WHEN an Australian multi-millionaire who made his fortune in organic yoghurt buys a mothballed Scotch whisky distillery, it’s bound to pique the curiosity of more than just whisky lovers.

In July 2015, that’s exactly what David Prior did, acquiring the 200-year-old Bladnoch distillery in Newton Stewart for an undisclosed sum with promises of “substantial new investment”.

The distillery, which has had several spells of closure since the Second World War, fell into administration in 2014.“I’ve always been a fan of Scotch whisky, and when I saw the opportunity, I couldn’t pass,” he says.

Mr Prior’s intention to return the Lowland distillery to its former glory is driven by a recently launched blended whisky, Pure Scot, and a new-look contemporary Bladnoch single malt.

This is no vanity project. Mr Prior quickly moved to appoint Ian McMillan from Burn Stewart as distillery manager and master blender, and former Scotch Whisky Association chief executive Gavin Hewitt as a director.

Since the purchase Mr Prior has frequently visited Bladnoch, getting a feel for the place and immersing himself in the world of Scotch whisky.

“I’ve been blown away by the industry and its characters,” he says. “When we get to the shop floor, it’s competitive but behind the scenes there’s a real sense of brotherhood.”

Currently working on a feasibility study for expanding the distillery from its current capacity of 250,000 litres to 1.5 million, Mr Prior said next year’s 200-year anniversary of the distillery’s opening is the ideal deadline to work towards. That 1.5 million litre target will make it safe for the distillery to take a product to market and have supplier continuity. There may even be an anniversary release.

“People want to see Bladnoch brought back to life,” he says. “It’s had a very chequered history and we want to bring some stability to production, distribution and staff. Bladnoch used to be a huge employer in the area and now it’s down to seven people – we want to get that number back up. I think we need 20 to do what we want.”

Following the sale of the family manufacturing business, Baroda, Prior founded five:am in 2009, expanding the yoghurt business over five years before selling to PZ Cussons for $80 million. The financial freedom that came with the sale allowed Mr Prior to do what he wanted – and that was to make whisky.

“Lots of people have asked why not open in Australia? Why not Tasmania? But the provenance of Scotch has been a huge draw for me,” he says.

In taking private ownership of a Scotch distillery, Mr Prior finds himself joining a small group of distillery owners aiming to take their slice of a market dominated by major drinks firms. In a crowded market huge global marketing budgets can cast a long shadow over privately owned distilleries’ offerings. The key to success is building a strong brand and pitching it at a specific demographic. With Pure Scot that’s exactly what Mr Prior has done.

“I wanted to make it a younger, more contemporary product, something that can be brought to life on social media,” he says.

With its modern flavour profile – which is lighter and without the peaty tones that dominate many whiskies – Pure Scot is a dream dram for the 25 to 35-year-old market Mr Prior is targeting. “It was a one-in-a-million chance that the distillery that became available produced whisky that fits the profile I enjoy, and that fits a younger demographic,” he says.

With the liquid itself ready, creating the brand was the next task. With his own background and the support of Patron Tequila’s Ilana Edelstein – whom Mr Prior appointed to his advisory board – a sleek, modern product has been launched with the tagline “life in flow”. Initially launched in Australia, US and UK releases

will follow.

“Thankfully I have a background in packaging,” says Mr Prior. “With any consumer product, the packaging is the first point of contact. If your packaging is poor, you are behind the eight ball from the start.”

While Pure Scot is hoped to be the distillery’s main volume driver – it currently retails for A$80 (£43) in Australia – Bladnoch single malt will launch in Australia later this year, with the US and UK to follow in 2017. “We’ll launch with no age statement – and that will be a permanent addition to the range. We’re not 100 per cent on the pricing yet but the goal is A$200 (£107), fitting into a premium, contemporary category.”

Beyond these flagship brands, Mr Prior said the release schedule was still at the planning stage.

While plans continue to reopen the distillery, Mr McMillan is making his way through a warehouse containing enough spirit to fill 800,000 bottles. “Ian is going through each and every cask, examining stock of between eight and 30 years,” says Mr Prior. “A lot of what we introduce to market will depend on what Ian finds. There’s some glorious 15-year-old in port casks, so we’re hopeful there will be a number of limited releases.”

Mr Prior’s career is one of building and selling businesses, so what does the future hold for Bladnoch? “I don’t reckon we’ll be able to sell this. To bring such a beautiful asset back to life is a great opportunity. We’re here to stay.”