Record-breaking visitor and export numbers have led to further investment
IT’S been another eventful year in Scotch whisky this year, with major investments in visitor centres and production facilities, new distilleries firing up their stills and several old names preparing to re-open their doors.
The ongoing investments aren’t surprising when you look at the numbers.
It was a record-breaking year for the industry last year, with visitor numbers and exports reaching an all-time high.
According to the Scotch Whisky Association there were two million visits to distilleries in 2018, with whisky fans of more than 20 different nationalities descending on the country.
Further south, Bladnoch Distillery opened its new visitor centre to the public, marking the final stage of a project that began in 2015 when the distillery was acquired by Australian businessman David Prior.
Prior has brought the distillery back to life, with the facility producing spirit again in 2017. Now whisky fans get to see the process for themselves.
And in Glasgow, developments included the arrival of two brand new stills at The Glasgow Distillery.
The stills double the capacity at the distillery and have been named Margaret and Frances in honour of trailblazing Glasgow artists – and sisters – Margaret and Frances MacDonald.
At the same time, the industry grew exports to a record £4.7 billion, with the US becoming the first billion-pound market for Scotch whisky.
All of which means there is now more demand for top quality whisky facilities than ever before.
And the whisky producers have responded.
The year began with the news that Ian Macleod Distillers had received planning permission for its redevelopment of the legendary Rosebank distillery in Falkirk.
Ian Macleod, which already operates the Glengoyne and Tamdhu distilleries, bought the Rosebank brand from Diageo in 2017. The distillery has been silent since 1993 and Ian Macleod is now constructing a new, state-of-the-art production facility and visitor centre on the site, which is scheduled to open late next year.
The Rosebank announcement was just the beginning, however, with developments right across the country during 2019.
It seems to have been a busy year for whisky producers on the islands, in particular.
South African drinks firm Distell International reopened its Tobermory Distillery on Mull in February after a two-year hiatus, with Isle of Arran Distillers opening its second distillery on Arran in March.
A stone’s throw away from Ardnahoe another Distell site, Bunnahabhain, is the focus of a £10.5m upgrade that will last for the next three years.
The extensive project will see a number of buildings restored or relocated as well as the creation of a new visitor centre.
Elsewhere on Islay Diageo has big plans for two of its distilleries: Caol Ila and Port Ellen.
Planning permission was granted for an extension to Caol Ila, which will see a new visitor centre and bar opened at the site, while plans were formally submitted to revive the silent Port Ellen Distillery.
Port Ellen was closed in 1983 and the revival would see the facility brought back to life, with brand new stills designed to replicate those originally used in the distillery.
Other Diageo investments include upgrading its Clynelish Distillery in Sutherland, with additions including a new bar and tasting area, and the company’s new Johnnie Walker visitor attraction in Edinburgh.
Elsewhere in the capital, Holyrood Distillery became what’s claimed to be the first functioning single malt distillery in Edinburgh since 1925 when it opened its doors in July.
The facility, which cost £6.7m, was built in a former railway goods shed on the edge of Holyrood Park and is producing spirit from two, seven-metre high stills.