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Skye's the limit as new image boosts brewery

THE Isle of Skye Brewing Company has declared its intention to ramp up production by 30% and build a visitor centre as it unveiled a new brand identity for its product range.

TASTE OF SUCCESS: Head brewer Pam MacRuary and owner Kenny Webster. Picture: Andy Buchanan
TASTE OF SUCCESS: Head brewer Pam MacRuary and owner Kenny Webster. Picture: Andy Buchanan

Managing director Kenny Webster announced plans to grow the business a year after he acquired a controlling stake from founder Angus MacRuary.

Mr Webster moved to take 80% of the company after Skye's proposed merger with Arran Brewery fell through.

Mr MacRuary, who is now the company's operations director, retains a 20% stake, while his wife Pam remains in place as head brewer.

Since taking control, Mr Webster has carried out a full review of the business and cut costs by opening a distribution centre in Rutherglen.

Now he is looking to drive sales after overseeing a packaging revamp of the brand, complete with new product names.

The changes have seen the brand's previously traditional appearance replaced with a more contemporary look, while its Red Cuillin, Black Cuillin and Hebridean Gold ales have respectively been renamed Skye Red, Skye Black and Skye Gold. A new beer, Skye Blaven, joins the range. Talks are due to take place with a view to securing listings with major supermarkets, with plans also in place to build export markets in Scandinavia and the US in the next 12 months.

Mr Webster, who has boosted Isle of Skye's headcount by four to 14 staff since taking over, said the brand is realising the potential he always knew it had.

He said: "The brewery was set up by Angus and the products are just absolutely fantastic. But it did not stick out from the crowd. It had a traditional appearance on it, whereas now we have changed all the imaging.

"We now have bold colourful packaging which will get to the younger craft beer drinker."

Mr Webster is scheduling further investment in the business, with plans to build a visitor centre and expand production in Uig in the next five years.

The company will shortly purchase two fermenting and conditioning tanks, which Mr Webster said will increase production by nearly a third.

He added: "I reckon [in] this next financial we will increase [turnover] by about 30%. Last year [turnover] was just short of £600,000." Mr Webster, who is based in Glasgow, noted the positive impact brought by the brewer's 4000 square foot distribution hub in Rutherglen.

As well as bringing cost savings, he said it has improved ­distribution in the central belt. Sales for March were expected to have been up by between 9% and 10% compared with March last year.

Leading chef Tom Kitchin is currently trialling its new keg ale, Skye Eilean-or (Gaelic for Highland gold) at his Scran and Scallie restaurant in Edinburgh.

Under the new distribution system, the beer is dispatched from Skye in kegs and bottles on pallets, before being supplied in turn to pubs and restaurants around the central belt.

Mr Webster said: "The publicans in Glasgow and Edinburgh did want the product.

"The problem was the van used to come down on a Monday, once a week, whereas we have got a van out delivering every day now. It is a win-win for us, really."

Mr Webster's acquisition of a controlling stake in Skye was the first major commercial move he made since his former companies, soft drinks firm Sangs and petrol forecourt operator Calanike Retailing, were respectively put into administration and receivership by Allied Irish Bank UK in 2012. Mr Webster said yesterday the bank had put Sangs into administration "without any warning".

At the time AIB said it could not comment on individual customers.

Sangs was bought out of administration by Cott Beverages, part of Canada's Cott Corporation. Mr Webster added: "I had been looking for something I could get my teeth into. As much as I hate to say it, I was looking for a labouring brand.

"I know the brand [Skye] had something there, it just needed to be commercialised a wee bit."

Mr Webster intends to buy Mr MacRuary's 20% stake within the next 12 months.

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