By Kristy Dorsey

Bladnoch Distillery in the far south-west of Scotland is gearing up to welcome back guests following a year in which its new visitor facility has largely been closed as part of wider restrictions to control the spread of coronavirus.

Speaking after the business announced that it has secured a £10 million loan to boost international growth, master distiller Nick Savage said the operation has hit several important milestones during the various levels of lockdown. Even so, the return of visitors in the coming month is a significant development.

“For me it is very important,” he said. “The visitor centre only opened [in September 2019] and soon after we had to close it. It opened back up briefly in August of last year, then obviously it had to close again, so we never had a very good run at it.”

The visitor centre and accompanying café were part of the £5m investment in the refurbishment of Bladnock Distillery after it was purchased out of administration by Australian entrepreneur David Prior in 2015. Originally established in 1817 by brothers John and Thomas McClelland on their farm near Wigtown in Galloway, the facility had been mothballed for seven years before its acquisition by Mr Prior.

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“The way I put it is that David purchased and built a new 200 year old distillery,” said Mr Savage, previously master distiller at the highly-renowned Macallan Distillery. He joined Bladnoch in July 2019.

The business currently employs 31 people, including 20 at the Scottish distillery. That figure has grown during the past year, with the move to 24/7 production in June 2020 leading to the creation of four new jobs.

Three more people were hired earlier this year to create a dedicated team to manage case sales which Mr Savage said are growing at 50 per cent year-on-year.

“While trading conditions have been challenging in the face of Brexit and Covid-19, we’ve managed to grow through this period and the business is now in a place where it can explore new opportunities to increase our international sales and reputation,” he added.

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The fresh £10m of funding is in the form of an asset-based lending facility from HSBC that will be used to further penetrate existing markets while also expanding Bladnoch’s distribution network into a series of new markets.

Since 2017, the distillery has been producing new make spirit while also launching multiple expressions across its Bladnoch and Pure Scot brands. Its largest export markets are Australia and Israel, where Mr Savage said there are further opportunities for growth, while markets in China and the US are in development.

Allan Jackson, director of corporate banking in Scotland for HSBC, said: “It is no secret that the whisky sector is hugely important to the Scottish economy, with worldwide appeal for its products. We’re delighted to support Bladnoch as it continues to improve and grow its business operations, tapping into new markets where demand is increasing.”

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The initial refurbishment under Mr Prior’s ownership included an array of new equipment for the facility including a 5 tonne mash tun, six Douglas Fir wooden washbacks, two 12,500 litre wash stills, two 9,500 litre low wine stills, and a steam boiler fuelled by LPG. Along with growing sales, the loan funding will also be used to further improve the distillery’s energy efficiency through technology upgrades, maintenance and improvement works on its grounds and warehouses.

Mr Savage said this would include projects such as racking that is currently being installed to manage stocks more efficiently. All of this activity is expected to lead to the creation of further jobs in the current year.

“The local area is starting to benefit from what the distillery is doing,” Mr Savage said. “That is important, because when we are saying we are adding three heads, or five heads, or two heads, we are drawing that from the local community, not from a pool of two million people.”