Work is expected to start next year on a new Cabrach distillery which uses historical methods of distilling and bottling, after plans were approved by the Moray Council this week.
The distillery will be located in the wild and remote Cabrach area on the southern edge of Moray, said to be one of the birthplaces of the Scotch whisky industry and famed for illicit stills and smuggling in years gone by.
Research is well underway into the distilling, maturation and bottling of a unique whisky, using the blueprint of an early 19th-century distillery with traditional methods.
Construction work is set to begin next summer, with production getting underway in 2019 and the first bottling of mature whisky from the historic distillery made in 2024, with 150,000 bottles expected to be produced each year.
A share offer will be announced next year, giving supporters the chance to get involved at an early stage and own a small piece of whisky history.
The distillery and heritage centre, shop and cafe will be run by the Cabrach Trust, transforming the existing Inverharroch Farm into the visitor attraction with the aim of putting the Cabrach on the tourist map and marking its place in the story of Scotch whisky.
The centre will create 12 jobs as well as training opportunities.
Sue Savege, executive director of the Cabrach Trust, said: “This is a major milestone for us and we are very grateful to the Moray Council, which has been extremely supportive of the plans, and to all those who have contributed to the project.
“The distillery and heritage centre are at the heart of our plans to regenerate the Cabrach and contribute to a sustainable future for this beautiful but remote part of Moray, which has seen a huge decline in population over the years.
“Our new centre will help to sustain the local economy by bringing in visitors as well as creating 12 jobs, including training opportunities for graduates and local college leavers keen to get experience in both distilling and hospitality, and heritage management work.
“Now we have planning permission in place we are aiming to start work on site in the summer of 2018. In the meantime we are busy working on the final specification of the distillery, which will use historical methods, and we are conducting further research into the exact balance of ingredients and maturation processes as it’s crucial we get the flavour right for our very own Cabrach scotch whisky®.”
Funding for the £5.3million project will come from a mix of social finance, grants and charitable trusts and foundations, with several funding applications currently being progressed.
Sue added: “We are delighted that the application has been approved and are looking forward to seeing the plans reach fruition for this important region in the story of Scotch whisky.”
Earlier this year, researchers commissioned by the Trust discovered the site of an illicit whisky bothy thought to date back to the early 19th-century, sheltered by a small crag and built into the side of the hill, offering smugglers a vantage point to keep an eye out for excise men on the nearby highway.
The centre makes use of the existing traditional farm steadings and has been designed by a team led by local architects, AKA Ltd, and interior designers, Surface ID.
The adjacent interactive heritage centre will include a café, exhibition space for public and private hire and a gift shop, built around a courtyard and overlooking the River Deveron and the Cabrach hills.
Chairman and founder member of the Cabrach Trust, Grant Gordon, said: “The Cabrach has a long and colourful whisky distilling history. The heritage centre will celebrate this rich birth right, telling the as-yet untold story of the early days of farm distilling and the smuggling which was rife in the area, while the historical distillery will reflect production methods that were used in the Cabrach at the dawn of the modern distilling era in the early 1800s.
“The heritage centre will tell the story about illicit distilling and relate that to production, so visitors can learn about the history of illicit whisky and smuggling and at the same time, go and see an operating historic distillery.”
The Cabrach Trust is a social enterprise and all profits generated by the distillery and heritage centre will be reinvested to further the social aims of the Trust of providing jobs and services to regenerate this rural community.
Moray MSP Richard Lochhead welcomed the approval of the plans, saying: “This is great news and a big step forward for the Cabrach Trust, which is working hard to support this fragile rural economy and encourage new visitors into the area by mixing history with a new future for the whisky industry.”
The visitor centre will offer an engaging and informative experience, with a dedicated interpretation centre, a flexible performance and exhibition space and smuggling trails, designed to appeal to whisky enthusiasts, heritage lovers and children alike.
Landscaping around the centre has been designed by award winning landscape architects, Erz Ltd, with the aim of being fun and adventurous, with short river walks, links to the wider countryside and an imaginative play area for young children, which makes use of barrels and stills.
Earlier this year, Moray Council approved a community asset transfer which has seen the Cabrach Trust taking over the ownership of several buildings previously owned by the Council.
The Acorn Centre – formerly the Lower Cabrach Primary School and used as a community facility – will be repurposed as a bonded warehouse for the distillery, while the Old Cabrach Hall will be used as a much-needed community centre and training venue.
The former schoolhouse will provide accommodation for workers as well as being used as a holiday let.