just released a limited-edition run of Kerr’s Navy Strength, which lives inside a stunning blue bottle, spray painted and digitally printed in Scotland.

Puffing Billy Vodka also uses our New Make Spirit as its base, but is distilled in a way that’s completely unique to The Borders Distillery. Spirit is vaporised inside our Carterhead Still, moving through baskets of charcoal in the process to wrap the spirit in the silky smoothness of vanilla and cream. This is a vodka that simply has to be tasted to be believed!

Lower East Side and Clan Fraser are two of our whisky blends, made to our top-secret recipes. Lower East Side is perfect for mixing – inspired by the Lower East Side of Manhattan, this blend gives you a cocktail base to have some fun with. One of the blends inside is slightly peated, so you’ll get a sweet hint of smoke mixed with almonds and vanilla.

I’d describe Clan Fraser as your go-to blended Scotch. Fraser is a Scottish Borders name and is inspired by that Southern hospitality we’re so well known for. Perfect as it is or with a rock of ice, this dram will give you notes of honey, butter and figs, all wrapped in sweet cinnamon spice.

And last but not least, how could we forget about WS:01 Borders Malt & Rye. This is our latest release, completely distilled in house by our team. It forms the first launch of the Workshop Series and is the first blend to leave the Scottish Borders in 185 years. We’re immensely proud of the liquid our distillers have created, and we can say with confidence that it is going down a storm! A dram of wood, syrup, spice and vanilla – all the good stuff!

What would you say is the best serve with your vodka and gin?

Kerr’s has started to become known as a bit of a “Marmite gin”, so getting the serve right makes all the difference. With Kerr’s Gin you want a highball glass, thick chunks of ice, a generous segment of orange or grapefruit, topped up with sparkling Mediterranean tonic. The citrus in the fruit and tonic emphasises the spice of the spirit, whilst giving you a really refreshing G&T. A simple but effective serve if ever there was one.

Puffing Billy was designed to be a vodka that you can enjoy neat or with a splash of tonic – all we ask is that you keep it far, far away from Coke! But, if you want to add some bells and whistles to your Puffing Billy serve, it has to be in an Espresso Martini. The smoothness of the spirit lends itself so well to the cream of the coffee.

Can you tell us some of the ways you’ve incorporated environmentally friendly processes into your work? 

When The Borders Distillery was built, our founders chose to design it with sustainability as a priority. We’re a proud member of the Scotch Whisky Association’s Race to Zero programme and continue to build on the sustainable foundations our architects developed in the rebuild.

The natural light our glass roof brings in reduces our dependency on electricity. Our distillers keep a watchful eye on the transformation of our locally sourced barley into spirit, maximising production whilst minimising impact. This allows us to be a zero-waste distillery, with all the organic by-product from distillation going to two local farms where it is used to grow plants, (including some delicious tomatoes!).

The organic by-product from those two farms goes back, in turn, to the barley fields – making for a circular economy within Borders farming, with the distillery at its centre. 


And what’s next for the distillery?

Everything we do now is gearing up for the launch of our Single Malt. We can’t give any dates away yet, but over the next few years we’ll be giving you tastes of experimental liquid that each show a different side to Borders life. Our doors will continue to be open for shopping and tours, but all I can say for now is: watch this space…


Lower East Side Whisky – £33.00

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Puffing Billy Steam Vodka – £33.00

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Kerr’s Gin – £33.00

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Clan Fraser Reserve Whisky – £25.00

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WS:00-01 Box: New Make Spirit; Borders Malt & Rye – £85.00

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Kerr’s Gin Ceramic – £32.00

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To find out more about The Borders Distillery and to shop their epic collection of spirits, visit their website and follow them on Facebook and Instagram

The Borders Distillery, Hawick TD9 7AQ 

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