Heading to Antarctica? Don't Skip the Gin Distillery in the Falkland Islands

There's only one place you can try a gin that uses ingredients once collected as samples by Charles Darwin during his stint in the Falklands in 1833.

A Craft Gin Distillery in the Falklands is Far From Your Typical Antarctic Excursion

Jake Emen

Antarctica is one of the hottest – and coldest – destinations for intrepid travelers these days, offering a rare glimpse of the extremes found at the planet's poles, replete with all the glaciers, penguins, seals, whales, and boundless, pristine beauty you can handle. Not to mention all of that delightful craft gin. Wait, what?

The Falkland Islands, home to some 3,300 human residents and several hundred thousand sheep, also plays host to one of the world's most southernmost and remote craft distilleries, Falkland Island Distillers. The distillery produces a lineup of gins evocative of their special place on the planet, a British overseas territory consisting of 778 islands found 300 miles off Argentina's Patagonian coastline.

Richard McKee founded Falkland Island Distillers in 2016 on a small-scale, trial basis, and launched his first gin, Darwin's Botanicals, in 2019. He operates from a historic building in the harbor town of Stanley, the capital of the Falklands, which serves as a popular port of call en route to the White Continent. “I first came to work in the Falkland Islands 25 years ago, and for many years, I have had a keen interest in distilling and the possibility of developing a local spirit here,” he says. This curiosity led him to pursue a postgraduate diploma, via remote learning, in Brewing and Distilling from Edinburgh's renowned Heriot-Watt University.

As a native of Northern Ireland, McKee at first envisioned producing whiskey in the Falklands, and still hopes to accomplish the feat in the future. “But friends and colleagues in the UK spirits industry encouraged me to start with gin, and before I knew it, this had taken over,” he says. He imports grain neutral spirit and creates 100-liter micro batches by redistilling and infusing the spirit with his chosen botanicals; Darwin's Botanicals Gin serves as the core of his lineup. “It's the most unique to the Falklands, being truly local in character.”

A Craft Gin Distillery in the Falklands is Far From Your Typical Antarctic Excursion

Jake Emen

The aptly named gin incorporates several ingredients that were collected as samples by a young Charles Darwin during his stint in the Falklands in 1833, before he made it to the Galapagos. That includes teaberries and diddle-bee berries handpicked by McKee in the surrounding hills from February to April each year. The process of picking a kilogram of teaberries requires about five hours of labor, but the payoff, of course, is in their distinctive flavor characteristics. “These bring a range of wonderfully contrasting mellow, sweet flavors along with more bittersweet notes,” McKee says. He also uses scurvy grass, which “has very powerful citrus notes and is infused in small amounts in all of our gins.”

Also in the lineup are South Atlantic Kelper’s Gin, made with local kelp hand-foraged while diving, and Dog Watch Gin, made with cane spirit as its base. McKee says that Kelper's is more peppery and spicy, while Dog Watch “is distinctly more strident and sweeter in character.”

The experience of drinking McKee's gins is very much that of pouring the incredible environs of the Falkland Islands into your glass. “It reminds me of the fresh air, with the smell of grass and the wet ground, that you can find while walking around the Falklands,” says Eliott Favre, a bartender on a recent Abercrombie & Kent Holiday Voyage to the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica aboard the Ponant Le Lyrial. The cruise makes its first stop at the Falkland Islands before sailing farther afield, offering passengers a last glimpse – and in this case, last taste – of civilization before sailing down into Antarctic waters. These cruises are a lifeblood for businesses in the Falklands, bringing tens of thousands of eager visitors to the islands. “There are challenges which are quite unique to the Falklands, especially in terms of logistics, so it's essential to plan months ahead and always have functional contingency plans in place,” McKee says. “However, we are very fortunate to be able to welcome an incredible diversity of visitors, either through their work or on holiday, and it has been wonderful to meet some really lovely and interesting people coming through Stanley.”

A Craft Gin Distillery in the Falklands is Far From Your Typical Antarctic Excursion

Jake Emen

With passengers often bringing a few bottles back on board with them, Favre has been known to experiment with their wares. “The Dog Watch reminds me of forest hikes, with aromas such as pine, and I would mix it with a classic tonic water,” he says. “The South Atlantic Kelper's is more fruity and flowery, and I would use it in a cocktail with blackcurrant, such as a Bramble.”

Play your cards right, and you may even receive some assistance from the Abercrombie & Kent crew in making what must be the world's most inimitable cocktail. Snag a handful of clean glacial ice during a zodiac boat ride in Antarctic waters, pass it off to be rinsed by the bar team, and use it as the fanciest fancy cocktail ice imaginable in a Gin & Tonic, or other libation made with Falkland Island Distillers gin.

As the distillery doesn't export or ship any of its products, a visit to Stanley is the only way to nab a bottle. It makes for a particularly novel souvenir from this far off part of the world, alongside all of those penguin and glacier photos.

“The Falkland Islands are an incredibly special place to work and live in, with a great community spirit and a local population which is proud of its heritage, while also being remarkably progressive and diverse in character,” McKee says. “Above all, our life in and work in the islands has retained that very real and close connection with the natural world, which is more important than ever today.”

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