HE has been immersed in the Scotch whisky industry for two decades. But Euan Mitchell, the long-serving managing director of Isle of Arran Distillers, admits his first impression of the “water of life” was not exactly favourable.

“I was always interested in whisky,” he recalls, “[but] first tasting it as a youngster is horrendous. You sort of wonder why your dad and grandad and everybody else are so passionate about it. Then as you get older you get a taste for it and you start to understand why.”

It did not take long for Mr Mitchell, who has been in post at Isle of Arran for 14 years, to change his mind. The Scot, who was born in Lanark but raised in Kirriemuir, studied Scottish history at the University of Edinburgh. While whisky has been a feature of Scotland’s narrative in recent centuries, his decision to enter the industry was not the fulfilment of a lifelong ambition. Mulling his options as his studies came to an end, he took a job in 1996 selling whisky for Wm Cadenhead, the Scotch blending and bottling business of with J&A Mitchell (no relation) in Campbeltown.

“I thought selling whisky would be a fun thing to do,” Mr Mitchell recalls.

“I applied and I was lucky enough to get the job. But it is an industry that gets its hooks into you once you are in. Few people leave the whisky industry. A lot of people join it, but not that many people leave it.”

Mr Mitchell, who moved to Isle of Arran in 2003, falls into the latter category.

“It’s a pretty friendly industry, really, we all kind of work together,” he added. “I think it’s probably because historically companies used to trade with each other; they would swap casks as part of recipes for blends. You were kind of working with them, and it is still the case today.”

Under Mr Mitchell’s tenure, Isle of Arran Distillers has seen its star rise as Scotch has taken the UK exporting stage by storm. Arran, which lifted turnover to more than £6.9 million from £6.2m in its last accounts, now exports to around 50 markets. It expects the US to take over from France as its top-selling destination this year. That Scotch remains in such high demand around the world has given Arran the confidence to expand. The company is investing £11m in a new distillery at Lagg on the south of the island, about as far from its original distillery in Lochranza as it is possible to get on Arran. The project will involve the construction of three warehouses, with the extra capacity needed to accommodate its expanding output. Arran recently doubled the number of stills at the Lochranza distillery, giving it a capacity of 1.2 million litres.

The spirit made at Lagg, which was home to the last of Arran’s three legal distilleries of the 19th century, will be represent an entirely new and different brand of whisky from the distiller.

“It will be the Lagg single malt,” Mr Mitchell said. “We’re aiming for it to have a very distinct identity, part of the Isle of Arran Distillers family of brands but a distinct brand in itself.”

Mr Mitchell said the warehouses should be complete during August, before work on the main distillery begins.

It will be early 2019 before the first spirit runs from the stills in Lagg. Before then, private investors will be offered the chance to buy casks. “It will be an opportunity to buy some of the first casks ever produced,” Mr Mitchell said. “We’re working up our offer just now. It will be kind of like a membership club, but it will be restricted to a fixed number of people, who will be our brand ambassadors going forward. It is just a way for people to feel involved from the very beginning.”

Lagg may even introduce products beyond whisky. Mr Mitchell hopes to experiment with cider and even brandy production on a small scale at Lagg, having planted some apple trees on the island, but it will not be branching out into gin.

“We get asked that question all the time – when is the Lagg gin coming out? Strangely enough for a new distillery we will not be bringing out a gin. That’s our unique selling point!” Mr Mitchell said.

“The gin market is very interesting... but I really think in terms of new brands we are at peak gin.”

Tourism is a growing element of the business. The Lochranza distillery has seen visitor numbers steadily rise as Arran has become more popular, which has been in part stimulated by a reduction in ferry prices as a result of the road equivalent tariff. A visitor centre is being developed at Lagg, where up to15 posts will be created. At present, the company employs around 30 staff between Lochranza distillery its head office in Stirling.

On trading generally, Mr Mitchell said Arran is achieving “fairly consistent organic growth”. Its best-selling whisky is the Isle of Arran 10 year old, with a 14 and 18 year old making up its core range.

Brexit has boosted exports in the short term because of sterling’s weakness since the vote, though Mr Mitchell said until further details of the UK’s divorce from EU are known the longer term effects will be harder to gauge. Overall he is optimistic about the future. “Scotch whisky was exporting globally long before the European Union existed,” Mr Mitchell said. “I don’t see that fundamentally changing.”