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The team from the new Benbecula distillery

An islander’s dream of creating a new single malt whisky capturing the unique essence of his home in the Outer Hebrides has become a reality, with the first spirit starting to flow at Benbecula Distillery.

The start of production sees the revival of a 130-year-old recipe, after businessman Angus A MacMillan researched the writings of eminent 19th century distilling historian Alfred Barnard. Mr MacMillan then enlisted the services of renowned master distiller Brendan McCarron as his whisky expert to create the spirit.

Persevering through the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr MacMillan developed the multi-million pound distillery in a disused salmon processing plant at Gramsdale. Now the glass-walled extension in the form of a lighthouse, housing a copper pot still, has become a new landmark.

Bere barley, grown on Mr MacMillan’s croft and others nearby, fertilised with seaweed from the shoreline, is among the key ingredients of the new single malt, with local peat and heather being used in the production process.

Mr MacMillan said: “After quite a journey over the past few years, it’s fantastic to see the first spirit flowing at Benbecula Distillery.

“Brendan McCarron, one of the best-known names in modern distilling, has, we believe, created something very special, making the most of the good things Benbecula has to offer.

“Our malt will be kilned over fires which we lay with peat and foraged heather; a revival of a rare malting technique completely unique in Scotland today and from a recipe last used by distilleries such as Glen Ord and Highland Park in the 19th century. 

“Brendan has adapted and developed this process to create a smooth, gentle smokiness and sweet floral character in our spirit. Under his guidance, we will also be creating a variety of flavour styles.”

With a career spanning more than 20 years, Brendan McCarron previously worked as head of maturing whisky stocks at the Glenmorangie Company, where he was deputy to the firm’s director of whisky creation, Dr Bill Lumsden. His experience also includes spells as manager at Oban Distillery and as master distiller with Distell, whose brands include Bunnahabhain, Deanston and Tobermory distilleries.

Mr McCarron said: “The spirit produced at Benbecula will be classically maritime in style; smoky on the nose, with salty and sweetly peated notes. This will be achieved using light to medium peated malted barley, so that the smoke does not dominate and allows fruity and floral notes to shine through. 

“Each year a special batch of heather peated bere barley will be produced, using a process that is both innovative and inspired by traditions of the island.”

Around 350,000 litres of whisky will be produced at Benbecula Distillery annually, with bourbon and sherry casks being used in the maturation. Benbecula gin will also be produced there and the company’s own rum will be available from the distillery.

The distillery’s design and distilling process incorporates pioneering and innovative low-carbon technologies.

Benbecula-based company MacInnes Brothers was the main building contractor and the distilling equipment was supplied from within the Highlands and Islands.

Regional development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) provided support totalling £2.8million for the project.