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October 2016
Plans to build a new Lowland distillery on the Ardgowan Estate near the Firth of Clyde have been submitted to the local council for consideration.

The plans would revive the name of a distillery destroyed in 1941
The Ardgowan Distillery Company wants to build a whisky distillery, retail and visitor attraction on the site of an old sawmill near Inverkip, just south of the A78 Inverkip road, close to its junction with the A770.

The proposals also include plans for a café/restaurant, a gin still and a microbrewery, as well as space for corporate events.

A decision from Inverkip Council is expected by spring 2017 and, if approved, the distillery is scheduled to be operational in 2019.

‘Our ambition is to build a world-class distillery and visitor attraction in the heart of Inverclyde,’ said Martin McAdam, the project’s chief executive.

‘The area has tremendous heritage and natural resources, including a great water supply, and we are working with the Ardgowan Estate to create a globally-recognised new Lowland malt which will put the area firmly on the whisky map.’

If the plans come to fruition, they will resurrect the Ardgowan distillery name: founded in 1896 and located in Baker Street in nearby Greenock, the original plant made whisky for a few years, before switching to the production of grain spirit and industrial alcohol.

Once part-owned by the infamous Pattison brothers, it was destroyed by German bombers during the May Blitz of 1941.

McAdam said he believed the project would have ‘a very positive impact’ on the local economy, creating jobs during construction and once operational.

He added that the plans had taken account of more than 60 questionnaire responses submitted during the project’s public consultation event in September.

Former Macallan managing director Willie Phillips has joined proposed Lowland distillery Ardgowan as company chairman.

The former Macallan MD has been appointed chairman of Ardgowan
Phillips, who was at the helm of Macallan from 1978 until it was acquired by Highland Distillers in 1996, was a chairman of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society for 10 years and has also worked as a non-executive director for numerous Scotch whisky-related companies during his career.

A planning application for Ardgowan distillery was submitted to Inverclyde Council last year, with intentions to create a malt whisky distillery and visitor centre on the Ardgowan Estate near Inverkip, 25 miles west of Glasgow. A decision about the submission is ‘expected shortly’, with hopes to be up and running by 2019 if successful.  

Plans also include a café/restaurant, a gin still and a microbrewery, plus space for corporate events.

Phillips said: ‘I’m really interested in the idea of creating a new Lowland malt whisky in this part of Scotland, which is close to Irvine, where I spent much of my youth.

‘The Ardgowan team is looking to bring on board one of the most experienced “noses” in the businesses – someone who will help them craft a new spirit of great quality – and I am sure we will together create a really outstanding new Lowland single malt whisky.’

The original Ardgowan distillery was founded in 1896 in Baker Street, Greenock. After several years of making whisky, the distillery – once part-owned by the Pattison brothers – was used to create grain spirit and industrial alcohol, before it was destroyed in the May Blitz in 1941.

Martin McAdam, Ardgowan distillery chief executive, said: ‘Willie Phillips has a real passion to build a globally-recognised new Lowland malt whisky distillery of which Inverclyde and Scotland will be proud, and we look forward to working with Willie in bringing our ambitious vision to life.’

October 2018
Ardgowan Distillery Company has unveiled revised plans for its £12 million distillery near Glasgow, which is still on-track to open in 2020.

Regional style: Once operational, Ardgowan will produce a Lowland style of whisky
Having first submitted plans for the project to Inverclyde Council in 2016, new revised designs for a ‘state-of-the-art, modern’ facility were approved last week.

The design, by Michael Laird Architects and engineering firm Blyth & Blyth, incorporates an ‘extensive use of glass’ to create a ‘bright airy interior’ for the environmentally-considerate distillery.

‘This is a state-of-the-art, modern distillery which not only looks fantastic, but will reduce our environmental impact wherever possible,’ said Martin McAdam, CEO of Ardgowan Distillery Company.

‘Our architects have worked closely with civil engineers Blyth & Blyth and process designers Briggs of Burton to create a striking distillery which fits well in the landscape and uses heat recovery and closed loop cooling to reduce energy use and water consumption, whilst the extensive use of glass means visitors will get a clear view of the bright airy interior.’

Ardgowan has been designed to blend into the surrounding landscape

Fitted with two copper pot stills and six wooden washbacks, Ardgowan distillery will be capable of producing up to one million litres of spirit each year.

However, the building has been designed to allow for future expansion, which could double output with the addition of two further stills and an additional six washbacks.

A separate visitor centre will be incorporated into existing buildings on the Bankfoot estate, featuring a farm shop, microbrewery, café and restaurant.

