AN UP Helly Aa-themed cider is being launched later this month to celebrate Shetland’s Viking festival season.
East Lothian-based cider company Thistly Cross has teamed up with local wholesaler JW Gray to develop and distribute the 5.5 per cent drink in the isles over the coming months.
It will be formally launched at Lerwick’s Grand Hotel on the afternoon of 31 January before going on sale in local pubs and shops.
Thistly Cross sales manager Luke Fenton said the idea for the cider came via this year’s Lerwick Up Helly Aa guizer jarl Lyall Gair, who is a “big fan” of the company’s drinks and has developed a strong friendship with its staff.
“He’s been helping us out over the last three years by coming down to some shows in London, with his big beard and hair, and helping us talk to people about Thistly Cross,” he said.
“He told us all about becoming guizer jarl and he was keen, and we were too, to get involved. We’re a small company making craft cider and we love smaller events where we engage with different communities.”
Gair said the cider has been mooted since the summer when he met up with the Thistly Cross crew in London and he was given a sample of the drink to try while on his way to see the Scotland football team play before production started.
"They gave me a box of the 5.5 per cent cider to try on my way to London on a train with all my Tartan Army friends and me and all of my mates gave it the thumbs up.
"I was introduced to [Thistly Cross'] Peter Stuart at a wedding six years ago and we have kept in contact. Since then he introduced me to Luke a few years after. I keep sending them both a few photos when I find some Thistly Cross in a pub or off-licence."
The badge for the new Up Helly Aa cider.
Fenton said the cider will be available on tap in a range of pubs and hotels in Lerwick, with more premises expected to come on board soon, while it will also go on sale in five-litre boxes in shops.
He said it is a still cider, tastes a “little bit dry and not too sweet” and is suitable for vegans.
The drink will be available during the Up Helly Aa season, and if it is a success then they might make plans to follow it up with a different cider next year.