Ili Distillery is the brainchild of landowner Bertram Nesselrode and Scott McLellan. Proposed as a way to secure a sustainable future for Gearach Farm, the planned distillery is named for the old Gaelic name for Islay.
Conceived by London-based architectural studio, Alan Higgs Architects, the planned building is an unusual shape for a distillery. Most of Islay’s distilleries take ‘shed’ forms – rectilinear plans, gabled roofs, white walls – but the ili takes inspiration from the island’s many circular structures, such as lighthouses, Bowmore’s round church, and prehistoric duns and brochs.
The design for a drum-like building overlooking Loch Gearach aims to be “a natural, organic part of the lyrical landscape in which it is set”. Taking inspiration from the everchanging natural landscape of the island, as well as its dramatic contours, the design has no back or front, as well as a roof pitch guided by the land form, and is ‘open’ to the weather through extensive glazing.
Shape is key to the design. The building’s circular form evokes the tuns, tanks, pipes, stills, barrels and bottles of whisky making. Meanwhile, its placement in the contour of the landscape will create one public- and road-facing storey, and another, lower storey at the back, facing north, which will feature double-height glazing.
Plans for the interior of the distillery building including a welcome desk, a shop, a café. A mezzanine will serve the upper parts of washbacks, tuns and stills, but the remainder of the space will be open to the still house below, over which there will be an expansive view to Loch Gearach and beyond.
At the centre of the plan is a glazed drum with an oculus above. This will be the tasting room and area for introducing visitor tours. Its floor is a moving platform, which will lower visitors at their table to the production floor in a memorable act of theatricality.
The materials philosophy for this building is “use natural, reduce and source locally.” Concrete use is minimised and optimised for carbon, and the roof and upper floor structures comprise an array of Laminated Veneer Lumber components (wood being, currently, the only renewable building material that can create load-bearing structures). The visible walls will be made of solid stone reclaimed from redundant structures on the farm.
A Community Benefit Fund funding model is proposed, with a commitment to contribute to a local community fund once the distillery is fully operational.