Production

Scotch in the Pipeline

The boom in demand gathers pace
By Gavin D. Smith
You might be forgiven for thinking that with so many new distilleries having come on stream across Scotland in recent times that the supply of eager entrepreneurs willing to take up the challenge of making whisky is in danger of drying up. But far from it. At the time of writing there are more than a dozen Scottish distillery projects either under construction or at the planning and design stage.

In Edinburgh former Macallan Master Distiller and whisky investment guru David Robertson is heading up an attempt to bring malt whisky making back to the Scottish capital for the first time since the closure of Glen Sciennes during the 1920s.

The intention is to create a £3.6 million distillery and visitor facilities around a former railway engine shed building on St Leonard's Lane, near Holyrood, and Robertson hopes that distillation of around 53,000 litres of spirit per annum might get under way next year. He explains that, "We have submitted plans which outline our vision to bring single malt whisky distilling back to Edinburgh."

"Our vision is to create beautiful, hand-crafted spirits and the engine shed building is the ideal location for us to realise this ambition. With its history dating back to the 1830s, it will provide a fantastic home for us to create a small, but world-class distillery and tourist destination of which Edinburgh can be proud."

Meanwhile, across in Glasgow, another historic building - namely the Pump House on the banks of the River Clyde - is at the centre of plans to spend £10 million creating a distillery, whisky museum and tasting bar. Planning permission for the venture has been granted to the group behind the development, headed by Tim Morrison, owner of independent bottlers AD Rattray Scotch Whisky Company.

According to Morrison, "My great-grandfather John Morrison built the Pump House in 1877 and it gives me great pleasure to now have the opportunity to bring the building back to life, restore it to its former glory and give the building and the surrounding area the respect and status it deserves."

Overall, the Lowlands region of Scotch whisky production has declined significantly, but existing recent start-ups such as Annandale, Eden Mill and Kingsbarns are already turning that situation around, and both Edinburgh and Glasgow are technically within the Lowlands area.

In the Scottish Borders alone, three separate distilling ventures are being planned, with The Three Stills Company announcing last year that it had achieved its funding target of £10 million. With an existing property in Hawick earmarked for the distillery and accompanying visitor facilities, this venture headed by four former directors of William Grant & Sons Ltd, namely George Tait, John Fordyce, Tim Carton and Tony Roberts, may be on course to restore distilling to the Borders for the first time since 1837.

The second Borders distillery project, just south of Jedburgh, is on rather a grander scale, and is the work of Mossburn Distillers Ltd, headed by Chief Executive Neil Mathieson, with Swedish investment company Haydn Holding AB, owner of Marussia Beverages BV, putting up the capital. And there is a lot of capital to put up, as a £35m to £40m spend is envisaged, creating two distilleries on the site, one housing pot and column stills, and the second housing hybrid and smaller pot stills.

Construction of the first distillery is due to begin next year, with Neil Matheson noting that, "We hope to have the smaller of the two, containing pot and hybrid stills up and running in early 2018."

The third Borders distillery is being proposed by R&B Distillers Ltd, led by businessman Alasdair Day and principal investor Bill Dobbie. Following an online poll to discover where most people wanted to see the distillery built, the town of Peebles came out on top.

At present, however, Day and Dobbie are preoccupied with another distillery project, this time on the tiny isle of Raasay, just off the coast of Skye. Zoe White, Marketing Executive for R&B Distillers Ltd notes that, "The Isle of Raasay Distillery was granted planning permission on 9 February 2016 and now we're waiting for the results of a grant application before breaking ground, with the distillery build hopefully starting during May."

"If all goes to schedule we plan to be distilling by early 2017 and therefore bottling Scotch whisky from 2020. We're aiming to produce 94,000lpa based on a one tonne mash, bottling half of this after three years and allowing the other half to mature further. The style is likely to be lightly peated."

By coincidence, Neil Mathieson and Mossburn Distillers Ltd also have their attention focused on a new distillery not a million miles from Raasay, namely Torabhaig, on the Sleat peninsula of south east Skye.

