With the current boom in new Scotch whisky distilleries in full pace, we asked owner David Thomson how things were progressing at Annandale Distillery.
Tell us a little about your distillery?
Annandale Distillery is one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland. The project was initiated in 1830 and implemented in 1836 by George Donald, a former exciseman. It was originally conceived as a ‘farm distillery’ where the barley was grown on the farm and the waste products were consumed by cattle and pigs. Annandale eventually passed on to Johnnie Walker in 1895 who invested heavily in both plant and buildings. As far as we can ascertain, they kept the process running on an on/off basis during WW1 but eventually closed it in 1918 due to a ‘crash’ in the Scotch whisky industry caused by a combination of high duties (driven by the Temperance Movement) and the post-war economic decline. We bought the derelict distillery in 2007, restored it and installed new plant. Production re-started in November 2014 and we filled our first bottle of Single Malt Scotch whisky in November 2017. Our peated (Man o’Sword) and unpeated (Man o’Words) Single Malts should be available by the Summer of 2018. (Man o’Sword is our tribute to King Robert the Bruce who was the 7th Earl of Annandale. Whilst Man o’Words celebrates Robert Burns who was an exciseman/gauger in Annandale towards the end of his short life.)
Annandale Distillery is unusual in two particular ways: Firstly, we produce peated and unpeated spirit, usually on a one-month-on-one-month-off cycle. Secondly, we have one large wash still (12,000 litres) paired-up with two small spirit stills (each of 4,000 litres). The latter increases the surface area of copper relative to the volume of distillate (versus a single 8,000 litre still) which helps to purify the spirit by removing sulphur compounds and long-chain fatty acids. This means that the new make spirit that we fill into oak casks is already quite refined. (We also bottle and sell this as Rascally Liquor®; www.rascallyliquor.com)
How the early period has been?
There’s a lot to get right and an awful lot that can go wrong but the long phase of planning prior to commencement of the actual project meant that we got most things right and didn’t make too many mistakes. There’s no doubt however, that start-up distilleries require a huge amount of capital expenditure and a lot of working capital before the business begins to break even. It’s certainly not for the feint-hearted.
Is your vision for the future unchanged ?
One of the huge changes that we’ve seen has been the growth of e.business and the exceptional growth in importance of social media in marketing and selling whisky. This means that our business model for distributing and selling whisky has changed quite radically. We welcome this change because it gives small independent producers much more flexibility.
What you are looking forward to?
Technically, our first whisky has been released already but decent amounts will not be available until the middle of 2018.
Annandale Distillery, Northfield, Annan, Dumfriesshire, DG12 5LL
t: +44 (0)1461 207 817