The reasons for this revival are varied. For Isle of Raasay’s co-founder Alasdair Day it was part of a personal quest to draw on his whisky-making heritage. He was thinking of a distillery in the Borders, but co-founder Bill Dobbie and his school friend Ian Hector Ross had Raasay connections.
Torabhaig on Skye’s Sleat peninsula started as the brainchild of the late Sir Ian Noble (founder of Sabhail Mòr Ostaig Gaelic college) who sold the undeveloped site to Dr. Frederik Paulsen’s Marussia in 2013, an ideal fit as one of Paulsen’s philanthropic interests is preserving threatened languages, cultures, and craft.
The impulse behind Harris was similarly philanthropic. ‘Founder, Anderson ‘Burr’ Bakewell’s original purpose was to create long-lasting employment,’ says production manager, Kenny MacLean, ‘and had the idea of this being a social distillery. We don’t make any big decisions without thinking what impact it will have on the community.’
Nc’nean on Morvern, was part of a wider project starting in 2002 when founder/CEO Annabel Thomas’ parents bought Drimnin Estate and started projects to make it self-sufficient. ‘There was a toss up between distillery and holiday cottages,’ explains visitor manager Amy Stammers. ‘Holiday cottages only employ people for half the year. A distillery meant people moving here and staying here.’
For Alex Bruce, the main reason for building Ardnamurchan was to ensure the survival of his independent bottling firm, Adelphi, given the way third party stocks were dwindling and increasing in price. From the get-go, the location had a significant impact on how the distillery was to be run.
‘Once we had chosen the site, the question was how to best fit its location and that’s when the whole concept of sustainability and circular economy started,’ he says. ‘Ardnamurchan is a small, remote, place. It was obvious we should be as symbiotic with the estate as possible.’ The result was the installation of a biomass boiler fuelled by local, sustainable, forestry, supplemented by power from a hydro-electric generator in the river which also supplies the cooling water.
Self-sufficiency was also important to Nc’nean, which also has a biomass boiler fuelled by trees from the estate. This year the distillery achieved Net Zero in Scope 1 and 2 emissions. It also only uses organic barley and, from 2022, is switching maltings from Muntons in Stowmarket, to Inverness and reducing the number of farms from 10 to two. ‘It helps to reduce our overall carbon footprint, allows us to work with the farmers to reduce theirs, and develop regenerative farming solutions.’
Ardnamurchan also utilises blockchain technology. ‘Everything is detailed in it, from barley, through the process, to the warehouse and supply chain,’ says Bruce. ‘It also monitors all inputs and outputs which will be vital in developing greater sustainability – and it gives the consumer transparency.’ Rather than being on the fringes, these apparently ‘remote’ sites are leading discussions about sustainability.
The role of a distillery in locations such as these is significantly different to one in, say, Speyside. Think of it as an ecology, with the distillery as a keystone species within an area, supporting a complex and diverse ecosystem. Its arrival brings in new jobs, creating new businesses. It has also allowed a generation to return home.