Scotch distillery projects - work in progress

Around the year 2000 we received an avalanche of sad reports about distilleries
being closed left and right. Fortunately, when the worldwide demand for whisky
increased a few years later, mothballed distilleries were revived and new ones
were being built. Or at least enthusiastic plans to build them were made... ;-)

Arran was the last new distillery to go into production in the 20th century, but at
the end of the noughties the first whisky (or sometimes just the unmatured 'spirit')
from the first '3d Millennium' distilleries became available. Young distilleries like
Kilchoman have already released some of their first efforts on a small scale but
such early releases don't really count in my view. A malt whisky distillery has to be
able to deliver a good 10 or 12 years old whisky to prove they know their business.

Unlike many of their predecessors in the 17th and 18th century, most of today's
Scottish malt whisky entrepreneurs run their distilleries in a strictly legal fashion.
But that doesn't mean that their lives are any easier. Building a new distillery from
scratch takes time, commitment and money. Lots and lots of money these days...

Overview of emerging distilleries in Scotland

ABHAINN DEARG

The Abhainn Dearg distillery (pronounced as Aveen Jarręk, a.k.a. Red River distillery) was founded by Mark Tayburn and hopes to produce its first spirit in 2009. It's the most Westerly of all distilleries in Scotland and is located in Uig, on the west coast of the Hebridean Isle of Lewis. Abhainn Dearg distillery aims to produce 'a true Outer Hebridean Whisky'. If all goes according to plan their first single malt will be launched at the Royal National Mod in Stornoway in 2011 - a Gaelic festival that's also known as the "Whisky Olympics". For the first time in history participants should be able to enjoy a Single Malt distilled and bottled on the Isle of Lewis. (Please note that the owners made sure to avoid the word 'whisky' in their announcement, because the spirit won't have matured long enough to legally be called whisky...) According to their website: "There will always be limited amounts of Abhainn Dearg, the aim is to produce a quality Single Malt for those who take the trouble to visit our shores, support us via the Internet and, like the Shoeburn Distillery before us, supply local demand." (You can find the location of Abhainn Dearg on the interactive map of Scotland.)
 

AILSA BAY

William Grant & Sons have kept fairly quiet about their new malt whisky distillery in Girvan; Ailsa Bay.
The construction work started in early 2007 and they were already distilling malt whisky in September 2007. Unless I'm even worse at math than my highschool teacher told me, that means that setting up the entire plant took them less than a year! And the rest of the project seems to be moving swimmingly as well; Master Blender David Stewart informed me that the first fillings into wood were in early October 2007. The Ailsa Bay distillery has four wash and four spirit stills. They use stainless steel fermenters and the stills are based on the design of the stills at Balvenie. The distillery produces three 'main' styles of spirit; unpeated, mildly peated and heavily peated which are used exclusively for blends - just like was (almost) the case with Kininvie. That might be the reason that there has been little discussion about the special type of stills that WM Grant & Sons uses at the Ailsa Bay distillery. I've been told it's a variation of the Lomond stills that were used in some distilleries in the past. These stills are equipped with adjustable condensers and/or valves, which can be used to tweak the character of the spirit that is produced, for example make the body slightly lighter or heavier. 

Ailsa Bay distillery is named after "Ailsa Craig", the mysterious island that lies some ten miles from the Ayrshire coast. William Grant & Sons built the new distillery because of '... the requirement generally for more malt, especially for our William Grants blend and this is where most of the stock will be used in the future. We are looking for a Speyside style malt from this Distillery similar in character to Balvenie.'

So, if I remember my PR speak correctly, it's likely that the malt whisky which is distilled at Ailsa Bay won't ever be bottled as a single malt whisky. Apart from a precious two exceptions, this was also the case with the malt whisky that was produced at WM Grant's Kininvie distillery. The last time I checked, there have been only a few bottlings of Kininvie in two decades. You can find the location of Ailsa Bay on the interactive whisky map, but until a few single malt whiskies are released I won't bother to add a separate distillery profile to this site.
 

