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Slinte! Gin distillery aims to give community a tonic

Niall Macalister Hall explains how the creation of a distillery on his family's estate boosts the estate's environmental credentials and will in due course help local entrepreneurs get started.

Torrisdale Estate, on Kintyre's east coast, in southern Argyll, extends to roughly 1,200 acres and has been owned by our family for about 125 years.

It includes the main castle, a number of holiday cottages, let land, forestry and about a mile and a half of coastline. For many years the main income has derived from the self-catering holiday business, but the estate has recently diversified into renewable energy, including the installation of a 170kW biomass boiler which serves a number of properties, and a 99kW run of river hydro-electric scheme, commissioned in October 2015. The construction of the hydro scheme came in under budget, and it is now over-performing against our initial projections. The castle's heating bills have been drastically reduced by the new biomass heating system and the income generation of the hydro scheme is projected to be very positive.

This makes the estate more viable for the future and I decided that, rather than stopping there, the renewable energy schemes could also be the catalyst for further diversification on the estate.

One night, while sipping a gin and tonic and thinking through ideas, I had a lightbulb moment and there it was staring me right in the face. I decided I would convert a disused traditional farm building into a small-batch gin distillery.

Being a drinker of gin, but by no means an expert on how to make it, I engaged the services of consultant Leon Webb, who helped to develop the popular Harris Gin. The plans snowballed and soon Leon was busy at work in the lab, cooking up 10 different samples using an array of botanicals. The recipe was finalised after a series of blind tastings, and has been funded through an Innovate Your Business grant from Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

We created a new company, Beinn an Tuirc Distillers Limited (Hill of the Wild Boar), named after the highest hill in Kintyre, whose summit was part of the estate until it was sold in 1984. The 300-litre copper still will run on three-phase power, directly from the hydro scheme, the water for which comes from the same hill. Our initial product will be a very smooth dry gin, branded as 'Kintyre Gin', with a future Navy Strength version on the cards.

We aim to produce seasonal variations, using fruit grown in the restored Victorian walled garden, and a percentage of our profits will fund community projects and local business start-ups. We hope that local people will eventually be able to approach us if they have an idea for a new start-up which requires some financial support. 

Our whole aim is to try to establish ourselves as the ethical and socially responsible distiller of choice, which will be further enhanced by our small visitor centre offering guided tours of the distillery and the hydro scheme, with visitors having the opportunity to plant a tree to offset their carbon and to provide them with a link which might hopefully prompt further visits. Among the trees which visitors can choose to plant will be a juniper, which in the long-term will help to address the scarcity of juniper berries in Scotland.

The actual construction or conversion of the facility for use as a distillery is the easy part. Unfortunately the red tape and administration is the hard part. In addition to planning consent and building warrants, you have to think about on-sale and off-sale licenses, HMRC warehousing, rectification and compounding licences, SEPA consents, Health and Safety plans, website development, marketing, social media, bottle design, branding, labelling, and a host of less interesting issues!

At CKD Galbraith we have the expertise and experience to help other estate owners who might be considering a similar strategy. 

Our estate is indebted to Highlands and Islands Enterprise, which is providing support. Fundraising for the project is ongoing and our crowdfunding campaign is due to kick off soon. The aim is that Kintyre Gin will be in full production in January 2017.

We plan to recruit up to six employees within five years, and to grow significantly throughout this period.

We believe this could be the catalyst not only to safeguard the future of the estate but also to make a real difference to the social and economic development of a very fragile rural economy.


We can all drink to that!

Click the image below to be taken to Beinn an Tuirc's website.