Benbecula Distillery: Spirit flows through island distillery after 130-year-old whisky recipe revived

Benbecula Distillery: Spirit flows through island distillery after 130-year-old whisky recipe revived

The first spirit has started to flow at Benbecula Distillery after an islander brought a 130-year-old recipe back to life. 

Angus MacMillan always dreamed of reopening a distillery on the island and worked tirelessly to transform a disused salmon farming processing plant at Gramsdale into the new site.

He built a glass-walled extension in the form of a lighthouse to house a copper pot still, which has become a new landmark on the wild, rolling landscape of an island with a long maritime heritage.

Angus discovered the recipe for the whisky after researching the writings of eminent 19th century distilling historian Alfred Barnard.

He knew he wanted to revive the spirit and enlisted renowned master distiller Brendan McCarron to bring the amber nectar to life. 

Angus and other locals grow the bere barley for the whisky on their crofts, which is then fertilised with seaweed from the shoreline. 

The malt will be kilned over fires which are laid with peat and foraged heather – a revival of a rare malting technique unique in Scotland today.

It comes from the 130-year-old recipe which was last used by distilleries such as Glen Ord and Highland Park in the 19th century. 

Now around 350,000 litres of whisky will be produced at Benbecula Distillery a year, with bourbon and sherry casks being used in the maturation. 

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

‘There’s nowhere quite like Benbecula and we are proud to be able to play a part in sustaining our island, creating new, skilled jobs and producing a single malt whisky which will capture the essence of this unique place.’

With a career spanning more than 20 years, master distiller Brendan previously worked as head of maturing whisky stocks at the Glenmorangie Company.

‘The spirit produced at Benbecula will be classically maritime in style; smoky on the nose, with salty and sweetly peated notes,’ he said.

‘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.’

Benbecula gin will also be produced at the distillery, as well as the company’s own rum.


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