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New £12m distillery for island with links to Whisky Galore

A NEW £12 million whisky and gin distillery and visitor centre on the Isle of Barra, just a mile-and-a-half from the house where Compton Mackenzie wrote Whisky Galore and near the island’s famous beach airport, will “have a huge impact on Barra and the Outer Hebrides in a positive way”, creating jobs and boosting tourism.

Full planning permission has been granted to Isle of Barra Distillers by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar with the firm anticipating that the purpose-built distillery and visitor centre at Eoligarry in the north of the island will create at least 40 new jobs. Work is on track to commence in September next year and open in spring 2025.

It is projected that the distillery will produce 200,000 litres of pure alcohol per year, enough to fill an estimated 1,600 200-litre casks with the potential to double that output and further expand the workforce.

Managing director Michael Morrison, who founded the business with his wife, Katie, in 2016, said that the employment opportunities for the remote Western Isles should not be underestimated.

“To really grasp the impact of this, in terms of employment opportunities, if the same development was built in Glasgow, the impact on jobs per head of people would be 23,000 in the first year and by year 10, it would create 64,000 jobs,” he said.

Mr Morrison added that for an island community with such a fragile economy and limited employment opportunities, the new distillery and visitor centre has “huge potential to ease the issues that we face”, noting: “There is still a long road ahead, but this is a huge step forward in the construction of the Isle of Barra’s first legal single malt whisky distillery.”

He explained that when the couple returned to Barra after more than 10 years living in Glasgow, their only option was to stay with family or accept a “damp council house that was quite run-down”.

“The island needs more housing – how can people come back to support the local economy if they have nowhere to live? There is definitely a crisis,” Mr Morrison said, confirming that Isle of Barra Distillers will each year donate 1 per cent of total net profits back into the local community.

Its goal is to establish the Isle of Barra Distillers Foundation for the sole purpose of giving back to the island. “The long-term goal is by year 13, or once our 10-year-old malt is released, we will be in a position to help build affordable homes for the foundation to sell at cost price to young families to help ease the housing issue on the island of Barra.”

The community, Mr Morrison added, will eventually be able to suggest projects which are needed on Barra which could be anything from a new play park to a facility for the elderly.

Sustainability will be at the core of the development, designed by Ayr-based architects Denham Youd. A heat recovery system will distribute heat from the distillery to the visitor centre while the company is also looking at a carbon capture system that could be used to create feed for the salmon farming industry.

With distilleries on Lewis, Harris and Benbecula, and several in the Inner Hebrides too, there is potential to expand the existing Hebridean Whisky Trail, Mr Morrison said, adding that Barra’s new distillery and visitor centre will maximise views to the west and over the Sound of Barra.

He pointed to the “romanticism” of Barra and its connection to Whisky Galore, Compton Mackenzie’s book inspired by the grounding of the cargo ship SS Politician, carrying more than 250,000 bottles of whisky, which got into difficulty off the nearby island of Eriskay in1941. Scenes from the 1949 movie were filmed on Barra.

Isle of Barra Distillers’ inaugural and now award-winning spirit, Barra Atlantic Gin, draws on its “relationship with the sea” with its custom-designed bottle produced from 78% recycled glass.

The firm is running a pop-up outlet in Edinburgh’s St James Quarter in Edinburgh during the festive season.

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