Plans for new Islay distillery Gartbreck disrupted over land dispute

The Gartbreck project, which would have seen the ninth distillery built on Islay, looks to be in trouble following a land dispute with a rival whisky company.

Published 21st Jun 2017
Updated 21 st Sep 2023

Plans for the project were originally launched by Jean Donnay, owner of Glann ar Mor distillery in Brittany, in 2014 with construction slated to begin late 2015.

Had they run to schedule, Gartbreck would have become the ninth whisky distillery to be built on the island, but since the original announcement the plans have struggled to get off of the ground.

Since then independent bottler Hunter Laing & Co, who had previously offered to buy the Gartbreck site from Donnay, have announced the construction of Ardnahoe, their own - and now considered to be the ninth - Islay distillery, on the eastern side of the island near Port Askaig.

Ardnahoe Distillery. Picture: Hunter Laing

Interestingly, the hold-up regarding the construction of Gartbreck is reported by to be over land now owned by Hunter Laing.

The small strip, which lies next to the Gartbreck site and is a vital part of the development plans, was bought during the failed negotiations between Donnay and Hunter Laing from Islay Estates.

"We’re keen to avoid any kind of public spat as it does the parties involved, the local community or wider industry no favours." Hunter Laing managing director Stewart Laing

The French distiller has, according to the expert whisky site, tried to buy the section of land from the Glasgow based whisky company but without success.

Hunter Laing managing director Stewart Laing told "Everything is for sale, but only for an offer which makes sense."

When asked by the whisky site's writers if Hunter Laing might be accused of "blocking the construction of a rival Islay distillery", Stewart Laing responded: "That is not the case. There are umpteen sites on Islay where distilleries can be built. We are not in the business of blocking the building of distilleries."

Jean Donnay, who also spoke to the whisky site, said: "I’m happy to sit around a table with Stewart, Andrew or Scott [Laing], in the presence of third parties, and to debate very openly and honestly, with adequate documents at hand for each party, in order to clear the situation and any possible misunderstanding."

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To which, Stewart Laing reportedly responded: "As we have said, we’re happy to consider offers for the property that are in line with our valuation, at which point meetings with any prospective buyers would be worthwhile.

"Since Jean exercised his right to reject our offer and plans for the Gartbreck site, our strategic priorities have changed. We are now busy pressing ahead with our plans for Ardnahoe distillery and look forward to making it another distilling success story for Islay."

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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