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Planning permission secured for project aiming to build Scotland's most northerly mainland whisky distillery in John O’Groats

Planning permission has been secured for the construction of a new whisky production site in John O’Groats which will also become Scotland's most northerly mainland distillery. 

Published: March 3, 2020
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The new micro-distillery, which is slated to open in 2021, is the brainchild of local husband and wife team Derek and Kerry Campbell, who secured £198,000 of funding from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) to help bring their vision to life.

Local husband and wife team Derek and Kerry Campbell. Picture: contributed

The 32,670 square foot site will also house a visitor centre and bonded warehouse, and will replace Wolfburn and former titleholder Old Pulteney as Scotland's most northerly mainland distillery, and overtake Dunnet Bay distillers as it's most northern spirits production site.

The as-yet-unnamed distillery will have the capacity to produce up to 60,000 litres of whisky each year and will be the first Scotch whisky distillery in John O’Groats for over 180 years, with National Archive of Scotland records showing that a whisky distillery founded by James Sutherland and John Gibson in 1826 operated in the coastal town until 1837.

The project also hopes to boost tourism in the area, with the venture also offering a new visitor attraction to tourists and providing those travelling from Land’s End to John O’Groats with an opportunity to toast their journey with a dram of Scotch whisky.

The pair of entrepreneurs estimate that six new jobs will be created during the first year, including a master whisky maker and visitor centre manager.

The new distillery and visitor centre will encompass one large building which has been designed to showcase the two copper stills and traditional whisky-making process, while making the most of the "stunning views across the Pentland Firth" through large glass windows placed along the front of the building.

A 1,500 square foot dunnage warehouse will also be built on the site to mature and store the Highland spirit.

Founder Kerry Campbell said: “With a longstanding interest in the whisky industry, I began to truly appreciate quality Scotch whisky around 12 years ago and since then have developed a growing passion for Scotland’s national drink.

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"After many conversations with my husband around the idea of building our own distillery and creating our own whisky, I’m delighted that we are now one step closer to making these plans a reality having secured planning permission on our dream site at John O’Groats.

“We believe the whisky we will produce will be unlike that from any other distillery, due to our coastal location in John O’Groats and the impact the local climate will have on our spirit as it matures. With traditional methods at the heart of our plans and an ambition to showcase whisky distilling in John O’Groats to the world, we are looking forward to opening the doors to our micro-distillery in due course."

Kerry added that the support they have received from the local community, HIE and business owners to date has been "fantastic" and that the pair can’t wait to welcome them to our distillery in 2021.

Commenting on the funding provided by HIE, Keith Muir, HIE’s head of business growth for Caithness and Sutherland, said: “Tourism and food and drink are two key industries in Caithness, and this project features both. As well as producing a brand-new whisky, it will enhance the area’s wider visitor offering, notably around the North Coast 500. All of this encourages visitors to stay in the area longer, which benefits all local businesses and communities.

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“We particularly welcome the improvement it will make to the look and feel of the John O’Groats end of the road attraction, in bringing a long-disused site back into productive use. We are very pleased to support this venture and look forward to seeing it taking shape.”

Andrew Mowat, manager at the Seaview Hotel in John O’Groats, added: “The development of the new distillery and visitor centre is really exciting for the area and is another great example of the
ongoing development of John O' Groats.

“It will complement the plans for the mill and brewery in the area. It will also help increase dwell time in John O’Groats, attract more visitors, increase employment and utilise a currently
undeveloped site.

“We are now getting closer to achieving our aim of making John O’Groats a world-class destination, with the community trusts and business community working hand in to realise this goal.”

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Work on the distillery is due to begin in summer 2020, with the aim of opening the visitor centre to the public in summer 2021.

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Driven by a passion for all things drinks-related, Sean writes for The Scotsman extensively on the subject. He can also sometimes be found behind the bar at the world famous Potstill bar in Glasgow where he continues to enhance his whisky knowledge built up over 10 years advising customers from all over the world on the wonders of our national drink. Recently, his first book was published. Dubbed Gin Galore, it explores Scotland's best gins and the stories behind those that make them.

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