Orkney Craft Vinegar Orkney Craft Vinegar

Orkney Craft Vinegar

The Orkney larder is famous around the world. The islands have some of the finest food and drink to be found anywhere, and the innovative, entrepreneurial spirit to go with it. One new business, Orkney Craft Vinegar, is already beginning to make an impact in culinary circles further afield.


“To my mind there is no really good UK vinegar producer and we wanted to be the first. We’ve had to learn as we go but it’s just kind of logic really.”

Sam Britten is typically understated when it comes to his business. Along with his father-in-law, Keith Harrison, he launched Orkney Craft Vinegar in 2017, combining knowledge and skills learnt in previous jobs with a desire to do something different.

But starting a business from scratch, especially one that requires such skill, attention to detail and creativity, is a real challenge.

“There’s no handbook to making vinegar,” said Sam. “If you want to make beer then there is lots of information online. There’s nothing about vinegar!”

That didn’t deter the duo though. Sam originally had the inspiration for the idea whilst working at the Barony Mills in Orkney where he was responsible for milling bere – an ancient island barley. He was also malting grain to be used in whisky and beer and decided to take the alcohol, ferment it and try turning it into vinegar.

Sam Britten from Orkney Craft Vinegar


“It all goes back to my previous life as a chef when I used vinegar as a seasoning in lots of sauces instead of citrus fruits,” he said. “It just made sense to me that people might want to use something local instead of importing something from the continent. The result is the same idea of acidity as citrus.”

Now, from its small base in the village of Orphir, Orkney Craft Vinegar is finding its way to kitchens and cafes across the world, including places like Cape Town, San Francisco, New York City and the Faroe Islands. Its two vinegars, Bere Malt and Honey and Meadowsweet, are becoming increasingly popular ingredients in recipes and even cocktails – one bar in Brooklyn has created a bespoke shandy with dark porter beer featuring bere malt vinegar instead of lemonade.

The process is important to Sam and Keith. Customers are now looking for something exciting and innovative. “In particular, chefs are always searching for something ‘hyper-local’,” said Sam. “They’re not looking for traditional balsamics from Italy or Spain, they want something homegrown. For us, one of the main drivers is to use local ingredients”

When you find out just how much care, attention and time goes into each bottle of Orkney Craft Vinegar, you can really appreciate why the product is becoming increasingly popular. The Bere Malt Vinegar is made using bere barley and is left to mature in oak barrels – sometimes for up to a year – before being bottled. This helps it develop its deep, complex flavours.

The Bere Malt Vinegar is aged in these oak barrels to help its flavour develop


Meanwhile, the Honey and Meadowsweet Vinegar uses pure honey and Orcadian spring water. This becomes a mead which is then infused with locally grown meadowsweet, before being fermented a second time into vinegar – a long process but, according to Sam, one that’s key to its success.

“The vinegar has a floral taste to it from the meadowsweet, which you can find across Orkney during the summer months. It also has a kind of almond and elderflower taste – just the perfect balance between acidity, sweetness and florals. It’s apparently very good in gin cocktails!”

Now just over a year into business, the team is already planning for the future. There are new client opportunities to explore and even a potential visit from a very popular television chef on the horizon too. The range is also set to be expanded, with a whisky cask-aged bere malt vinegar nearing completion, and a rhubarb-flavoured vinegar being trialled too.

The process to produce a bottle of vinegar can take up to a year


It has been a busy year for Sam and Keith, and with such a small team and production space, what they’ve achieved so far is nothing short of incredible. The business joined Orkney Food and Drink in 2017 and has attended a number of trade shows on the Scottish mainland with other local companies.

“Orkney Food and Drink has been amazing and the visits south helped generate a lot of interest,” said Sam. “It’s good to be part of the Orkney producers group too, there is a particular interest in Orkney ingredients and we’re committed to using them.”

