My quest to become better informed about all the new Scottish distilleries has begun! My plan is simple; contact all the distilleries and ask them all the same questions so I (and therefore you) can firstly, learn more about their experiences, philosophies and future plans, but also (hopefully!) explore the differences between them.
First up is Ardnamurchan Distillery, owned by the independent bottler Adelphi Distillery Ltd. Now independent bottlers acquiring distilleries is nothing new; think Signatory and Edradour, G&M and Benromach and Ian MacLeod and Glengoyne/Tamdu to name a few. As far as I know though, Adelphi are the first independent bottler to build their own distillery from scratch (Although Wemyss followed suit with the Kingsbarns Distillery a few months later).
Anyway, Alex Bruce very kindly agreed to answer my questions, so lets see what he has to say for himself;
Q. Where is your distillery located, and why in that specific location?
We are in the tiny hamlet of Glenbeg, half way along the remote Ardnamurchan peninsula. The area was selected due to its abundance of very pure water, local natural resources (woodchip for the boiler), and local requirement for distilling by-products (draff, pot ale). Some of the surrounding area is also under the same ownership as the distillery.
Q. Why did you decide to start producing whisky? And why now?
First, and foremost, because we wanted to return Adelphi to its distilling roots, but also because demand for Adelphi’s independent bottlings has outstripped its supply for some years now. This, coupled with a growing international distribution network, provided demand, route to market and a strong intention to make a quality whisky.
There has also been a bonus to the independent bottling arm through the reciprocating of Ardnamurchan new make for mature single casks of other makes.
Q. Can you talk us through the process of setting up your distillery?
About 4 years from conception to final planning: in addition to finding the right site, this also included consulting on all aspects of renewable heat and power provision for distilling, looking at other new and existing projects worldwide, detailed market research, and finding the right architect and construction team.
In addition, there was an early requirement to reserve a manufacturing slot for the equipment.
Q. Do you have a specific style of whisky in mind and how are you going to achieve that?
We are not trying to re-write any regional styles, just aiming to do the best we absolutely can: we are producing an unpeated and a medium peated spirit (6 months of each at the moment), filling into both ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry casks (the majority are 1st fill).
The spirit is very fruity, quite creamy and viscous, with a peppery kick and decent levels of peat in the background in the peated version.
We hope to end up somewhere between Highland Park and Talisker in style (possibly with a hint of Springbank!)
Q. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far in setting up a new distillery? What do you envisage as the biggest challenges going forward?
Plenty of teething issues to keep us busy, but none insurmountable:
1. Staffing, in particular for the VC in such a remote area
2. Trying to find the infrastructure to allow us to grow our own barley (100%) and have it dried and toll malted, both peated and unpeated
3. Working with a biomass boiler
4. Cash flow – keeping production running for several years without dipping into too much working capital or selling too many crown jewels.
1. Developing the existing markets, bringing on target markets
2. Developing a domestic presence
4. Visitor numbers
5. Commissioning in house malting
6. Fluctuating material prices for malt and wood
Q. Can you tell me a bit about your production equipment and processes (barley variety/yeast strain/distillation/cask management etc)? ie What makes your distillery unique?
We use 100% Concerto varietal barley, most of it grown on our farm in Fife and toll malted by Bairds in Inverness. We have a Ruddock mill, feeding a 2 ton mash (the largest we could fit up the road); 4 oak washbacks (ex Cognac) and 3 SS washbacks; a 10,000 litre wash still and a 6000 litre spirit still. We use a single distillers’ yeast for the peated, and 2 distillers’ yeast (50/50) for the unpeated, fermentation times are 72 hours with a long weekend (when we are on a 5 day week) and 72 hours for each (when we are running 7 days).
All pot ale and draff is used locally, all spirit matured on site.
Q. Who do you see as your target market?
We will continue to expand our existing markets with particular emphasis on North America, Europe and the Far East.
Q. When do you plan to release your first whisky? Will you be producing any other products in the meantime?
The first “mainstream” single malt will be released when we have enough mature stock that we feel is ready to vat and bottle.
We hope to release earlier maturing spirits and single malt in small batches to show the emerging style and quality.
No other products are planned.
Q. What’s your long term goal? Where do you see yourself and your distillery in 20 years time?
We would like to establish the Ardnamurchan brand worldwide with recognition for a quality single malt that is attainable in most specialist outlets.
A 40,000 to 60,000 case brand should be achievable within 20 years, and we would hope that the core of our existing team and ownership will still be involved to witness this achievement.
Q. If you were to compare your distillery to any other existing or closed one, which would you most aspire to be like and why?
From a flavour profile, as above: HP, Talisker, Springbank and backbone of Clynelish/Brora.
From a sales and marketing angle, I have huge respect for Billy Walkers brands, Arran, and Ian Macleods, so a mix of all of the above would be perfect.
Q. Are you open to visitors? Can we buy your product, either in bottles or cask? If not now, then when?
We are open 6 days per week from Easter to October, and 5 days (or on demand) during the winter months.
New spirit is available direct from the distillery.
Small batch releases of maturing spirit should begin later this year (2016)
Now I definitely want to go and visit! I can’t wait to try the final product either - especially since the style they are aiming for is a hybrid of 2 (or 3) of my favourite distilleries!
Whisky Impressions is run by Kate Watt. Previously at Springbank and then Glenfarclas, I now design some whisky related stuff and write about it, and anything else that takes my fancy, on this blog.