Plans for a new distillery that will create more than 20 jobs on the Hebridean island of Benbecula have been given a £2million boost by development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).
The Uist Distilling Company hopes to start making whisky, rum and gin early next year at the site at Gramsdale.
HIE said that, as well as creating “much-needed” employment opportunities, the £12.5m distillery and visitor centre would help efforts to revive the tourism industry in the Outer Hebrides in the wake of the Covid crisis.
It is hoped it will become part of a proposed whisky trail tourist attraction, along with other distilling developments on the islands.
Second new distillery for island
The site is less than five miles from where, in a separate project, North Uist Distillery is being developed at Nunton Steadings, on Benbecula.
A total of 22 direct full-time-equivalent (FTE) jobs will be created at the Gramsdale operation, which is also expected to boost indirect employment in the area.
HIE, which is giving funding of up to £1.99m, said the new distillery would include “pioneering and innovative low carbon technologies” in its design, build and distillation process.
The company’s capital investment includes £1.25m for a green energy centre, including a high temperature heat pump system which will provide hot water.
The distillery will also focus on sustainable organic production, using local ingredients such as peat, heather, seaweed and barley.
Uist Distilling Company owner, South Uist businessman Angus A Macmillan, said: “The new distillery aims to be a champion of all things Hebridean and Scottish and will provide a huge boost to tourism in the area.
We want to produce whisky, rum and gin that will put Benbecula and the Hebrides firmly on the whisky tourist trail, while introducing the products we make to a national and international clientele.”
He continued: “We are delighted with the support we have had from HIE. Having a low carbon footprint is key to our plans and we are working with industry experts to design a spirit production process which is powered by renewable energy sources.
“This will lower the carbon output of the distillery and ensure we are at the forefront of the whisky industry’s move away from the use of fossil fuels.”
Joanna Peteranna, head of enterprise support at HIE’s Outer Hebrides team, added: “This innovative project will bring much-needed high quality and secure jobs to Benbecula.
“The plans include green energy technology, which should future proof the business in terms of Scotland’s net-zero targets.
“It will also add to the other distillery developments in the Outer Hebrides and will help establish a whisky trail through the islands, which would be attractive for visitors.
This is a fantastic project that, comparing levels of population, would create the equivalent of 10,000 jobs in Glasgow. This will be a significant boost to the Outer Hebrides tourism experience.”
Prior to the onset of Covid-19, tourism had accounted for 10% the Outer Hebrides’ economy and helped to sustain many rural businesses and communities across the islands.
The value of the industry was on track to reach £74m by 2020, after income from the sector growing from £53m in 2014 to £65m in 2017.
Benbecula is refered to as a “stepping stone” island in the Outer Hebrides, lying between North and South Uist. It has a population of around 1,200.