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Ross-shire start-up is selling water from Loch Ness

Businessman Kenny Stewart explains how the monster idea came about

Kenny Stewart
Kenny Stewart. Image DCT Media

Every week, we ask small businesses key questions. Here we speak to Moray-based Kenny Stewart, partner in Dingwall firm 126 Water for Whisky.

How and why did you start in business?

Now living on the Moray coast, I was born and raised in Perth. I started my career there at General Accident, now Aviva, before moving to Standard Life’s IT division in Edinburgh.

In 1996 I established Ariadne Consulting with a couple of friends, providing IT services and support to businesses around Scotland. It grew quickly and was purchased by a US software company, Novell, in 2000.

I’ve worked in the software industry ever since, holding a variety of international roles in different companies. I’ve also played an active role in mergers, acquisitions, and transformational business change and growth.

Box of 126 Water for Whisky
Mr Stewart and his business partner hope two Scottish icons, Loch Ness and whisky, will help bring them success. Image: Kenny Stewart

How did you get to where you are today?

By being positive and enthusiastic, totally committing to my businesses and putting customers at the heart of everything I do. Treating customers and staff with respect, kindness and empathy is key to happy employees, a fantastic customer experience and a great business.

I grabbed the chance to escape the rat race in August last year and spent four months catching my breath, relaxing, enjoying life and thinking. My wife told me she’d got the old Kenny back.

I met Craig Evans (Mr Stewart’s business partner) in November last year and he told me all about his exciting plans. We launched 126 Water for Whisky just last month.

126 Water for Whisky
126 Water for Whisky. Image: Kenny Stewart

We extract water from Loch Ness in small batches and then filter it using the same exacting standards as the whisky industry. Why 126 Water? Loch Ness is 126 fathoms deep.

Adding water to whisky opens up the flavour and maximises the taste. Water from globally recognised and iconic Loch Ness adds to the experience.

Bottles, packaging, labelling and marketing have all been produced specifically for 126 Water, and we have big plans for it here and in the US and Asia. Watch this space.

Who helped you?

I’ve worked with and learnt from some outstanding people in the UK, elsewhere in Europe, the US and Asia. The day I stop learning is the day I stop working.

More recently I’ve found the Federation of Small Businesses to be a great team to work with, providing help, support and peace of mind.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever had?

When I started my first job my dad told me that business is very easy if you follow three simple rules:

  1. Always be honest and truthful to yourself and to others
  2. Respect everyone, be kind and try to get along. You have no idea what is going on in someone’s life and everyone is a son, daughter, father or mother.
  3. Work hard and do your best. Reflect on each week by asking yourself “did I do my best” and “did I give it everything?”.

What is your biggest mistake?

Taking too long to find my inner voice and confidence. I was in my 30s before I realised my own potential and understood the value I add to people around me and to business.

Self-belief and confidence are great things if used in the right way.

What is your greatest achievement?

My family and friends. They are everything.

How is your business managing rapidly rising costs and what should government do to help?

Business life is tough and many businesses are really struggling. Governments must actively listen to them and encourage entrepreneurship and growth in Scotland.

Kenny Stewart
Image: Kenny Stewart

What do you still hope to achieve?

To make a difference. I’m chairman of the junior Highland Games at Gordonstoun and we had 17 schools from across Scotland compete in our traditional event this year. It was a brilliant day out for families and the local community. The money goes to very deserving local charities.

I want to do more to support the many charities in desperate need of funding.

What do you do to relax?

I love music of all genres and was in a couple of bands in my 20s. I started paddle boarding recently and am looking forward to getting out in the warmer weather.

But ultimate relaxation at the end of a busy week its sipping my favourite malt, paired with a splash of 126 Water for Whisky.

What are you currently reading, listening to or glued to on TV?

I like to watch most sports and am a lifelong fan of Aberdeen FC. But Elgin City is my local team now and I’ve watched a few games at Borough Briggs.

whisky and water
The perfect dram? Image: Kenny Stewart

What do you waste your money on?

Gadgets. The lawn scarifier seemed like a good idea last year, but it’s still in its box and destined for eBay.

What’s the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?

The wrong thing – check my phone for emails. I must stop.

What do you drive and dream of driving?

I got an all-electric BMW last year and love it – an amazing driving experience. I’d love a Porsche and they have an electric model, so one day.