Distilling a new whisky legacy

Family distillery is producing spirit after a lengthy construction

PRODUCING Scotch whisky requires a serious time commitment, and that’s a lesson the Stewart family learned before the first drop of spirit even ran from their stills.

The Stewarts, who have run businesses in Stirlingshire and West Lothian for over five decades, opened the doors of Falkirk Distillery this summer – eleven years after making the decision to move into the whisky industry with their own facility.

It was a long journey with planning permission initially held up due to the site’s proximity to a section of the Antonine Wall and then the scale of the project itself, which was fully-funded by the family and included the construction of a bonded warehouse as well as the distillery building.

In total, the project cost just under £9 million.

Speaking to SLTN, director George Stewart, who owns the distillery with daughter Fiona and son Alan, said whisky heritage runs through the new facility – from the pagoda roof to the production equipment (two stills, eight washbacks and a four-tonne mash tun), which were originally installed in the now defunct Caperdonich Distillery in Speyside. In total, the distillery has the capacity to produce over a million litres of spirit a year, although George said it will initially be producing considerably less.

Everybody and their granny is doing gin now. We’re just sticking to single malt.

The equipment isn’t the only tie to the famous whisky region.

“A nice story is that Glenfarclas – Mr John Grant senior – gave us our first sherry hogshead barrel,” said George.

“It’s a very special barrel, and he gave it to us free of charge for our first distillation, which was very nice of him. Some say you should sell the first barrel but we’ve kept it.”

Subsequent casks have been acquired from the Speyside Cooperage and Fishers in Glasgow.

Distillery manager Graham Brown, formerly of Distell and who has spent time at both Tobermory and Deanston distilleries, is overseeing production of what George described as “a light lowland malt”.

George said the goal is to produce as light a spirit as possible in order to appeal to gin and vodka drinkers and lure them into the whisky category.

“Everybody and their granny is doing gin now,” said George.

“We’re just sticking to single malt. That’s all we’re going to do.”

Production at the distillery began in July this year so it will be some time before the company’s single malt will be released, although several casks have already been sold to private investors.

But now that production is up and running, the company expects to sell further casks of its spirit. George said the family was reluctant to pre-sell casks, preferring to wait until they had something tangible to provide their customers.

“Because of our reputation and having been involved in the Falkirk area for a long time we wanted to make sure before we took any money we had something that was genuinely there,” he said.