David Ferguson, commercial director of Lochlea Distillery, talks about the impressive growth achieved in recent years and big plans for the future.

Asked about what phrase or quotation has inspired him the most, Mr Ferguson says: "My Grandpa was a coal miner and told my Dad to ‘find a job where you don’t take your jacket off’. Which to him meant not having to do such a difficult, physical job down the pit."


What is your business called?

I am the commercial director at Lochlea Distillery.

Where is it based?

In beautiful south Ayrshire, just 30 minutes south of Glasgow.

What does it produce/do?

We are an independent, family-owned distillery producing small-batch, premium single malt Scotch whisky. We grow our own barley, distil our spirit and mature our casks on the farm, thus ensuring full traceability from field to bottle.

To whom does it sell?

We are now exporting to 24 countries across Europe, North America and Asia Pacific. In the UK, we have more than 200 retail stockists and a strong network into carefully chosen bars, restaurants and hotels through our wholesale partners. What is its turnover?

We don’t disclose our turnover. However, we can tell you we experienced a growth rate of more than 30% from 2022 to 2023 and we have ambitious long-term plans.

How many employees?

We are a team of 15.

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Why did you take the plunge?

Owners Neil and Jen McGeoch decided to convert the farm at Lochlea from cattle to growing barley in 2015. Having control over the main ingredient to whisky making, and the farm’s historic link to Robert Burns (who lived at Lochlea from 1777-84) led them to plan and construct the distillery, with production commencing in 2018. I was brought in at the end of 2020 to help set up and run the commercial side of the business.

What were you doing before?

My previous role was at Beam Suntory, the third-largest spirits company in the world, managing their global casks and bulk sales. However, the opportunity to build a new brand at Lochlea from the beginning was too good to turn down. The exponential growth we’ve experienced over the past three years has justified my decision!

What do you least enjoy?

I enjoy most of the challenges in developing a young brand and expanding very quickly. However, there have been some unnecessary political and economic challenges for us to overcome as an industry recently. These were avoidable but fortunately we have a remarkably resilient and cohesive sector and a strong dedicated team here at Lochlea.

What do you consider to be the main successes of the business?

Since the start of 2021 we have created all aspects of the brand from scratch, tripled the size of our team and set up routes to market in the UK and 25 other countries. Some of the highlights for me so far have been the launch of our first-ever single malt whisky in January 2022, the huge success of our private cask programme, and winning best single estate distillery at the World Whisky Awards in December for the second year running.

I also feel fortunate to be working alongside a young ambitious team, including our production director and master blender, John Campbell. His experience from being the longest-serving distillery manager at Laphroaig showed consumers that Lochlea’s whisky is in very good hands.

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What are your ambitions for the firm?

We have many. One of the most important is to become Scotland’s first single-site distillery. We are close already but there are capital projects under way that will solidify this further. Full traceability right from growing our barley is a key part of our story. We want to continue our rapid trajectory of brand growth over the coming years, and fulfil our much longer-term business plan. We have casks set aside for our age statement releases, right up to Lochlea 25 years old.

We’re also committed to operating in a responsible way, whether that is pioneering sustainable production, protecting our land, or using eco-friendly materials in our packaging. Any decision that is made here will always take into account these values.

What single thing would most help?

More people! We are a relatively small but fantastic team of Swiss army knives where everyone covers a variety of roles. To continue our growth and take advantage of opportunities, we will continue to bring in the best person for every new role.

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What is the most valuable lesson you have learned?

How open and collaborative our industry can be. Setting everything up as a new brand can be daunting, but it’s okay not to have all the answers. I’m grateful to have a wide network throughout the industry from my previous roles, which has been extremely helpful here.

What was your best moment?

There are two that stand out for me. Firstly, seeing our first core ongoing single malt whisky ‘Lochlea Our Barley’ win awards up against older, more established brands. I know the amount of effort that went in from everyone in our team to bring it to market, so it fills me with pride every time I see it on a shelf or behind a bar all over the world.

Secondly, the recent launch of our first age statement whisky in January, Lochlea 5 Year Old. Again, this was an intense project, but to see the final product sell out in minutes and to hear such positive feedback was amazing.

What was your worst moment?

Explaining to my very understanding wife that I couldn’t make Boxing Day dinner with the family in 2021, as I was going in to help hand-label bottles of our first release!

How do you relax?

At home with my family. The most relaxing thing for me is buying some good coffee, taking our dog to the park or on to the beach, and being fully present with my daughters. I have plenty of sport and music-related hobbies but finding time for them is difficult.

What phrase or quotation has inspired you the most?

My Grandpa was a coal miner and told my Dad to ‘find a job where you don’t take your jacket off’. Which to him meant not having to do such a difficult, physical job down the pit. That has always stuck with me, as my parents and grandparents always drummed into us the value of hard work. The type of job may be different, but the work ethic doesn’t change. I feel very lucky to have grown up in that environment and having been able to choose a specific career I enjoy.

What is the best book you have ever read? Why is it the best?

The two things I buy faster than I can consume are books and whisky. One that I read years ago but still think about regularly is The Tiger That Isn’t by Michael Blastland and Andrew Dilnot. The central theme is to always look beyond headlines, data or statistics. Context and motivations are vital to our understanding, but I feel they are often overlooked today, especially online.

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

I always like to see new places and learn how cultures differ. I visited Japan last year to work with our import partner, which was an incredible experience. I like to plan, prepare and organise things in my work, so I felt at home over there!