PLANS to produce the first whisky in Dingwall for 90 years in a new purpose-built £1million distillery overlooking the town have been revealed.
Local farmer John Mckenzie, who is behind the “very exciting” proposal, is considering raising the the cash needed for the new distillery on the Heights of Dochcarty by offering it up for community ownership.
He says this will mean Dingwall people will get a chance to own the Dingwall dram under a similar share offer operated by a local wind co-op for a single wind turbine at Knockbain Farm, which raised nearly £1million from 170 members.
It is hoped a planning application will be lodged in six weeks and the distillery on Mr Mckenzie’s Scroggie Farm would be built in late 2015, creating three jobs.
He wants to produce 100,000 litres a year from the off, with the first whisky ready for bottling three years later.
Speaking exclusively to the Ross-shire Journal, Mr Mckenzie said he was planning to use modern green energy to create a unique Highland malt. He already has a wind turbine and a hydro scheme on his farm to provide the power and water, and will use locally-grown barley.
The water runs into his land in small burns from Ben Wyvis and he believes it will stop millions of litres of water flowing into the town, which might help ease the flooding problems caused by the River Peffrey bursting its banks in heavy rain.
As well as the distillery, Mr Mckenzie is also planning to establish a “learning hub” on the site and to introduce whisky tours.
He wants to operate a nine-seater Whisky Landrover from May to September which will pick people up at the town’s train station and take them on a tour of the old distillery sites of Ferintosh, Glenskiach and Ben Wyvis, on the outskirts of Dingwall, finishing at the new distillery.
Mr Mckenzie, who is a helicopter pilot and operates as the Flying Farmer, also wants to take whisky tourists further afield.
“No visitor centre is currently planned, but a craft whisky trail is being worked on that would see worldwide whisky enthusiasts visiting the more remote distilleries in Scotland by summer helicopter flights,” he said.
The last distillery to operate in Dingwall was the Ben Wyvis, which produced 160,000 gallons a year. It released its last whisky in 1923 and closed in 1926.
Mr Mckenzie, who has spent a year working on the plans and researching the history of whisky distillation in the area, said: “It is 90 years since the last whisky was produced at Dingwall.
“The old distillery was sited at the entrance to the town but nothing remains of the distillery itself, only the bonded warehouse and office, now converted into flats.
“The new distillery will sit at a site at the Heights of Dochcarty overlooking the town.
“A design which incorporates the traditional distinctive pagoda roof synonymous with whisky distilleries is being worked on by local architect Billy Reynolds and whisky entrepreneur Stuart Nickerson.”
He is seeking permission from Whyte and Mackay to use the brand name Ben Wyvis Distillery. But if not he is happy to name his new venture after the town.
Various financing options are being looked at, but following the recent success of the Dingwall Wind Co-op – of which he is a founding director – Mr Mckenzie is not ruling out a similar route.
“It could be a Dingwall distillery owned by Dingwall people, which is unique,” said the self-confessed “gadgie”, who claims the project would put the name of his home town on the world map.
Mr Mckenzie decided to make the plans public in time for Burns Night as he shares his birthday with the bard, who was known to be fond of, and indeed wrote about, Ferintosh whisky, a dram distilled near Dingwall.
“It is an apt time to reveal the new distillery plans,” said Mr Mckenzie. “It is well-known that Burns had a fondness for Highland whisky.”