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Business / Shetland’s first whisky distillery preparing to open doors later this year

A visualisation of what the distillery's shop could look like.

SHETLAND’s first whisky distillery is due to open this year, it has been confirmed.

A date for Lerwick Distillery’s opening will be announced in due course.

It comes after the team is said to have “far exceeded” a £1 million target for share capital investment.

The concept began more than a decade ago between friends Martin Watt and Calum Miller, with work progressing at the distillery premises on Lerwick’s Market Street.

As well as Watt and Miller, who have established backgrounds in chartered accountancy and architecture, Lerwick Distillery also has fellow founder Caroline MacIntyre on board as sales director.

Ian Millar is working with the team as master distiller.

MacIntyre has extensive experience in hospitality and sales, while Millar has worked in the whisky industry for over 50 years and has worked with a number of major whisky brands, including almost 25 years at William Grant & Sons.

Scottish law dictates that a spirit cannot legally be called a whisky until it has matured for at least three years and one day, and the distillery plans to bottle a ‘new make’ spirit to cover operational costs for the first few years.

This product will be called Haad Still – a traditional Shetland phrase for ‘hold on’, encouraging people to wait for the whisky to mature.

A visualisation of a tasting room in the distillery.

In time, the distillery will also offer tours to customers, with tourists being a particular target market.

Having secured the site in 2022, the team accessed business advice from Business Gateway after a recommendation from Shetland Islands Council, and met Business Gateway adviser, Diana Abernethy.

She provided one-to-one support to the team in advance of distilling, helped raise their profile and signposted them to avenues to access vital funding.

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The business accessed a start-up grant from Shetland Islands Council, which contributed to photography costs for use on social media.

The social media and imagery directly helped raise share capital towards the opening of the distillery.

The initial funding target was to raise £1 million, but they are said to have far exceeded this, and have been able to secure premises that are four times the original size they had planned.

Watt said: “The support that we received from Business Gateway has been excellent. Diana was able to point out things that we had missed in our business plan, and gave us access to great contacts to help us develop.

“If it hadn’t been for the funding Business Gateway signposted us to, we would not have raised enough share capital to be able to expand the business so quickly.

“The £4,000 funding resulted in an extra £682,000 share capital investment that really wasn’t expected. We truly couldn’t have done this without Business Gateway.”

Abernethy said: “Shetland is the last area of the UK without a distillery, so to be able to help Martin and Callum reach the goal of being the first distillery on the island has been fantastic.

“It’s an exciting brand and journey they’re embarking on and will give such a boost to tourism in the area and the local economy.”

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