ANNANDALE

Annandale distillery in, erm... Annandale (Dumfries & Galloway) features in Alfred Barnard's 19th century book about the distilleries of Scotland. He wrote about Annan, the capital of Annandale: 'It stands on the high road from Dumfries to Carlisle, is a royal burgh, and one of the cleanest and pleasantest towns we have seen in the Lowlands.' Annandale closed in 1919, but now, after almost a century, the closed Lowlands distillery is heading for a revival. Planning permission has been granted and Annandale has received a £150,000 grant from the UK government. David Thomson, the new owner of the derelict distillery buildings, said: "Our ambition is to create an interesting and meaningful brand around Annandale, to create a whisky drinking experience around the main parameters of single malt Scotch whisky flavour and to create an engaging visitor experience."

That's all the interesting news I could gather so far - no news on actual building developments...
More information on: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/south_of_scotland/7375075.stm.
 

BLACKWOOD

There has been a lot of buzz about the new Blackwood distillery on the Shetland islands - but there are no 'buzzing' stills yet. The distillery that would have been the first on the shetlands was to be located near South Nesting, somewhere between Laxo and Lerwick. Some of the people involved around 2003 were Caroline Whitfield (founder and CEO) and John McDougall (master distiller). If it ever gets completed, Blackwood will be by far Scotland's northernmost distillery, but it seems that the ambitious plans that were revealed in November 2002 may have been just a tad too optimistic in hindsight. They had planned to start the actual building work on the distillery in the spring of 2003, but as far as I know they've only gotten as far as renting an office near the planned location in May 2004. They were awaiting final planning permission for a long time - but when they DID receive it, no building was done.

For a few years things were silent around Blackwood, even though (unlike most other 'upstarts'), Blackwood already had a brand on the shelves. I don't know if they actually produced the stuff themselves (yet), but there have been Blackwood gins and vodkas on shelves in the UK for some time now. They even have a wodka cream liqueur called 'Jago'. However, in May 2008 Blackwood was in the news again - but not in a good way... Several directors and staff members left Blackwood, annual accounts were several months overdue and there were some rumours about fraud. According to my sources, the company had failed to become profitable until then, so the future of Blackwood looks grim indeed - especially because most of the business was sold to Blavod vodka. It looks like Blackwood distillery was a short-lived project with little chance for revival.
(More information on www.shetlandwhisky.com or www.blackwooddistillers.com)
 

DAFTMILL

Daftmill has been operating relatively 'under the radar' since I first heard of them in 2004.
They didn't make the 'noise' that distilleries like Blackwood and Ladybank did, but while those two project seem to have dwindled away into oblivion, Daftmill has been quietly plugging along and building stocks. The Daftmill distillery is owned by Francis and Ian Cuthbert who financed the relatively small operation themselves. The name of the mill (and now the distillery) comes from the 'Daft Burn', which earned its daft name because it appears to flow uphill. The family of brothers Ian and Francis Cuthbert (who also own a gravel quarry nearby) has been farming the lands in the area for six generations now. The Cuthbert brothers plan to use their own barley to produce their malt whisky.

The Daftmill distillery is a converted meal mill (apparently built in 1809) that uses un-peated malt, two stainless steel washbacks, one 2,500 liter wash still and one 1,500 liter spirit still; both fired indirectly. The maximum production capacity of the Daftmill distillery is a mere 20,000 liters of alcohol per year, so they're even smaller than their Lowland cousin Bladnoch. The conversion from meal mill to distillery took place between 2003 and 2005. With the exception of building the stills and mash tun (those were made by Forsyth's of Rothes), all the work to convert the mill to a distillery was done by men who lived within a five mile radius of Daftmill Farm.

The owners consider Daftmill to be a Lowland distillery; they feel the border between the Lowlands and the Highlands runs through Dundee. However, in my book that would make Deanston, Glengoyne, Glenturret and Tullibardine Lowland malt whisky distilleries as well. I can feel as Scottish as I want, that doesn't change the fact that my passport maintains that I'm Dutch. So, I'll classify Daftmill as an Eastern Highlander for now.

