Distillery Focus

A dream of a distillery (Arran)

Our Mystery Visitor travels to Arran
By Mystery Visitor
Isuppose that most, if not all readers of Whisky Magazine have dreamt of running their own distillery. Back in 1995, after a distinguished career in the industry, Harold Currie did rather more than that – he built his own brand new distillery, from scratch, and started producing single malt whisky.His dream was to resurrect the lost distilling tradition on the Isle of Arran – a small island in the Firth of Clyde, sheltered from the Atlantic gales by the Mull of Kintyre – and today a popular holiday destination. The site chosen was at Lochranza, in the north of the island at the foot of a beautiful glen, close to the ruined Lochranza Castle.With tourism in mind, a visitor centre and restaurant was naturally also part of the dream and, in fact, is the first step on any tour.The centre runs seven days a week throughout the summer, with guided tours departing on the hour. There are limited winter operating hours. Admission is £3.50, with the normal concessions.For that, there’s a small exhibition with an attractive waterfall display and an explanation of wood and ageing, followed by a short video in the rather cheesy replica 18th century “Crofters Inn”.The film itself starts well enough, with interesting footage of the distillery’s construction but then tails off into a conventional sales presentation. It’s something of a lost opportunity to exploit one of Arran’s unique aspects – after all, when did you last see a distillery being built?I certainly would have liked more of this story, rather than the tedious sales pitch.Following this, one of the friendly team of guides escorts you to the distillery. As might be expected, it’s fairly small in scale; in fact, the tour makes much play of being the second smallest distillery in Scotland.However, it has the advantage that it’s easy to take in the whole process at a glance, so Arran is ideal for first-time visitors. Also, because it was purpose built, everything is very clearly and logically laid out, unlike older operations which can sometimes tend to ramble.It’s perhaps a trifle misleading to refer to the “whole process” however, as there is no malt mill at Arran. Presumably to simplify operations and save costs, Arran gets its malt ready ground as grist so the story really begins with the mash tun and moves quickly on to the single pair of small stills.The distillery opened pretty strongly on the back of many individual orders for casks of whisky (you can, by arrangement, go and visit your personal cask in the traditional style warehouse), but I got the impression that things were a little harder now.The distillery, though far from silent, hadn’t produced for some while and our guide was distinctly vague as to when it would restart production.What is perfectly agreeable, however, is the concluding dram in the pleasant tasting bar followed by the shop and the excellent restaurant. You can bottle your own personal bottle at cask strength (currently £45) in the shop or stock up on other island produce from this beautiful spot.Local produce features in the restaurant, which is winning local support and a wider reputation. We enjoyed a relaxed meal, as an ideal end to an undemanding tour of Arran’s compact facility.Let’s hope the production slowdown is a temporary blip, as it would be unfortunate for this dream to end as a nightmare.