Whisky distilling to begin 60 degrees north of the equator

Shetland’s first whisky distillery is set to open in 2024, making it the most northerly whisky distillery in the world.

Lerwick Distillery began as an idea between friends Martin Watt and Calum Miller nearly a decade ago. After finding a site for the development in 2022, the pair accessed specialist business advice, and their plan really started to take off.

On the recommendation of Shetland Islands Council, they met with Business Gateway adviser, Diana Abernethy, who provided one-to-one support to the team in advance of distilling, helped raise their profile and signposted them towards funding.

The business accessed a start-up grant from Shetland Islands Council, which contributed to photography costs for use on social media – and that directly helped raise share capital towards the opening of the distillery.

Martin and Callum’s initial funding target was to raise £1m, but they far exceeded this, and have been able to secure premises that are four times the original size they had planned.

Martin said: “The support that we received from Business Gateway has been excellent. Diana was able to point out things that we had missed in our business plan, and gave us access to great contacts to help us develop.

“If it hadn’t been for the funding Business Gateway signposted us to, we would not have raised enough share capital to be able to expand the business so quickly. The £4000 funding resulted in an extra £682,000 share capital investment that really wasn’t expected. We truly couldn’t have done this without Business Gateway.”

Abernethy commented: “Shetland is the last area of the UK without a distillery, so to be able to help Martin and Callum reach the goal of being the first distillery on the island has been fantastic. It’s an exciting brand and journey they’re embarking on and will give such a boost to tourism in the area and the local economy.”

As well as Martin and Calum, who have backgrounds in chartered accountancy and architecture, Lerwick Distillery also has Caroline MacIntyre and Ian Millar on board as sales director and master distiller respectively.

Caroline has extensive experience in hospitality and sales, while Ian has been in the whisky industry for over 50 years, working with a number of major whisky brands, including almost 25 years at William Grant & Sons.

The new distillery plans to bottle a ‘new make’ spirit to cover operational costs for the first few years. This product will be called ‘Haad Still’ – a traditional Shetland phrase for ‘hold on’, encouraging people to wait for the whisky to mature.