Plans for what would be the most northerly whisky distillery on the Scottish mainland, are being developed for the lonely shores of a sea loch in Sutherland.
It would produce single malt whisky, gin and vodka on a site in the remote crofting township of Laid on Loch Eriboll to the east of Durness and Cape Wrath. A micro-brewery is also planned. It could create three jobs in the community where there are around 20 crofts, but hardly any full-time employment.
There is a new craft distillery at Dunnet Bay in Caithness but it only produces gin. So at present Old Pulteney, in Wick is the furthest north mainland whisky distillery, although across the Pentland Firth, the Highland Park plant has been long been producing Orkney’s famed malt.
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But now following meetings in Inverness and Laid, Loch Eriboll Distillery Limited has been formed with five directors, to take the project forward.
Its chairman is David Morrison, whose family is from the area. He is already involved in the whisky industry through his company Broxburn Properties which has an established track record providing maturation facilities for some of the foremost whisky distillers at locations around Scotland.
He is currently abroad. Another director local crofter Hugh MacLellan is working offshore.
But a newsletter has now been prepared for circulation in the community and beyond by Douglas Phillips, 81, a director and company secretary. A former farmer who became a wildlife manager and founded the Heather Trust, he has had a holiday house in the area for over 50 years.
He stressed that things were very much at an early stage.
But he said the man who owns the land has now “very kindly offered to sell us the two acre site for one pound to build the distillery.”
He continued “Beyond setting up the distillery company, we have now commissioned and had completed, by an independent company, an environmental survey of the distillery site and schoolhouse burn which has confirmed that there are no environmental issues that need to be addressed at this stage. “
He admits that while the directors have wide experience in other fields “none of us can profess to be experts in building a distillery.”
Consequently they have engaged consulting engineers Mott MacDonald in Inverness, to help steer us through the many complex issues we will encounter” project managing the distillery design and construction.
He said the directors were also very aware of the potential visual impact on Laid:
“What the distillery looks like is REALLY important to everyone in the village. It obviously has to serve a purpose but it also needs to work within the landscape. Laid is a beautiful place so the distillery company is committed to making sure that everyone is consulted and has an opportunity to have their say.”
As part of a competitive tendering process, architects are being asked to submit design concepts for consideration, but they have already been in touch with one firm who designed an eco-house locally for a celebrated ceramic artist:
“We have already been in contact with Deveci Gokay who built Lotte Glob’s house but we will also approach others.”
He said the next steps would be to put together a business and financial plan for the distillery, consider the functional requirements of the distillery building and through consultation with the community consider the design.
“We will also consider in some detail and take advice on how to ensure people in Laid can be provided with an element of distillery ownership. “
In 1990s there were ultimately unsuccessful plans to develop an aggregates "superquarry" not far from Laid. It was pursued by the absentee and anonymous owner of the Durness Estate, Liechtenstein company Vibel SA. But it was opposed by the Highland Council.