In May 2008, Francis informed me about the progress on Daftmill;
 
Hi Johannes, General progress has probably been slower than I would have liked. We certainly have not been running as much as I would have hoped to. But the fact we have to earn a living reduces the time available for distilling however the less we produce the more exclusive our product will be. Our fist spirit was laid down in December 2005 so it will be a few months yet before it is legal whisky. We will not be rushing it to the market though as you say others such as Arran and perhaps Drumguish have done them selves no favours by marketing immature whisky. I would imagine we will wait till perhaps 5-8 yo before bottling but I would hope to be able to wait until we feel it is ready. Most of our casks are fresh bourbon barrels from Heaven Hill distillery but due to a shortage of casks the last batch was from Jack Daniels instead. We have also filled a few fresh sherry butts. We had originally planned to use a proportion of refill casks but sourcing really good quality refill casks has been difficult as most distillers want to retain their best wood.
 
All the best
 
Francis

The address is Daftmill Farm, Cupar, Fife (telephone 01337 810 732) and visits can be made by special arrangement. You can find more information on www.daftmill.com.
 

GLENGYLE / KILKERRAN

The first 'Glengyle' distillery was built in 1872 or 1873 by William Mitchell. He built Glengyle after a quarrel with his brother John prompted him to leave Springbank. The Campbeltown distillery operated for half a century, until it was finally closed in 1925. Finally? Well, apparently not, because around the start of the new millennium Springbank (still owned by the Mitchell family) announced its plans to rebuild Glengyle on the original site. The production buildings at Glengyle were pretty much restored by the end of 2002.

During the first half of 2003 the buildings were fitted with a mash tun, stills and a spent grains removal system (among other things) by the main contractor, Forsyth's of Rothes. The mash tun arrived in April 2003 and according to Distillery Manager Frank McHardy the wooden washbacks (built by Arthur Brown of Dufftown) were in place by September 2003. The rest of the necessary equipment (mill, dresser, dust extractor, cooling tower, pipework, condensers, milling system,  electric supply, pumps & valves, etc.) was installed just a few months later and Glengyle was officially opened by Winnifred Ewing and Hedley Wright on March 25, 2004. The first 'whisky' (Kilkerran) wasn't bottled until 2007 - and it will probably be a while before it's widely available.
(Check out the full Glengyle distillery profile for more information...)
 

HUNTLY

In October 2008, the Malt Maniacs E-zine featured an interview by Bert Bruyneel with Duncan Taylor's Euan Shand. Euan is one of the driving forces behind the new Huntly distillery that is planned in, erm... Huntly. When asked why they chose to go after a new distillery instead of buying one of the many mothballed distilleries, Euan replied:

"I believe everything is for sale at the right price, however, in this industry most of the multinationals would rather close a distillery down than sell. With an exception of course. Building a new distillery is the best thing for Duncan Taylor as its the only way forward. Whisky companies no longer sell new fill to us minions and if they do its teaspooned and worse any mature cask stock that comes on the market is pretty dire stuff these days. Thank goodness Duncan Taylor has sufficiently large stocks of casked whisky to give the company time to get the distillery built and producing as some day the company will no longer have enough stock to survive if the industry keeps behaving the way it does. We've a good few years under our belts yet!"

Of course, that was a few weeks before the credit crisis really broke loose, so those bold plans may have been postponed. The status of the Huntly website by the beginning of 2011 did not suggest a lot of activity yet.
 

KILCHOMAN

Kilchoman was the first new distillery to be built on Islay for well over a century.
It was also the first distillery from this 'projects' page to be promoted to a full distillery profile after the first bottlings of the Kilchoman whisky became available to the public around the year 2009.
 

KINGSBARNS

Here's a distillery project that seems to be inspired just as much by the touristic opportunities of the area around the famous Saint Andrews and Kingsbarns golf links as by the desire to produce aqua viteae. I'll have to collect some more data on the Kingsbarns distillery for a proper write-up, but for now I'd like to point you towards their web site on www.kingsbarnsdistillery.com.
 

KININVIE

Kininvie is not really an independent malt whisky distillery, but rather a 'dependance' of the Balvenie distillery. Between 1990 and 2010 it produced generic malt whisky for blending purposes. After 20 years the owners (William Grant & Sons) decided to close Kininvie because the new (even larger and more modern) Ailsa Bay distillery was perfectly able to produce the generic type of malt whisky that is used mostly in blends. However, William Grant later decided to re-open the distillery again in order to market its malt whisky. You can find more details about the history and equipment of the Kininvie 'distillery' on the full Kininvie distillery profile.
 

