Toulvaddie to become first new whisky distillery founded by a woman in almost 200 years

Located on an old naval airfield in Ross-shire, Toulvaddie Distillery will be the first Scotch whisky distillery to be founded by a woman in almost 200 years, and the only one to "be founded solely by a woman".

Published 6th Mar 2020
Updated 31 st Oct 2023

Heather Nelson, who set up Toulvaddie Distillery Ltd in November 2015, explained that the new micro whisky distillery will have the capacity to produce around 30,000 litres of spirit per year.

The budding distiller says the smaller size will allow the whole process to be hands on, with the stills similar size and shape to those used by illicit distillers in days gone by.

Picture: contributed

Heather explains: “It’s great to see so many distilleries being built just now. However, these are by men or are also producing gin as a way of making ends meet until the whisky has aged.

"I want to build a distillery which has its focus on a quality malt spirit resulting in a whisky I can be proud of.

Toulvaddie will not produce any white spirits ahead of the release of its first Scotch whisky, but is set to offer around 100 one-year-old casks.

"Due to fact that whisky needs time, and to ensure that production can continue, some year 1 casks are available to purchase.

Heather is also hoping to create a founders club with members receiving exclusive bottlings that aren't on offer anywhere else - including the distillery.

Historically, women have always played a massive part in the production of Scotch whisky, from farmer's wives running the illicit stills before the legalisation of the industry, through to today and the numerous distillery managers, blenders and ambassadors who are driving the industry forward.

Heather says her decision to start up a distillery was not simply down to her being the first woman to do so since Helen Cumming - who set up Cardhu distillery with her husband in 1811 - and more to do with her wanting to make her own mark on the creative process and the production of a final product that she can be proud of.

Heather added: “People always ask - 'why do you love whisky?'

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"Well, why does anyone love whisky? It’s the complexity of the flavours, the sheer warmth it yields, and the fact that it just tastes good.

"Being the one who influences those flavours appealed to me and that’s when I started to look into the process in more depth.

Yet at that point, being able to start my own distillery was just a dream, but the more I studied the stronger my desire became to actually make my own spirit, and have been working on turning that dream into a reality ever since.”

If the plans go ahead, the distillery will be built on the site of the old RNAS Fearn, a disused airbase near Tain, where Navy bomber pilots were trained.

The distillery will be built on a section of one of the now disused runways.

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Incorporating the site's history into the distillery is also important to Heather.

“Much of the base has been returned to farmland and most of the buildings knocked down after it was no longer needed by the Navy.

"I want the distillery to retain some of that history and the spirit of the men and women who worked there and are currently in talks with the Fleet Air Arm Museum and the National Museum of the Royal Navy about doing just that.”

Becky Paskin, editor of, said: “Women have always played an integral role in the Scotch whisky industry, from distilling and blending to distillery management and even as chief executives of large whisky empires.

“Which is why it’s difficult to believe that we’re only now seeing the first distillery founded solely by a woman.

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"Scotland has witnessed a boom in new, independent microdistilleries in recent years, which will only increase the diversity of Scotch whisky styles available to consumers.

“We wish Heather the best of luck with her venture and look forward to sampling Toulvaddie Highland single malt in the years to come.”

This article was first published on December 7, 2016.

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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