Meet the Maker: David Livingstone, Distillery manager, Lochranza Distillery, Isle of Arran

David Livingstone, Distillery manager, Lochranza Distillery, Isle of Arran speaks to SLTN

Q: What do you make?

A: Arran Single Malt Scotch whisky.

Q: Where do you work?

A: Arran is both beautiful and unique. With its mountains, lowlands, glens, lochs and royal castles, it has all the scenery of Scotland and is affectionately known as ‘Scotland in miniature’. Our Lochranza Distillery was built in the foothills of the village of Lochranza in 1994 and the first spirit ran from the stills on 29th June 1995 bringing legal distillation back to Arran after more than 150 years.

Q: How long have you worked there and how did you start?

A: I started at Lochranza in November 2019. My career in the industry started in early 2000 when I was given an opportunity to work at Laphroaig Distillery on Islay.

Q: Describe the production process.

A: Every drop of Arran Single Malt starts its life as rainwater which pools at Loch na Davie, in the beautiful hill high above the distillery. The clear water cascades down the hillside via six unassuming waterfalls, each one purifying the water further. The water we collect is some of the purest one can find, just like the whisky we create. We don’t chill-filter or colour our whiskies, we want to give our customers the chance to try an honest product which is transparent, unadulterated and natural. We look at the fermentation and distillation process as fundamental factors, as they give our whisky our own unique flavour and texture. At Lochranza Distillery we have six Oregon pine washbacks which we fill with wort created only with 100% Scottish barley and distiller’s yeast – fermentation lasts around 70 hours. We run one of the slowest distillations in the industry. Our small, thin stills with narrow necks create a lighter, fruitier and more aromatic style of spirit. We achieve the latter also by running them in the slowest possible way – our hearts’ collection roughly lasts two hours while we take 6/7 bulk lt of alcohol per minute. This way, we collect the highest volatile alcohols, giving us floral, fruity, soft and light ester compounds for a complex spirit that is easy to drink yet holds a waxy/oily texture. Regarding maturation, our wood policy has improved massively in the last 15 years. We are now only using first and second-fill casks from all the different bodegas, cooperages and wine producers we have connections with. Since the opening of our Lagg Distillery on the southern part of the island, we now have three new warehouses to add to the six up in Lochranza – this way we can make good use of the island’s microclimate. The Isle of Arran is situated off the south west of Scotland, between the Ayrshire coast and the Kintyre peninsula, where it benefits from the warmth of the Gulf Stream. The Kintyre peninsula also provides a degree of ‘shelter’ for the island, from the prevailing westerly winds. This also helps to create a very conducive climate for the maturation of single malt Scotch whisky.

Q: What’s a typical day like?

A: My day at the distillery normally starts by walking around the site to check that everything is running smoothly and by speaking to the stillmen on shift about how production has gone overnight. Half the day is typically spent in the office doing fun things like paperwork and emails! The other half is spent assisting the team – be it warehousing, carrying out repairs, lorry driving, etc. The day can change so quickly and everyone needs to be adaptable to meet the needs of the business.

Q: Please provide brief tasting notes for your products.

A: At Lochranza Distillery we want to create a spirit that is true to its roots. Double-distilled from unpeated malt, Arran Single Malt is a fuller bodied dram with a delightful sweet-fruity character that shows maturity far beyond its years – a versatile spirit that shows sweet notes of honey, vanilla, orchard fruits and citrus and creates a lush, mouth-coating texture.

Q: What would you say sets your product apart?

A: Isle of Arran Distillers, being a young and independent company, allows us to focus on the quality of our single malt, from barley to glass, without compromises. Despite the fact that we are quite traditional in the way we make whisky, we are also young and experimental, especially when talking about different casks maturation or different PPM levels of malted barley. Keeping in mind our quality priority, we want our whisky character and texture always to be the main protagonist of each story.

Q: What one fact should bartenders know about your brand?

A: It is the ideal single malt to suggest to someone who is keen to try something new, or who is taking their first steps into the whisky category and wants to try something approachable yet complex; something they won’t find on every supermarket shelf, and something that they can savour and enjoy the story behind.

Q: What’s your favourite part of the job?

A: Working with a fantastic team full of people that are passionate about what they do every day.

Q: What’s your favourite way to drink your brand?

A: I like tasting whisky straight first and let the flavours develop patiently over time. If needed, I would then add a small amount of water to let the dram open up even more.

Q: What’s your career highlight so far?

A: Becoming manager of Lochranza Distillery last year and joining the Isle of Arran Distillers team.

Q: Who do you admire in the industry and why?

A: I have had the privilege to work with and meet many great names of the whisky industry through my career so far. James MacTaggart, our production and operations director whom I took over from last year, has been a great mentor and has been inspirational in building the Arran Single Malt portfolio over the years.

Q: How do you relax outside of work?

A: Spending time with my family and enjoying everything that the beautiful Isle of Arran has to offer.

Q: If you could invite anyone for a drink who would you ask, where would you go and what would you drink?

A: I’m a third-generation distiller, both my dad and his before him worked at Lagavulin Distillery. I would love to sit with my dad in Lagavulin bay as the sun is setting, look out to sea beyond the castle and have one more chat about life whilst enjoying a large dram of delicious Islay whisky produced just up the road.