Spirits group Distil is to invest up to £5million into a new eco-friendly distillery in Inverkip.
The group, whose portfolio of brands include RedLeg spiced rum, Blackwoods gin and vodka, Blavod black vodka, Jago’s cream liqueur and Diva vodka, also hopes to be producing its own whisky by 2023.
The investment will see Distil build a permanent home for Blackwoods Scottish Gin on the Ardgowan Estate, including stills, gin school and visitor centre creating up to 35 new jobs in the local area in the first five years, and contributing over £2m to the local economy.
An initial tranche of £3m has been approved by shareholders of the AIM listed company, with the potentially of an additional loan of up to £2m.
Plans had previously been unveiled by Blackwood Distillers to build a whisky distillery at Catforth in Shetland back in 2004.
By 2006, the company was eyeing up a site on the former RAF base at Saxa Vord on the island of Unst, but the firm fell into administration without ever building its distillery, with its gin and vodka brands being snapped up by AIM-quoted Blavod in 2009.
The Blackwoods name still lives on, with Blavod – which was renamed Distil in April – still buying its botanicals from crofters on Shetland.
A Distil spokeswoman said: “Blackwoods gin and vodka still uses hand-picked Shetland botanicals. However, we have chosen the mainland as the new home for the brand to reduce the environmental impact.
“The Ardgowan team has a solid track record in renewable energies and the distillery will reduce its impact wherever possible.
“We’re very much looking at Ardgowan as the permanent home for Blackwoods.”
Investing in growth
As part of the deal, Distil will also gain access to Ardgowan’s master whisky maker, Max Macfarlane (Highland Park, Glengoyne, Bunnahabhain, Tamdhu), to develop a separate Distil blended malt whisky brand yet to be revealed.
It will be led and supported by experienced figure Mike Keiller, who was recently appointed to the Distil board as a non-executive director.
The new Ardgowan Distillery will be situated on the 800-year-old Ardgowan Estate with construction set to begin this year.
Ardgowan Distillery confirmed an £8.4 million equity investment into the business in June this year, with £7.2m coming from Austrian investor Roland Grain owner of Grain GmbH.
Distil’s investment will see them take up residence within the distillery for production of its gin.
Don Goulding, Distil executive chairman, said: “We are delighted to announce our loan agreement and collaboration with Ardgowan which we see as a fantastic opportunity to add significant growth to the business in both the short and long term.
“The convertible loan of up to £5m allows us the opportunity to realise a longstanding ambition to create a home for Blackwoods with our own stand-alone distillery and visitor centre.
“Access to our own facilities, as well as the ability to draw upon the Ardgowan team’s wealth of experience, will allow us to accelerate new product development across our existing portfolio of brands, as well as create our own brand of malt whisky, positioning ourselves in a premium category which has been in long term growth globally.”
The convertible loan of up to £5m allows us the opportunity to realise a longstanding ambition to create a home for Blackwoods with our own stand-alone distillery and visitor centre.”
Don Goulding, Distil executive chairman
Martin McAdam, Ardgowan Distillery chief executive, commented: “The Distil team is knowledgeable, passionate and very much aligned with our vision for the project.
“We welcome their investment and look forward to working together in an ongoing partnership to help both sides achieve ambitious goals.”
Ardgowan Distillery chairman since 2017 Willie Phillips is described as a “living legend” within the Scotch whisky industry.
He was managing director of The Macallan Malt Whisky from 1978 until the company was bought by Highland Distillers in 1996.