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Business / Lerwick distillery construction underway

Kenny Laurenson (brand and creative director), Calum Miller (operations director), Elizabeth Atia (social media and communications) and Martin Watt (managing director) at the Shetland Whisky premises. Missing from the photo is co-founder Caroline MacIntyre who was unable to be there.Photo: Shetland News

WORK on the building that will house Shetland’s first whisky distillery is now ongoing.

The property on Market Street (formerly Whisky Lane) is being renovated after planning permission was granted last year.

Whisky distillery plans take shape

The team is one step closer to creating the first ever whisky to be distilled in the isles – but it will be over ten years until they sell a single malt.

“What we originally set out to do was build a distillery that was going to knock out 62,500 litres a year,” explained Martin Watt, managing director at Shetland Whisky.

“We set off on a fundraising round on 1 December aiming to raise about £1 million – we actually ended up raising pretty close to £2 million.”

Due to increased income and high interest levels in the product, the team has decided to go bigger with the distillery, and they could end up producing 200,000 litres each year.

The distillery is now owned by 180 private individuals, and about a quarter of those are Shetlanders according to Watt.

The premises used to be a joinery workshop, so some “basic works” are now underway to renovate it.

The main area where the stills will be located. Photo: Shetland News

“Our stills have been ordered,” Watt said. “We’re hoping to get them here early 2024… we’re due to get up and running as soon as possible after that.”

Whilst distilling whisky is a similar process to gin, it is later stored in casks to mature the flavours.

In Scotland, whisky can only be called whisky if it has been matured for a minimum of three years and single malts must be kept in casks for at least ten.

The first 88 casks went on sale last week, and they are already proving popular.

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“The founders casks went on sale last Wednesday,” he said. “I think to date we’ve sold maybe about half of them.

“It’s just another indication that there’s genuine interest in this.”

However, the team hopes they will have something else on the market a bit sooner.

“From day one pretty much, we’ll sell what’s called new make spirit,” Watt said. “It’s basically whisky that’s not been put into a cask, but you’re not allowed to call it whisky.”

Other future drinks could include an American-style rye whiskey, mead and beer.

Calum Miller, operations director said: “We’re probably going to make some fun stuff – there might be some people coming here that aren’t into whisky… it’s just a nice thing to have.”

The front of the building will be converted into a shop and retail area, whilst the main large space will be the distillery itself, which would welcome tours once up and running.

The front of the building will be turned into a retail area. Photo: Shetland News

The mezzanine level will be turned into offices and there will be toilets and a staff room on the ground floor.

Kenny Laurenson, brand and creative director said: “We’re going to have this big feature tasting table, so after you’ve had a walk around the distillery, you get sat down there and have a taster.”

The company has also built a shed in Scalloway, which is where they will keep raw materials for the distillery.

Watt said: “The shed in Scalloway is the first of many that we plan out there, we’ll probably end up having warehouse space five or six times the size of that shed.”

The company also thinks it could employ up to 15 people once everything is up and running.

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