LADYBANK

James Thomson (formerly of Scotchwhisky.com - which is now owned by Sukhinder Singh) was closely involved with the Ladybank project in the past - but I'm not sure if that's still the case because the blog on the website hasn't been updated since 2006. The whole project has been set up as a club; members can invest in the distillery (located in the 'Kingdom of Fife') and reserve their own stock. Here's a quote from the site; 'The Club intends, by focusing on very small production quantities, to create one of the world's greatest single malt whiskies. By reducing yields so that we can always improve quality, and by distributing our whisky only to members and special guests who visit the distillery, Ladybank will add a new dimension to the world of Scotch Malt Whisky production.'

Yeah, well... It seems the club didn't quite reach their goal yet.
The latest press release on their website dates from 2005, so that doesn't bode well...
(More info on www.whisky.co.uk/intro.html)
 

LOCH EWE

Unlike many ambitious distillery projects on this page, the Loch Ewe "distillery" (slash hotel) of John Clotworthy has already been producing microscopic amounts of spirit since 2006. Because of that feat, it was actually listed on the main distillery page for a few years. However, according to their own web site, by 2011 only 3 casks of Loch Ewe malt whisky were maturing somewhere. Most of the freshly distilled spirit is sold and consumed very soon afterwards, so it never has the chance to evolve into whisky.
(More info on http://www.lochewedistillery.co.uk/distillery.htm) 
 

OCTOMORE

The Octomore distillery was originally conceived by Bruichladdich's Mark Reynier as a 'separate' distillery located right next to the Bruichladdich distillery on Islay. (I imagine it would have been more like a separate set of stills, like Kininvie's dependence on the Balvenie facilities.) However, the original plans must have changed somewhere down the line, because Bruichladdich started to use the 'Octomore' name for a number of heavily peated expressions from their own stills in May 2008. After drinks conglomerate Jim Beam took over Bruichladdich in 2013 the possibility of a new distillery on Islay seemed even more unlikely.

ROSEISLE

This distillery has a bit of a weird name, if you ask me - but then again I'm not Gaelic...
The name of the distillery was inspired by the region where it is located; Roseisle in Speyside, between Forres and Elgin. This massive distillery complex was built here by industry giant Diageo who originally planned to have the distillery producing whisky in 2009. They didn't manage to get their new distillery up and running that quickly because they had to wait for planning consent, but after they received permission the construction itself took relatively little time. The distillery was officially opened in October 2010. Diageo already operates a large maltings facility in Roseisle. Ailsa Bay and Roseisle are the first new large Scotch malt whisky distillery to be built since the construction of Allt-a-Bhainne (1975), Auchroisk (1974) and Braeval / Braes of Glenlivet (1974).
 

WOLFBURN

The original Wolfburn distillery was founded in 1821 near the small town of Thurso by William Smith.
It operated for a few decades but closed down at some point during the 1850's. In 2012 a group of investors received planning permission to build a brand new distillery on another location in Thurso - and they decided to use the name of the (entirely unrelated) old Wolfburn distillery for their new project. The new distillery was outfitted with 1 wash still and 1 spirit still and has an annual production capacity of almost 200,000 litres. After construction was finished, Wolfburn became the most northerly distillery on the Scottish mainland, taking that title from the Old Pulteney distillery a little further to the South.

Malt whisky production at the new Wolfburn distillery started on January 25, 2013.
During the first year 190,000 litres of bulk spirit were produced, filling a total of 811 casks. Wolfburn used a number of different casks, including small 120 litre quarter casks, larger 250 litre ex-bourbon hogsheads and big 500 litre Spanish sherry butts.
 

OTHER DISTILLERY PROJECTS...

I haven't included all the Scotch whisky projects that are in development in this list; some of the beautiful dreamscapes painted by enthusiastic entrepreneurs and borderline embezzlers are just a tad too 'imaginary' at this point. Take the Mellerstain distillery in the 'borders' region, for example. According to some vague reports in 2007 production was supposed to start in 2008, but that was the last we've heard of it. So, this list isn't exhaustive - I've tried to include only fairly 'solid' information. I've received some information about Barra, Falkirk, Lindores, Parkmore and Stal Thorabhaig, but couldn't verify all the data, so they're not included on this list yet. The founder of the Prąban na Linne distillery on Skye passed away in December 2010, and so far it doesn't seem likely that those plans will be picked up by somebody else.

