By Scott Wright

A “HUGE step forward” has been taken with plans to put Inverclyde back on the Scotch whisky-making map, a key architect of a £17 million distillery project has declared.

Developers of the proposed Ardgowan Distillery, near Inverkip, have secured planning permission for a revised blueprint that makes a grander statement with its buildings and facilities, and seeks to establish the site as a major tourism attraction.

It brings a step closer the restoration of distilling to the area. The original Ardgowan Distillery on Baker Street, Greenock, was built in the 1890s, before being effectively destroyed by the Blitz in 1941.

The new plans were submitted after a majority shareholding (51 per cent) in the project was acquired by Austrian Roland Grain, who invested £7.2 million in Ardgowan last year. The listed drinks company Distil, which provided a £5m convertible loan to the company, valued at £30m, is also a cornerstone investor. A further investment round is expected to be launched soon, with proceeds earmarked for equipment and visitor centre facilities.

Chief executive Martin McAdam told The Herald that the planning permission was a “huge step forward in bringing the new Ardgowan Distillery to life”. He said the “key difference” with the enhanced plans has been to make it more of a “landmark building” able to attract a broad range of visitors.

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The plans, which were designed by Austrian architects Spitzbart and Partners, feature a 15-metre viewing platform, offering views of the Clyde. Environmental considerations feature prominently, with developers aiming for the building to be carbon negative. Low environmental impact composite cladding, timber and steel materials will be deployed to create a “light-filled modern Nordic long hall”.

Mr McAdam, who has a background in engineering and renewables, said: “We went from something industrial [with the original plans] to something now which is a lot more aesthetic.

“It rises up to 24 metres at the front end… and you will be able to see the stills through the building. Then it drops down to the river on the other side. It is quite spectacular in that sense.”

Mr McAdam expressed hope that the distillery would appeal to a broad range of visitors, not just whisky enthusiasts, and highlighted the advantages of its location. Facilities will include retail space to sell whisky and other “high-quality” products.

He said: “Within an hour’s driving of the distillery there are well over two million people, so we would like Scottish people to come and visit us and make it a destination for them. Also, the A78 road is part of the tourist trail for that part of the country, so we would certainly hope to have some passing traffic.”

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Mr McAdam also hopes it will prove to be attractive to tourists who arrive in Greenock on the many cruise ships that dock in the port.

Referring to the 15-metre viewing platform, Mr McAdam forecasts “that in itself” will be an attraction that “people will want to come and see and experience”.

While the original Ardgowan Distillery in Greenock was large and mostly used to make grain whisky, the new incarnation will eventually release a lowland single malt.

But before it releases any whisky it will be making gin.

Work has started on phase one of the project, which will see the conversion of a former farm steading and timber mill into a gin distillery. Gin production is scheduled to start this October and the company has already secured its first contract. It will be making Blackwoods Gin at the site on behalf of investor Distil.

“That is extraordinarily important just in terms of ongoing cashflow for the business, working capital,” said Mr McAdam. “We will produce our own gin, but fundamentally we have a significant contract to produce for Blackwoods.”

Final designs are being drafted for the whisky distillery, which Mr McAdam says will be an 18-month build. The aim is to start whisky distilling in the first quarter of 2024.

A heavyweight team with extensive industry experience has been assembled for the Ardgowan project. Alongside Mr McAdam, who had been one of the original investors in Kingsbarns Distillery, are fellow director Alan Baker, and chairman Mike Keiller, former managing director of Morrison Bowmore. Max MacFarlane, formerly of Edrington, is master whisky maker, working alongside the award-winning brewer and distiller Lisa Matthews. The team also includes commercial development manager Nicola Campbell, formerly of Hunter Laing, and financial controller Sean Anderson, ex-Heineken. It is hoped that the distillery will create 47 jobs over the next five years.