THE managing director of Isle of Arran Distillers has declared the company is “very happy” with the progress being made by its newest distillery – despite the continuing challenges presented by the troubled ferry service to the island in the Firth of Clyde.

Lagg Distillery debuted on the world whisky stage with the “soft” launch of three small inaugural releases last year, after production began at the distillery on the south of the island in March 2019. The distillery is the sister of the original Isle of Arran Distillers at Lochranza, located on the north of the island.

Arran chief Euan Mitchell said the batch releases from Lagg have done down well with whisky fans and set the distillery up nicely for the forthcoming launch of its first core range this spring. The Lagg Kilmory Edition, said to be reminiscent of the peated style of whisky originally made at illicit stills on the island, will become the distillery’s flagship single malt when it launches in May. The malt had been matured fully in first-fill bourbon barrels at a strength of 46% alcohol by volume, without chill filtration and with no added colouring.

Declaring his satisfaction with the quality of the spirit being made at the distillery, Mr Mitchell told The Herald: “We are very pleased with the feedback on those [early releases]. [We have had] a lot of positive comments about the quality of the whisky despite it being only three years of age, which certainly bodes very well for the future.

“From the distillery experience, it has been quite a rough ride. Six months after we opened Covid struck so we had to close the doors. Since then, we have had the well-documented ferry issues to Arran, which haven’t helped visitor numbers either.

“But in terms of the overall brand development, it is very much on course. We have two ongoing releases coming out this year which further cement the brand and the brand building process for Lagg.”

Mr Mitchell’s optimism over the distiller’s prospects comes in spite of the ongoing problems on the ferry service connecting Arran with the mainland. It emerged recently that the troubled project to build two ferries for the CalMac fleet on the west coast, one specifically to serve Arran, the Glen Sannox, would be delayed by a further six months.

Asked what impact the news of further delays has had on the island community, Mr Mitchell said: “It is not unexpected. I’m not going to mince my words. The whole thing overall is a hammer blow. Before Covid, Arran was really building up nicely in terms of visitor numbers coming to the island. There was a lot of excitement about new developments on the island and since then it has been one major issue after another.

“The ferries are just an ongoing saga. It is dispiriting. We see it from a commercial perspective, but there are also just the problems it poses for day-to-day living on the island. I speak as a non-resident but as someone who is a frequent user of the ferry. The whole thing is just a catalogue of disasters. They are saying it will be the summer season of next year before the new ferry is in place with CalMac, which is not unexpected given the delays involved.

“It makes things very difficult. From a production perspective, we have had deliveries of malted barley which can’t get on the island. We have had to stop production because of that. Repairs and renewals, commercial vehicles not being able to get access because they are running the smaller ferry if the larger ferry is in dry dock for delayed repairs. Just visitor numbers in general.

“There is a lack of confidence about people booking to come to Arran which is very dispiriting but understandable. People are concerned if they are booked to come over if they will be able to get across, and if they get across will they be able to get home.

“We understand that, but we are also continually trying to put out a positive message, that if and when they do come [to Arran] they will have a fabulous time. But it definitely has affected people’s longer-term planning for travelling to Arran. We are seeing a lot more short-term bookings, so maybe longer weekends rather than people coming over for a week or two weeks, and people just hesitant to make the commitment now for the summer season. That is difficult because it means that businesses just can’t plan. It is difficult enough – we are all short-staffed on the island, particularly on the hospitality side as most businesses in that field in Scotland are. But it is difficult to plan – you just don’t now what visitor numbers are going to be like.”

Adding to the concerns at Isle of Arran Distillers and the wider whisky industry was the recent decision by the UK Government to hike spirits duty. Whisky duty will increase by 10.1 per cent in August to £31.64 per litre of pure alcohol following the biggest rise in the tax since 1981, and Mr Mitchell, who joined Isle of Arran in 2003, is puzzled as to why ministers are shackling the industry at a time when it is doing so well. The Scotch Whisky Association announced figures recently which showed the value of whisky exports had exceeded £6 billion for the first time in 2022. “You would think the Government should be seeking to support that and not shackle it in any way,” Mr Mitchell said. “It is difficult because it has been shown that, when they implement these heavy increases in duty, consumption goes down, so actually the tax take reduces – it doesn’t increase.”

Notwithstanding the many challenges, Mr Mitchell said business at the Isle of Arran is motoring along nicely. It was able to withstand the worst commercial effects of Covid because it was not exposed to the travel retail sector, with the focus of the business on the independent retail channel. “Those customers switched to selling online, so there was still and active route to market,” Mr Mitchell said. “As they were looked down at home, not able to go out, people were still looking to enjoy themselves and still wanting to appreciate good single malt Scotch whisky. We found that they were increasingly buying Arran, so we saw the business grow during that period and that has continued ever since, both in the UK and in our markets around the world.

Mr Mitchell said accounts for the company’s most financial year, to the end of 2022, were currently being audited. The accounts will show that the firm turned over £17.5m, up from £15.5m in 2021. He added: “We sell in 50 markets around the globe. The top 15 markets would be at least 80% of the business, but we are a global brand, albeit a small one in the scale of the Scotch whisky industry. We have certainly seen growth across all of our key markets over the last three or four years and we are pretty confident that we are going to continue to see that both this year and beyond.”


What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure, and why?

I have been very lucky and have been able to travel the globe with work. Japan always sticks in my mind for both culture and food – an amazing country!

When you were a child, what was your ideal job? Why did it appeal?

I wanted to be a vet and help sick animals.

What was your biggest break in business?

Being entrusted with the role of managing drector of Isle of Arran Distillers Ltd at 35.

What was your worst moment in business?

Getting on the wrong train in Belgium and being two hours late for an important meeting!

Who do you most admire and why?

Billy Connolly – for making us laugh for over 50 years & we all need a good laugh, especially now!

What book are you reading and what music are you listening to?

I have just finished The First Half by Gabby Logan. I am not generally one for autobiographies, but it is a fun & inspiring read. I am also approaching the end of my own First Half as I turn 50 in May!

I bought a turntable last year and am listening to a lot of old vinyl. Exile on Main Street by the Rolling Stones is on just now!