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Millions raised to open Glasgow gin distillery

TWO west of Scotland entrepreneurs have raised several million pounds to build Glasgow's first ever gin distillery, where they also plan to make the first new single malt to come out of the city in 100 years.

home-grown: Ian McDougall and Liam Hughes invested in state-of-the-art equipment for new venture. Picture: Nick Ponty
home-grown: Ian McDougall and Liam Hughes invested in state-of-the-art equipment for new venture. Picture: Nick Ponty

Drinks industry veteran Liam Hughes and Ian McDougall, owner of accountancy practice McDougall Johnstone, have teamed up with heavyweight investors from Asia to set up the Glasgow Distillery Company at the Hillington Business Park.

Backing has also come in the shape of a £130,000 Regional Selective Assistance (RSA) grant, secured through Scottish Enterprise.

The first spirit to be sold by the company will be Makar Glasgow Gin, inspired by the Scottish word for poet or bard, which could debut in city bars as early as next month.

With the market for Scottish gins beginning to look crowded, the company has elected to produce a "juniper-led" spirit, placing less emphasis on Scottish-grown botanicals in its recipe.

The New York Distilling Company has been cited by the owners as a major influence on their vision to build a "metropolitan" distillery in Glasgow's industrial heartland.

The company will also shun imagery traditionally used to market Scottish spirits as they seek to pitch their business as a celebration of Glasgow's engineering heritage.

Makar Gin will be packaged in a striking bottle designed by 21st Century Brands.

David Robertson, a former master distiller of The Macallan and rare malts director at Whyte & Mackay, has been brought on board as a consultant master distiller. He will mentor Jack Mayo, a graduate of Heriot-Watt University's famed brewing and distilling course.

The company ultimately hopes to employ 15 staff in "high value" jobs, with a brand ambassador tasked with developing the Makar brand in Glasgow expected to be among its early recruits.

Mr Hughes, whose career has included stints with Grand Metropolitan and Bulmers, said the distiller has emerged with Glasgow "buzzing" after the Commonwealth Games.

He said: "Glasgow people are proud of their city, and there is a big Glasgow diaspora around the world, so hopefully we can help bring a new age of distilling to Glasgow. And hopefully many other distilleries will take inspiration from us and open in Glasgow in the coming years."

The gin will be made in a £100,000, 450-litre copper still imported from Carl Distilleries in Germany, which the founders believe to be the most sophisticated of its kind in the UK.

Whisky production will begin at the site at a later date, with the name of the malt still to be decided.

Two whisky stills are expected to arrive in October, together with a wash back, four fermentation tanks, a hot water tank and a bottling line.

Mr Hughes, who is the chief executive, said: "We are future-proofed to a certain degree, so we can expand relatively quickly if required - both from a space perspective and an infrastructure perspective."

A small number of whisky enthusiasts will be invited to join the Glasgow Distillery Company's 1770 Club, giving them the option to buy a limited number of casks before the whisky is made. The club's name was inspired by Glasgow's original distillery, which formed in 1770 and was active until 1902.

Mr Hughes said: "It was very important for us that everything we produced was produced in Glasgow. Through my contacts I could easily have made a product down in England but it just didn't feel right to us. It was better to wait so that when we launched we could genuinely and honestly say, [this is] made in Glasgow, made in Scotland."

The company's founders, who each hold a "substantial" stake in the business, have leased the building from logistics giant John G Russell. It comes with sufficient space for expansion should the anticipated demand for its spirits meet expectations in the long term.

The Russell group will handle all of the distiller's warehousing and distribution needs, limiting the environmental footprint of the operation.

The company's Far Eastern backers declined to be named, but Mr McDougall noted they have a considerable presence in the food, drink and hospitality industries across Asia. There are tentative plans to begin exporting in early 2015, but the immediate priority is to build the Makar brand in its domestic market.

Mr McDougall, the company's finance director, said a key aspect of his role will be to ensure the business remains well funded in the early years, a challenge more acute for distillers given the minimum three-year wait for whisky to be legally sold on the market.

He said: "The initial investment will be several million pounds, and there will be further tranches of investment as we grow our business. That is all in place."

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