ili distillery view

Introducing Islay’s Newcomer, ili Distillery

You thought Islay already had plenty malt whisky distilleries? Think again, because if all goes to plan, the proposed ili Distillery will open its doors in 2023. It would be the 12th (!) distillery on the island. Does Islay really need more distilleries? That depends on who you ask.

Who is behind ili Distillery?

ili Distillery is the brainchild of landowner Bertram Nesselrode and Scott McLellan. They’re both said to have long-standing connections to Islay.

According to the proposal, Bertram’s family has owned Gearach Farm (the planned location of the distillery) for many years. He’s also the founder of Embley Wood Partners, a company in the south of England that invests in real estate. Scott McLellan is described as a local farmer, but not much else is shared about his involvement.

It is unclear whether or not any of the involved parties have any experience in the whisky industry.

ili distillery exterior

What will ili Distillery look like?

Similar to The Cairn (a new Speyside distillery from Gordon & MacPhail) it will have a circular design. According to the architects, Alan Higgs Architects, it is inspired by other circular structures on Islay, such as lighthouses, Bowmore Church, duns, brochs and an unusual steading nearby the proposed site for ili Distillery.

They further explain, “Whilst not typical for distilleries, it is a shape that is the most efficient way to enclose space, maps the process of making whisky, evokes naturally the tuns, tanks, pipes, stills, barrels and bottles that are emblematic of spirit making and makes a building that is rooted in its landscape.”

What is the vision for ili Distillery?

The aim is to built a “highly sustainable” distillery. According to the proposal, ili Distillery will not just serve as a continuation of Islay’s whisky legacy, but will be a development of it. That’s a lofty goal, but they’re planning on making the distillery carbon-neutral, which would certainly distinguish them from other Islay distilleries. To achieve this, they’ll built a hydrogen plant and battery compound, install solar panels and erect a wind turbine of up to 76.5 metres in height.

ili Distillery will likely sit pretty comfortably in the craft range. It will have a target capacity of 200,000 litres per year, which would make it the Islay’s smallest distillery. There’s this curious mockup of bottles that’s part of the proposal, which indicates the distillery might also produce gin and aquavit.


Where will ili Distillery be located?

If planning is approved, ili Distillery will be built to the west of Port Charlotte on Islay. The development site is 370 hectares and located on Gearach Farm, which includes a residential property that’s currently occupied. There are also dilapidated farm sheds and stone walls of former buildings. Finally, Loch Gearach is another important feature on the site. It is a drinking water reservoir, but they’re considering using it for the distillery.

What does ili Distillery mean?

According to the proposal, the name ili is “the oldest name for Islay.” That might not be entirely correct. According to the usually well informed Islay Info the first reference to the island is from 720 AD, when it was spelled Ilea. Just twenty years later it was indeed spelt Ili in another text. Why it was decided to then spell the name of the distillery in all lower case is beyond me.

Does Islay need more distilleries?

I would say no. There already were alarming articles just a few years ago. And talking to a few knowledgeable people about the current situation, it hasn’t much improved since. Roads still aren’t maintained as well as they should. The ferry service can’t always cope with the trucks carrying out spirit and bringing in raw materials, combined with the many visitors Islay usually attracts. Investment in Islay’s infrastructure still doesn’t seem to match the investment in the distilleries.

We also live in a vastly different world compared to when those articles were written. Brexit wasn’t implemented yet, the Trump administration hadn’t yet raised tariffs on Scotch whisky, and of course COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact. Distilleries, hotels, cafes and bars couldn’t welcome anyone. Some businesses on Islay downsized or closed.

islay shipwreck

Many of those from the European mainland working in the hospitality industry have left due to Brexit immigrations rules. How will Islay cope once (whisky) tourism picks up again? And where will this island of 3,000 residents find enough people to run the distillery’s visitor centres? And if they have to come from outside of the island, housing will likely be an issue.

How is ili Distillery received locally?

One thing is for sure, not every Ileach is happy with potentially yet another distillery. On the surface, ili Distillery seems to be mindful of the situation and is looking to be sustainable and carbon-neutral. But some are doubtful that they (as well as others looking to start a new distillery) care for the environment and community of Islay.

There seems to be some hesitancy in the community on what position to take on yet another new distillery. And there are even more are in the pipeline.

You can read the entire proposal for ili Distillery here.

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