Quite a few of these are probably just 'pipe dreams'. They - and others - will be added to this page once I've received 'solid' information. Do you know of any information that should be added? Drop me a note... 

young Scotch whisky distilleries

Red River whisky distillery
New whisky distillery projects in ScotlandInteractive whisky distillery mapScotland - whisky distillery informationScotch whisky bottlersScotch malt whisky brandsNew distillery projects
kilchoman 2 years old spirit

New whisky distillery projects in Scotland

Scroll down for some information about each of the distillery projects mentioned here.
Sadly, I don't have pictures for most of these distilleries, but I've received the pictures below of the
progress at the Red River distillery from Ian Besch shortly after they were taken in September 2008.
That was right before the credit crisis really took off, so it could mean that progress since that time
has slowed down. Nevertheless, at least there is some activity. Looking at the design of the still,
founder Marko Tayburn will be producing a distinctive type of Scotch whisky on the island, due
North of the Isle of Skye. (www.isle-of-lewis.com)
 
Meanwhile, keep in mind that I've focused on the malt whisky distilleries in Scotland here.
Pioneers have been trying to produce malt whisky in many other countries around the world,
but for a long time, only the Japanese seemed to be able to match the quality of the Scots.
However, that has changed, especially during the past decade. I'm happy to report that they
are making some very fine whiskies these days in places like India, Tasmania and Taiwan.
More information about those distilleries will be added to the 'deviant drams' section.
 
Meanwhile, I'll try to keep track of the distillation developments in Scotland as best I can.
However, that's not always as easy as it sounds. Providing accurate information isn't always
in the best interest of whisky entrepreneurs - and they often have better things to do than
answer curious questions. So, if you have news about new projects, please drop me a note.

April 2013 - Despite falling Scotch exports, Diageo plans to build a new 'super distillery'.
January 2013 - The Wolfburn distillery has started production on January 25.
November 2011
- I've seen a press release about a new 'Lakes Malt distillery' in Cumbria.
February 2011
- Until recently I hadn't heard yet about the Kingsbarns distillery in Fife.
January 2011
- After a long silence, the Annandale distillery is ready for the builders.
November 2010 - William Grant have closed Kininvie in favour of the Ailsa Bay distillery.
October 2010
- Diageo's Roseisle distillery is - sort of - officially opened.
December 2009 - the credit crisis may have been the last nail in the Ladybank coffin.
May 2009
- The Abhainn Dearg distillery (Red River) just launched their official website.
February 2009
- I've received confirmation of progress at Red River on the Isle of Lewis.
June 2008
- We haven't heard from Mellerstain for a while. That doesn't bode well...
May 2008
- Blackwood (supposed to be the first Shetland distillery) is in financial trouble.
April 2008 - The Annandale Distillery Company received a £150,000 government grant.
March 2008 - Diageo is still waiting for planning permission for their Roseisle distillery.
February 2008 - Duncan Taylor's plans for their own 'Huntly' distillery are taking shape.
September 2007 - WM Grant's new 'Ailsa Bay' distillery in Girvan went in production.
December 2006 - the new blog on the Ladybank website went quiet - not a good sign.

Not all of the distillery projects listed here may make it, so I felt that a page
dedicated to the tracking a few of the the major developments could be useful.

The white box at the right shows all new malt whisky distillery projects that I know of.
However, I fear that not all of those projects have the same chances of success. Making
a precise estimation about the odds of survival is difficult, because it's not easy to get all
the necessary data. Nevertheless, I've used my amazing powers of prognostication and
some animal entrails to try and predict if the project will eventually produce whisky.
 
I've used some simple colour coding to indicate the likelihood of anyone actually sampling
a single malt whisky one day that was distilled there. Purple names indicate projects that
are not yet in production, or waiting for further funding and/or planning permission.

The colour of these
links indicates the
likelihood of the
distillery releasing
a mature single
malt whisky in the
foreseeable future.
 
Colour codes:

 
Orange: likely
Purple: unclear
Brown: unlikely

whisky information
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