"If you don’t have an oil well, get one!" Growing up in Texas in the 1970s this was the tagline to a popular TV commercial for The Western Company. It was a time when there was a lot of investing in oil and gas. It was also a time when the TV show "Dallas" had people around the world believing that every Texan had an oil well in their back yard - that was the point of the Western commercial (advert). (I'm here to tell you we did not!)
Today in Scotland you could rephrase that tagline to read - "If you don't have a whisky distillery, get one!" There is little doubt that the popularity of Scotch (whisky) has fueled a distillery building boom in Scotland. Since 2013, fourteen new distilleries have been opened, stretching from the Outer Hebrides to the Lowlands. In early January 2017 it was reported that as many as twenty new distilleries were to be built across Scotland by 2020.
Indeed 2017 was a BIG year for distilleries in Scotland. The Scotch Whisky Association reports that more people than ever visited the industry and distilleries were among the top tourist destinations across Scotland and the UK. Among the notable openings in 2017...
•the first distillery in "The Borders" in almost 200 years,
•the first legal distillery on the island of Raasay,
•the first distillery to be fully proposed by a woman,
and the opening of Scotland's first community-owned distillery, GlenWyvis in Dingwall, the Black Isle, Scotland!
Perched on a hilltop overlooking the farming community of Dingwall, GlenWyvis is the idea of local John McKenzie, known as "the flying farmer" as he is just that - a local farmer who flies helicopters for various film and television studios.
GlenWyvis is unique in many ways, not the least of which is that it was funded almost entirely by an imaginative crowd-funding campaign that raised a whopping £2.6 million in just 77 days. The initial offering was made in April 2016 and almost 3,000 investors bought in with a single share available at only £250, or about $350 US dollars at current exchange rates. Now that the distillery has opened (30 November 2017) and entered production, a second (and likely final) offering is ongoing, again with a single share going for £250. The goal is £750,000 and as this episode was released nearly £500,000 has been raised. Afterwards interested investors will find themselves on a waiting list.
The area has great distilling history. Ferintosh in the Black Isle was once the center of distilling in the Scottish Highlands. from 1690 to 1794 Gordon Duncan of Culloden was distilling whisky at Ferintosh. The remains of the distillery can be found there today.
It is from later distilleries, Ben Wyvis, built in Dingwall in 1879, and Glenskiach, built in 1896 in the nearby village of Evanton, from which GlenWyvis takes its name. Both closed in 1926 in the era of prohibition.
Whisky, of course, really good whisky, can't be rushed, but GlenWyvis has entered production putting down its first whisky, and gin! Because it doesn't have to be aged, the immediate future will see gin sales helping to carry the new distillery financially. In fact, GlenWyvis will be the only dual producing distillery in the region. Oh, and members (owners/investors) of the Community Benefit Society will get their first taste of whisky after a mere 3 years! Bring on 2020!!
GlenWyvis is also unique as it is hugely green - its operations are fueled by renewable energy, wind, solar, hydro, and biomass - all generated on site. McKenzie is convinced this is the future, that fossil fuels are on the way out, maybe not tomorrow, but eventually.
Beyond returning distilling to Dingwall, McKenzie's master plan is to rejuvenate his home village of Dingwall. Once in profit, the distillery will reinvest those profits into other projects that promise to bring economic benefit and development to Dingwall, the Black Isle, the Highlands, and possibly beyond. Society members will be able to apply for "green grants" to receive funding from GlenWyvis.
An early example of this can be seen in the support shown for neighboring bespoke tartan designer Clare Campbell, founder of Prickly Thistle in Culbokie. Campbell has plans to turn an historic farm steading into the Blackhouse Mill as the only tartan weaving mill in the Highlands. Though an initial crowdfunding effort fell short of its goal, a "Plan B" is being launched in February. McKenzie has expressed support for the Mill and shortly after opening announced the commissioning of Campbell to design a GlenWyvis tartan. Neighboring Tomatin distillery and Loch Ness Water are among Campbell's other clients in the region.
Location. Location. Location. Tourism is also expected to play a large role in the future of the GlenWyvis distillery. Strategically located along the established North Coast 500 that is already drawing record numbers of visitors to attractions and businesses on the route, there are plans for an electric bus, a possible solar powered glass cube tasting room and eventually perhaps even a hillside funicular tram to carry visitors to the 500 foot elevation of the distillery, similar to that found in the Cairngorms National Park. An enhanced visitor experience is an absolute goal for GlenWyvis.
It's early days yet but the future for Scotland's first community-owned distillery looks as bright as the future of Scotch whisky, which by the way saw single malt exports break the £1-billon mark in 2017 for the first time in its storied history. Like we said at the outset, "If you don't have a whisky distillery, get one!"
•The GlenWyvis Distillery (website)
•Prickly Thistle Scotland Ltd (website)
•North Coast 500 (website)
•Ferintosh/Ben Wyvis Distillery (history)