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Trio of distillery launches planned for 2013

BY the end of 2013, three new malt whisky distilleries will have started producing spirit, if current plans are borne out.

NORTHERN ROLE: Shane Fraser will oversee the distillation process at the Wolfburn distillery in Thurso.
NORTHERN ROLE: Shane Fraser will oversee the distillation process at the Wolfburn distillery in Thurso.

At one end of the country, Thurso's Wolfburn distillery, which claims to be the most northerly on the Scottish mainland, is just weeks from starting production.

In the far south, Annandale, Scotland's first distillery after the English Border, is awaiting delivery of stills and other equipment ahead of a summer launch.

Meanwhile, on the Ardnamurchan peninsula, groundwork on the distillery site has paused for the festive season but its owner, specialist bottling company Adelphi, plans to begin production before the end of 2013.

Between them, the distilleries will produce the equivalent of 600,000 litres of pure alcohol (lpa) a year; a mere trickle compared with the 10 million lpa Diageo's new distillery, Roseisle, can produce.

However, their creation highlights confidence in the rising demand for Scotch. And with all of them focusing on single malts, it demonstrates faith in the growth of the top end of the market.

Wolfburn is the smallest of the trio, with plans to produce 115,000 lpa a year. It takes the name of a 19th-century distillery in the town. Although it uses the same water source, the modern-day Wolfburn has been built from scratch.

Production is expected to start in February, less than two years after its backers first met to discuss it.

Overseeing distillation will be Shane Fraser, former production manager at Glenfarclas.

Most output will be of unpeated whisky, and the first bottles will be sold in 2016 after it legally becomes whisky. Much more, however, will be kept for longer maturation.

Wolfburn's business development manager, Daniel Smith, said: "It is not going to be another Balvenie or Glenfiddich. We think it will appeal to a niche customer."

Nor will Wolfburn seek to attract tourists. "What we won't be doing is making cups of coffee and selling tartan scarfs," Mr Smith said.

However, Annandale's owner Professor David Thomson, a native of Dumfries and long-term whisky enthusiast, said he will be encouraging visitors, to generate revenue before he can start selling his spirit and to boost tourism in the area.

"When it comes to entering or leaving Scotland we are the first or the last distillery," Mr Thomson said. "This is a kind of ignored area of Scotland, but it is a very historic part of the country."

Mr Thomson is building the distillery to diversify his business interests away from the MMR research firm he and his wife own.

Mr Thomson has rebuilt the site's sandstone and slate buildings; and despite delays during renovation, production should start this summer, two years after work started on the site.

The distillery will produce both peated and unpeated whiskies, harking back to the days when smoky Lowland malts were common. The distillery will produce the equivalent of 250,000 lpa a year although Annandale has double that capacity.

Mr Thomson hopes his professional experience – he is a food chemist by training – means he can bring more sophisticated branding to the industry, based on the sensory profiling on which he is an expert. "I feel there is quite a lot we can do with the way single malt whiskies are sold," he said.

At Ardnamurchan, the 184,000 lpa annual production is likely to start in November. Foundations will be poured next month, with the buildings finished in July and equipment arriving from September. "We are keen to produce spirit before Christmas," said sales and marketing director Alex Bruce.

Adelphi, an independent bottler of whisky since the 1990s, has an established distribution network in some 25 markets. The company believes interest in single malt whiskies is rising alongside growing demand for craft gins and beers produced on a small scale.

Mr Bruce said: "We feel very strongly the single malt segment will continue to grow. It is far too small at the moment."

Adelphi plans to hold on to its Ardnamurchan whisky stock, up to 70% of which will be peated, for at least six years before bottling.

The first legal distillery on the peninsula, Ardnamurchan's planning process took longer than expected after some residents objected. But efforts have been made to root it in the community, with power coming from a biomass plant using local timber, and the draff – the spent grain – will be sold to nearby farmers.

The firm is also keen to attract more tourists to Ardnamurchan by offering a rainy-day destination.

A spokeswoman for the Scotch Whisky Association said: "There is unprecedented investment in the industry to meet growing demand, with £2 billion committed by producers over the next few years. All the signs are very positive for the future."

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