Commercial environments never stay the same for long and the world of Scotch whisky is no exception. With apparently ever-increasing demand for Scotch around the world, the industry’s major players such as Diageo and Chivas Brothers are ramping up production, with expansion taking place at existing sites and the creation of several entirely new distilleries.
Such developments are intended to service the global thirst for blended Scotch whisky, but a number of smaller-scale, independent distilling ventures have also recently been established, or are in the process of being established. The intention of their proponents is to capitalize on the growing enthusiasm for whisky generally by creating niche single malt brands in due course.
Most ambitious of the numerous projects currently active across Scotland is Annandale distillery, located just half a dozen miles north of the Scottish border in Dumfries-shire and presided over by locally-born Professor David Thomson. Strictly speaking, Annandale is not a new distillery, as it operated between 1830 and 1919 and what Thomson and his team are doing is restoring as much of the original distillery architecture as possible and developing the structures necessary for a revival of whisky-making. Inevitably, it is much costlier to restore a substantial range of old buildings to working order than it is to construct from scratch a modern production unit and
Thomson says that “Progress has been slow and expensive but we’re getting there.”
At the time of writing, distilling plant is due to be installed during the next few weeks, with the expectation that the first spirit will flow by late summer. “Initially, we plan to distil 250,000 liters per year,” says Thomson, “then double that once we are fully up and running. The distillery has to be able to produce enough whisky to make it economically viable, and ultimately it needs to have a fantastic reputation for quality.” Both peated and unpeated spirit will be made in time and Annandale is unusual in that it will be equipped with one large wash still and two spirit stills. “We want lots of copper contact,” declares Thomson, “and having three stills like that will maximize the ‘conversation’ between spirit and copper, ensuring we don’t get any sulphur notes.”
On the opposite side of Scotland, in the eastern county of Fife, new life has recently been breathed into the previously stalling plans to create a new distillery, by the name of Kingsbarns, half a dozen miles from the golfing Mecca of St Andrews. Kingsbarns is to be created within the late 18th-century East Newhall Farm Steading on the Cambo Estate. The Scottish Government has granted the project £670,000, while the Wemyss Family has stepped in to provide the remainder of the funding necessary. At present, Wemyss Malts offers blended malt and single malt bottlings from a variety of sources, but Kingsbarns will ultimately give the company, headed by William Wemyss, its own single malt whisky. Former golf caddie Doug Clement, who is founding director and project manager at Kingsbarns, says that "We will be starting work in the spring and it will be some time in the summer of 2014 when the distilling begins and the visitor center opens."
Over in the far West Highlands, on the remote Ardnamurchan peninsula, another independent bottler is getting in on the distillery building act, in this case Adelphi Distillery Ltd. Adelphi’s headquarters are at Glenborrodale Castle on Ardnamurchan and, according to Sales & Marketing Director Alex Bruce, “We began the feasibility study for this project in 2007 and early research included the possibilities of buying a distillery and laying down young stock from other
distilleries. However, we felt that the time was right not only to create a new single malt (something we are very passionate about) but also to put Ardnamurchan on the distilling map. We haven’t ruled out additional ventures in the future, but I am sure that this particular project will keep us very busy for the time being!”
Adelphi plans to produce three main styles of spirit, with one being described by Bruce as “a coastal Highland”, which will be peated to around 20ppm, along with a “lighter peated version” and a non-peated style. While the most heavily peated spirit will be matured predominantly in American oak, the two lighter styles will use former sherry casks. The distillery’s main fuel source will be a wood chip-fuelled biomass plant, fired with timber from locally-sourced sustainable woodland.
The first mainstream releases are likely to be when the whisky is aged between five and eight years and Bruce notes that “We hope to be commissioning the distillery towards the end of 2013 with production commencing at the beginning of 2014, if not before.”
From the far west to the far north, where Scotland now has a new most northerly mainland distillery, with Wolfburn at Thurso taking over that role from Pulteney. A distillery operated close to the site of the new plant under the Wolfburn name between 1821 and the 1850s and ‘new’ Wolfburn – using the same water source - is due to begin producing spirit any time now. According to Business Development Manager Stephen Light, “The entire plant is custom-built and designed by Forsyth’s of Rothes on Speyside and the distillery manager is Shane Fraser, who was manager at Glenfarclas for seven years.” When it comes to the single malt itself, Light notes that “It isn’t peated at this stage and a large volume of ex sherry casks has been sourced already for maturation.” He adds that “We are looking to make a high-quality malt that can sell on an international basis.”
Finally, something else to look forward to in the future is a revival of whisky-making on the Rosebank distillery site at Falkirk, in Central Scotland. Gerald Michaluk of Arran Brew plc, has acquired the old distillery, silent since 1993 and plans to brew beer there on a substantial scale before commencing craft distilling. Gin, sake, cider and malt whisky are on the agenda, though, as Michaluk explains, "Diageo, who formerly ran the Rosebank distillery, have written into the deeds that the site cannot be used for distilling until 2017. It will be our intention to open what we now call a 'micro-distillery' after that date - or before, if Diageo release us from their imposed restriction.”
A number of other potential new distillery developments have also been mooted for various Scottish locations, all of which should lead to a richer and more diverse range of drinking experiences for us all a few years down the line.
© Gavin D Smith 2013
(All photographs show premises prior to works starting or in progress)