For now, though, the Orkney fields are full of meadowsweet, the rhubarb is in season and the barrels in the store sit full of vinegar, ageing to perfection. Can Sam quite believe how far the business has come?

“It has been a huge learning curve. Of course we’ve had some disasters on the way, but we’ve taken them all in our stride and we’ve had such a massive response. We’re just excited about what comes next.”


Find out more about Orkney Craft Vinegar via the official website. You can also follow the business on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Visit the Orkney Food and Drink website for more information on Orkney's producers and stockists.

The Digital Orkney project has been part financed by the Scottish Government and the European Community Orkney LEADER 2014-2020 Programme.

Inside Business Focus

Orkney Craft Vinegar

Elaine Henderson

Our latest business focus feature takes a closer look at a very talented member of Orkney's creative community. Elaine Henderson has been producing stunning pieces of pottery from her adopted home of Stromness for more than ten years now.

More
Orkney Craft Vinegar

Green Marine

Orkney's role at the heart of the emerging marine energy sector continues to grow, and so does the reputation the islands have developed for a highly skilled supply chain. Our new Business Focus feature takes a look at one of the local companies helping developers get their devices in the water, Green Marine.

More
Orkney Craft Vinegar

William Shearer

In a small community it's important that a wide range of goods and services are available, and one shop in particular has been doing that locally for generations. Our latest Business Focus feature takes a look at one of the oldest established businesses in the islands, William Shearer.

More
Orkney Craft Vinegar

Kerr Carpentry

There have always been talented craftsmen and women in Orkney - now the latest generation of makers are beginning to take centre stage. Our new Business Focus feature visits the workshop of Kerr Carpentry in Burray.

More
Orkney Craft Vinegar

The Deerness Distillery

Orkney now has three top quality gin producers, each making their mark on the national stage. Our new Business Focus feature takes a look at the newest kid on the block, the Deerness Distillery.

More
Orkney Craft Vinegar

Ortak

Our latest Business Focus feature takes a look at Ortak, one of Orkney's most iconic jewellery brands. The company is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and is beginning to once again make its mark both in the islands and globally.

More
Orkney Craft Vinegar

The Orkney Roastery

The newest members of Orkney Food and Drink are the latest subject of our Business Focus feature. The Orkney Roastery is the first dedicated micro-roastery in the islands, sourcing quality coffee beans and, with care and attention, creating its own range of delicious coffee blends.

More
Orkney Craft Vinegar

Peedie Chocs and Desserts

Our next business focus feature takes a look at new Orkney Food and Drink member 'Peedie Chocs and Desserts'. Sarah-Louise Drever's enterprise offers high quality and delicious chocolates, truffles and fudges - and this is just the beginning.

More
Orkney Craft Vinegar

The Brig Larder

Our latest business focus feature takes a look at a unique shop in the centre of Kirkwall. Orkney Food and Drink member The Brig Larder offers a wide range of local products, showcasing the best Orkney has to offer.

More
Orkney Craft Vinegar

Michael Sinclair Woodturner

Our business focus feature for March takes us to Harray and the home of new company and Orkney Crafts Association member, Michael Sinclair Woodturner.

More
Orkney Craft Vinegar

Karrawa Guest House

Every month we’re going to take a look at the work of a successful Orkney based business - for February we're featuring Orkney Tourism Group member Karrawa Guest House in Kirkwall.

More
Orkney Craft Vinegar

The Island Smokery

Every month we’re going to take a look at the work of a successful Orkney based business - for January we're featuring Orkney Food and Drink member the Island Smokery, makers of smoked and flavoured cheeses and much more.

More
Orkney Craft Vinegar

Hilary Grant

Every month we're going to take a look at the work of a successful Orkney based business - from food and drink producers to tourism and renewable energy companies. The aim is to highlight the breadth of economic activity in the islands, and to showcase just some of our innovative entrepreneurs. This time the focus is on local designer Hilary Grant.

More