This involves the conversion of a former farm steading, and Mathieson explains, "We are still on target at Torabhaig, for October 2016. All the plant has arrived and we are now piecing together the plumbing and building in a mezzanine. Nothing is easy in a listed building!

"Experimentation will probably take the first six months before we make final decisions on flavour profile and casking, but we will have about 500,000lpa per year to play with once we are up and running and the public opening will probably be around May 2017."

Staying in the islands, but heading to the northernmost occupied Shetland island of Unst, The Shetland Distillery Company intends at long last to make the dream of distilling Shetland malt whisky a reality. Meanwhile, the race is on to see who will be first to build Islay's newest and ninth distillery. Jean Donnay, owner of Brittany distillery Glann ar Mor Distillery in France was granted planning permission to create a distillery at the farm steading of Gartbreck, by the shores of Lochindaal, south-west of Bowmore early in 2014, but the project has been subject to subsequent delays.

There is every chance that Donnay will be pipped at the post to create Islay's ninth distillery, however, as independent bottler and blender Hunter Laing & Co plans to spend around £8 million creating a distillery at Ardnahoe, near Port Askaig, on the north-east coast of the island.

Subject to planning approval, work on the distillery could start this summer, with the first phase of development creating the actual distillery, initial warehousing and accompanying visitor facilities, seeing spirit flow by the end of next year. Phase two will entail building more warehousing and expanding production facilities.

Company Managing Director Stewart Laing says, "The new facility is being designed to create a particular style of spirit that we know from our experience of selling whisky in 65 countries around the world will appeal to the Islay whisky lover. By building this distillery, we are fulfilling a long held dream."

Yet another island getting in on the new distillery act is Arran, with Isle of Arran Distillers having recently applied for planning permission to build a second distillery at Lagg, on the south coast of the island, where legal distilling last took place in 1837. The plant will embrace a visitor centre and warehousing capacity, and will make all of the company's peated spirit.

Meanwhile, back on the mainland, the Falkirk Distillery Company is well on the way to restoring distilling to the town where Rosebank closed in 1993, and Drew Mackenzie Smith is heading a long term £5 million project to restore whisky-making to Lindores in Fife.

Another place seeking to restore distilling after a lengthy break - albeit not quite as lengthy as in the case of Lindores - is the Highland town of Dingwall. Ben Wyvis Distillery closed in 1926 but now GlenWyvis Distillery Community Benefit Society plans to raise £1.5m to create a new whisky-making facility. The whisky company plans to work with Community Shares Scotland (CSS), to offer investment opportunities from £250 to locals living in all IV postcode areas. "GlenWyvis will be built on its whisky heritage, its community ownership and its environmental credentials," says founder John F. Mckenzie.

Some 30 miles north east of Dingwall, Dornoch is also planning a new distillery, with the Dornoch Distilling Company fronted by local hoteliers Phil and Simon Thompson, having launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money in order to convert the town's 135 years old fire station into a distillery. Dornoch could be up and running later this year, and will be ultra-traditional in its approach, using organic floor malted barley, brewers' yeast, oak washbacks and direct fired pot stills. A 2,000 litre pot and column still will also be installed to produce white spirits.

Simon Thompson says, "We're trying to make a style of whisky which has long been extinct; a style that hasn't existed since the 1970s and before."

One distillery that has already been built is Lone Wolf, located near Ellon, north of Aberdeen, and owned by maverick brewers BrewDog. It is not expected that any whisky will be distilled for some months to come, but when it is, expect to see the same radical and innovative approach to its creation that BrewDog applies to brewing beers.

Also in Aberdeenshire, work is underway on a long delayed distilling project, namely independent bottler and retailer Duncan Taylor Ltd's development of a malt and grain distillery on a former granary site in Huntly, first mooted back in 2007.

Finally, of course, there are the largest new distillery projects of them all, namely the creation of what will effectively be two new Glenlivets, and the construction of the replacement Macallan at Easter Elchies in the heart of Speyside. Expected to cost around £100 million, work on the vast Macallan venture with its 12 wash and 24 spirit stills and 16mla capacity commenced in late 2014, with a projected completion date of next spring.

The way things are going it seems certain that by then even more Scottish start-up distilling ventures will have been announced!