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Business / Whisky distillery proposed for Lerwick

A WHISKY distillery is being proposed for Lerwick, which may end up producing Shetland’s first single malts.

The initial planning process for the distillery, which would be located in the former T&N joinery building on Market Street, has begun.

But in an interview with Shetland News those fronting the Shetland Single Malt Scotch Whisky project – directors Martin Watt and Calum Miller – stressed that things are at a very early stage.

The hope is, though, to create a distillery which would offer tours and tastings, potentially generating 10 to 15 full-time equivalent jobs in the long run. Currently there is no whisky distilled in Shetland.

Watt – a whisky collector himself – said it would be “very modest in size” to compared to the distillery Blackwood was proposing in Nesting back in the 2000s.

By a twist of fate Market Street in Lerwick was formerly known as Whisky Lane.

The proposal is a dual pot whisky still that would have the capacity to produce up to 200,000 litres of whisky a year.

“Initially though it’s likely to be a third of that level of production,” Watt said.

It takes a minimum of three years for the drink to mature to a point where it can technically be called whisky,

The more modest front of the building being mooted for a whisky distillery, which expands to the back. Photo © Google 2022

Estimates suggest it could cost more than £2 million to get the proposed Lerwick distillery up and running, and some other individuals in the background are supporting the project.

A main obstacle to overcome is the uncertain economic climate, but funding is in place for the first phase of the project.

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The size of the disused commercial property in question is nearly 300 square metres.

The pair added that the main market for the whisky would be tourists, such as cruise ship passengers, and the growing whisky investment sector.

This means that the business could potentially “forward sell” casks of whisky as well as bottles for those visiting the distillery.

Sites have already been identified for bonded warehouses outside of Lerwick.

Miller added that the hope is to create a strong brand and story behind the whisky.

“We really want to concentrate on that visitor experience, to make it the best possible experience to show off our whisky,” he said, and one eventual aim is for visitors to be able to fill their own bottle.

Watt said it is not the intention to compete with the likes of the distillery in Unst, which produces gin.

The company that runs the Unst distillery has sold bottles of Shetland Reel whisky, but the spirit itself was not made locally.

In 2018 it also launched a funding drive to create a whisky distillery in Unst, which has not come to fruition.

Meanwhile the Lerwick distillery would also be self-contained – and not a pub – with only steam and a “little bit of carbon dioxide” likely to be produced. “We are already looking into how we can recycle that,” Watt said, adding that the hope would be for the distillery to become net zero.

While the grain for the whisky production would be imported from mainland Scotland, there is a hope in the future to look into creating a “circular economy” where home grown barley could be malted locally instead of having to be sent south.

Watt added that the idea of a Lerwick whisky distillery has been on his mind for a number of years, but the time is now right to push forward.

“All being well, and if we can mitigate the effect of inflation on the plant and equipment,” he said, “we could potentially be up and running this time next year.”

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