Isle of Harris Distillery raises a dram with investment support

The Isle of Harris Distillery has been backed by a consortium of investors, including the Scottish Investment Bank (SIB).

A total of £10 million was needed to kick start the project and 18 private investors have backed the venture. The £1.5 million invested by SIB’s Scottish Venture Fund was pivotal in ensuring this project could proceed as envisaged.

The creation of the new distillery could eventually see over 260,000 bottles of malt whisky sold every year, making an economic impact at a national level. Whisky is one of Scotland’s biggest exports, worth around £4 billion last year. And the company hopes to further boost the local economy by attracting up to 60,000 tourists a year, including those on the whisky trail.

Isle of Harris Distillers is the brainchild of US-born founding director Anderson Bakewell, who first visited Harris in the 1960s. Bakewell decided he wanted to do something to bolster the economy of the island. He felt there was a tremendous opportunity to create a facility that could produce a unique spirit and had the potential to become a stop on the whisky trail, which brings thousands of visitors to Scotland every year.

With fewer than 2,000 people living on the island, employment opportunities are scarce and the local economy is a fragile one. Up to 20 local jobs will be created once the new Isle of Harris Distillery opens its doors early in 2015.

Isle of Harris Distillers director Ron MacEachran said: “We want to create a long term, commercially successful business which will have a catalytic effect on the economy of the island and make a contribution to the national economy.

“But with no history of whisky distillation on the island and an untried proposition, it was quite a challenge to attract the £10 million the project needed. It wouldn’t have happened without SIB’s faith in our ambition. We also secured the backing of UK, US, European and Asian investors who were prepared to take a long term view."

Work to build the distillery has already started and it’s anticipated the first whisky aficionados could be through the door of the visitor centre in 2015 - even if the first spirit won’t be bottled until many years later.

Gerry Reynolds from SIB, who worked with the company on this investment, said: “Isle of Harris Distillers is a fantastic example of how the public sector can act as a lever to access funding from around the world.

“There is huge potential in this business and we look forward to it generating benefits for both the local community on Harris and the wider Scottish economy.”

Highlands and Islands Enterprise and a grant from the Food Processing, Marketing and Co-operation also contributed vital funds to the overall package, which was named Early Stage/Risk Capital Deal of the Year at the 2014 Business Insider Deals and Dealmakers Awards.

Access to potential overseas investors was helped by the GlobalScot network. Ongoing support from Highlands and Island Enterprise is now helping to shape the project’s development.

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