Isle of Barra Distillers have unveiled ambitious £5 million plans for a new whisky and gin distillery and visitor centre, creating 30 jobs for the Outer Hebridean island.
The project is also expected to generate whisky sales of at least £29.8m in the first 10 years, and an additional £2.2m in the visitor centre’s cafe-bar.
Managing director Michael Morrison and his wife, Katie, set up their distilling business in 2016.
Their maiden product, Barra Atlantic Gin, was launched in August 2017, initially produced elsewhere under contract but made on the island since Scotland’s most westerly distillery opened in 2019.
The addition last year of copper stills made by Forsyths, of Rothes, allowed gin production to grow from 87 bottles per distilling run to more than 500, with the product now reaching nearly 200 countries around the world.
Mr and Mrs Morrison are regularly asked if the distillery makes whisky, which it currently does not.
But that will all change under their ambitious plans to grow the business, with the duo looking in particular to tap into Barra’s historic links to Scotland’s national drink.
One of Barra’s former residents, Compton Mackenzie, wrote a book based on an incident in 1941 when a cargo ship – SS Politician – carrying 22,000 cases of malt whisky, ran aground off the neighbouring island of Eriskay.
The book, Whisky Galore, has spawned two films of the same name.
Mr Morrison said: “For as long as we can remember, and certainly since we launched Isle of Barra Distillers, we’ve consistently been asked if we produce whisky because of the name Barra and the instant connection people make with Whisky Galore.
“A key point to why we feel this (new) distillery will be a success is the vital aspect that we have had a product already on the market for three years, our award-winning Barra Atlantic Gin.
“This is a vital source of funds while running our distillery, but it is so much more than that. We have amassed a large following across social media, close to 50,000 followers.
“Our customer base has grown four-fold in the last 12 months. We currently distribute to two overseas markets, with several more to follow in the coming year.
“All these factors show that we can build a brand from scratch and turn it into a successful operation, and that was done at a standing start with very little knowledge.
“As we are a more experienced young business having grown our business reputation, we can transfer all this knowledge into our new venture.”
He added: “The facility is expected to create at least 30 new jobs within the fragile island community of Barra, while ensuring the plant is powered by renewable energy – built with sustainable materials – and the company aims to develop a green travel plan to limit the number of visitors driving to the site.”
£1m fundraising plan
The Morrisons hope to submit their planning application for the site, which lies north of Barra Airport, around July and open their new distillery in mid-2023.
Their company, which currently employs four people, aims to raise £1m for the project by selling 200 “founders reserve” casks of its yet-to-be made single malt for £5,000 each. It also hopes to grow its own barley for the whisky.
All being well, Barra’s new production facility would take the number of single malt whisky distilleries in the Inner and Outer Hebrides to seven.
Mr Morrison said: “Distilled on the edge of the Atlantic and matured with the salt in the air, our Barra single malt will capture the essence of our unique home in each bottle.”