Arran has a long tradition of distilling but in days long past. There are even legends of long-lost hoards of whisky buried to escape the Excise men. Such may be folk lore but the gravestones of men killed in struggles with the gaugers certainly are not. As well as the many illicit stills on the island, three legitimate distilleries are recorded, the last of them closing in 1835.
There is however a new development at Lochranza on the north shore of Arran where a completely new purpose-built distillery is nearing completion. The equipment is in place and the "Scotsman" newspaper records that at 2:29 on Thursday 29 June 1995 the spout was turned to deliver the first ever middle cut from Scotland's newest distillery. It will be three years of course before it can be called whisky.
The distillery manager is Gordon Mitchell, late of the Cooley distillery in Ireland and it has been funded largely by Harold Currie upon his retirement from Chivas to the tune of £1.2M and 2000 bond-holders each of whom have paid £450 for future options on the spirit. They will receive a blended whisky in 1998 and pure malt in 2001.
The water comes from Loch na Davie, 300 metres up in the hills behind Lochranza.(which means 'Rowan tree river' by the way [jf]
At present the distillery is selling a vatted malt called Eileadour which I didn't think was that nice, and a blend called Lochranza. The first spirit was produced last week [July 1995] for a test run, and the gentleman at the distillery told me that the malt will be similar to Glenlivet and that the stills are similar to Macallan ( although he may have got this the wrong way round, because when I went into the still house and looked at the stills they are a lot larger than Macallans and similar to Springbanks stills). They go into full production today ( 31/7/95), and hope to produce 80,000 litres this year and then 250,000 litres thereafter. The distillery has pine wood washbacks, the barley is slightly peated and the production will be all done by hand. The bonded warehouse is being built at the present time behind the distillery and until completion the spirit will be sent down to Campbeltown to be stored. A visitors centre is going to be built and is due to open next year, but free guided tours are now being conducted starting today from 10.00am to 6.00pm with a wee dram at the end. Because I turned up too early for the tour I was given a small one on my own. The distillery is interesting and being on the Isle of Arran is a fantastic location. When the visitors centre opens next year it will certainly be worth taking a look. [as]
The malt Web pages can proudly boast an exclusive eye-witness account from Jonas Flygare of Sweden:
I was there for the opening on August 17th, and here's my comments..
The opening of the Lochranza distillery, 17th of August drew quite a crowd, over 500 people, to compare with the expected 200. Opening speech by Harold Currie, and then speeches by various well known people including a well known English whisky writer (Jim Murray) and a rugby player. Also present were a descendant of the last person to be killed for making whisky on Arran. (Applause!) Harold mentioned Excise men being present in the crowd as well. (Boooo!) Murray turned out to have an interest in ornithology, as well as in whisky, and during his speech (he timed that well!) we had the sun come out, and the two golden eagles who nest near Lochranza came out, circling the nearby mountain top. (Ooohs, Ahhhs and mentionings of "Good omen") After that, tours of the distillery, food and drink. The tour I was on found a small group of villagers who were arranging their own tour, but the other direction, starting with the 'wee dram'. Somehow they weren't quite sure how to proceed from there. :) After the tour we had a chance to taste Eileandour, Lochranza and Glen Rosa. All three are synthetic in the sense that it's not produced at Lochranza, but made to approximate what they hope to produce. Eileandour is a [vatted] malt, 10 years old, the other two blended. I personally like malts that taste more, but I found nothing wrong with it. If this is what their own product will be like I'll buy, and if they produce one with a smokier taste I'd be even happier to buy. The Lochranza is ok, for a blended. The Glen Rosa.. Well, the impression I got was that most local people did not like it, but that the visiting japanese did. It seems that we know which one will be exported. :) In the evening there was a dinner, but due to a small error when signing up I could not attend. Reports by friends who were luckier state that it was a dinner worth the trip from Sweden. (Dang!)
.. and they have their own home page on the Aardvark site (below)
Search Dr. Do'g's index for the history of Lochranza/Isle of Arran
There just might be some news about Lochranza/Isle of Arran in The "Scotsman" newspaper