Building Ardgowan Distillery Part 3: People, personalities, and passion

Building Ardgowan Distillery Part 3: People, personalities, and passion

In the next part of his exclusive series for Whisky Magazine, Martin McAdam reflects on the knowledgeable and passionate people that have helped to make Ardgowan Distillery a reality

News | 30 May 2024 | By Martin McAdam

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As the roof goes on Ardgowan Distillery and we prepare for delivery of the first of the process vessels to the site, it feels like a time to reflect on the people who helped us get here. 


Too often in business we hear talk of ‘managing people’ as if we were robots to be programmed. But humans are delightfully complicated creatures with quirks, personalities, and emotions. Trying to simply manage that diversity is foolish. 


Lots of us wish to excel at our work yet are plagued by ‘imposter syndrome’: we worry our achievements are mere luck and will inevitably be exposed as a sham. But perhaps luck is better viewed as preparedness encountering opportunity. One cannot simply desire to win the lottery without ever purchasing a ticket. 


The opposite problem is the Dunning-Kruger effect — where one is blissfully unaware of their incompetence. A healthy self-awareness is invaluable, especially when embarking on a new endeavour where you lack essential knowledge.

The steel frame of Ardgowan Distillery

When my business partner and I set out to create Ardgowan Distillery, I knew there was much I did not know about making great whisky. Enter my new mentor, the legendary Max McFarlane, master whisky maker of Highland Park during his 44 years at Edrington. As Max wisely counselled, we needed someone with both a “whisky brain” and a “business brain”. 


Fortuitously, Max introduced us to industry titan Willie Phillips, former managing director of Macallan. Willie expertly guided us through creating our award-winning blend Expedition and implementing a comprehensive 25-year business strategy encompassing production, finance, wood policies, and more. 


Willie shared an amusing anecdote about an overeager sales chap promising to immediately bottle 33 per cent more 25-year-old whisky... which they hadn't actually distilled 25 years prior. With Willie’s meticulous planning, we hope to avoid such rookie mistakes. 

Ardgowan Distillery's situation at Inverkip

For production expertise, Willie connected us with master distiller Ian MacMillan — who has helped design and operate distilleries globally — and to properly source and season our casks, we enlisted leading wood maturation expert Stuart MacPherson


Our distillery is situated where the River Clyde meets the sea on the historic Bankfoot Farm, just a mile from Max’s hometown of Inverkip. Locals say Max orchestrated this location to have a distillery in his neighbourhood, but that’s not the only reason for the choice: the area is steeped in history from its Bronze Age roots through 20th-century industry. 


One thing is certain: between the nearby mini-Highlands of the Clyde Muirsheil Park and the pervasive seaside air, Inverclyde provides the perfect terroir to craft Scotland’s next great single malt. It’s all about the people, personalities, passion, and provenance. 


Read earlier instalments in the Building Ardgowan Distillery series here.


Pictured: Willie Phillips and Max McFarlane on the Ardgowan Distillery site.

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