Although a building contractor is yet to be confirmed, work is expected to begin on the estate this year, with the distillery completed and operational by 2020.

Once up and running, Ardgowan distillery will create six new full-time jobs, with up to 15 additional jobs in the visitor centre and shop.

Having released its first product last month – a blended malt containing whisky that had been carried to the South Pole, Ardgowan will next year release a series of single and blended malts with Lowland flavour profiles that are ‘indicative of Ardgowan distillery’s future output’.

The limited edition malts will be aged for seven to eight years, and priced at around £50 per bottle.

November 2017 b
Plans to build a single malt distillery on the Ardgowan Estate west of Glasgow have been boosted by the award of nearly £1m from the Scottish Government.

Lowland plant: The new Ardgowan distillery is planned for a former sawmill
The £982,000 award from the government’s Food Processing, Marketing and Co-operation (FPMC) grant scheme will help pay for construction of the new £12m Ardgowan distillery and visitor centre.

Building work is now due to begin in 2018, with the Lowland distillery scheduled to be completed by 2020.

As well as the distillery and visitor centre, the plans for a former sawmill near Inverkip – given the go-ahead by Inverclyde Council earlier this year – also include a café/restaurant, a gin still, a microbrewery and space for corporate events.

‘This £12m project will move Inverclyde up the rankings for food and drink production in Scotland,’ said Ardgowan Distillery CEO Martin McAdam.

‘During construction the project will support 35 jobs and contribute over £2m to the local economy.’

Once operation, the distillery will support six full-time jobs, as well as up to 15 jobs in the visitor centre. It claims that it will create about 47 jobs in the wider local economy in the first five years.

Industry veteran Willie Phillips, who headed Macallan for nearly 20 years, was appointed chairman of the Ardgowan business earlier this year, with former Bruichladdich and Springbank director Gordon Wright engaged as advisor on commercial development and sales.

Distilling expert Prof Michael Egan – formerly with Diageo – has been taken on to review the new distillery’s process engineering design.

The original Ardgowan distillery was founded in 1896 in Baker Street, Greenock, but only made whisky for a few years before being used to produce grain spirit and industrial alcohol, until it was destroyed in the May Blitz of 1941.

March 2017
A new £12 million Lowlands distillery on the Ardgowan Estate at Inverkip has been given the go-ahead, although developers are seeking additional funding before construction gets underway.

Historical home: Ardgowan distillery will occupy the site of an old sawmill on the Ardgowan Estate
Inverclyde Council approved plans to transform an old sawmill on the estate into the ‘world-class’ Ardgowan distillery and visitor centre yesterday (2 March), which will produce both peated and unpeated Lowland malt whisky.

The site developer – the Ardgowan Distillery Company – anticipates the distillery to be operational in 2019. Upon opening, Ardgowan will be capable of producing 830,000 litres of spirit per year, although plans will allow for future expansion, allowing production to increase to 1.6 million litres of spirit.

The proposals also include plans for a café/restaurant, a gin still and a microbrewery, as well as space for corporate events.

The project will also resurrect the Ardgowan distillery name, following the destruction of the original site in Greenock which was heavily bombed during the May Blitz in 1941.

The new Ardgowan distillery will be sited on Ardgowan Estate, owned by Sir Ludovic ‘Ludo’ Shaw-Stewart, and which has historical ties to Robert the Bruce, who fought in the area twice, and Pocahontas – Michael Shaw Stewart, fifth Baronet of Ardgowan Estate married Eliza Farquhar in 1819, who was a direct descendant of the Native American princess.

Construction is expected to begin in December 2017, although the group has said advancement ‘depends on the progress in fundraising’.

Martin McAdam, CEO of Ardgowan Distillery Company and founding shareholder in Fife distillery Kingsbarns, said now planning permission is in place the group expects to begin fundraising ‘in earnest’.

He said: ‘In the coming weeks we will commence detailed design and procurement work for the construction of the distillery, and this will give us the opportunity to engage with local businesses and the public in order to develop our plan and start to employ the staff that will be engaged during the construction and operational stage.’

In order to build the distillery and see it through its first few years, the company hopes to raise £17 million through equity shares as well as loans and grant funding.

‘We have a tremendous team on board and are now looking for our next round of investors who can join us on this very exciting journey,’ McAdams added.

Last month former Macallan managing director Willie Philips was appointed chairman of Ardgowan Distillery Company, while ex-Bruichladdich and Springbank director Gordon Wright, and former Diageo distilling engineer Michael Egan, have both joined the project as consultants.

McAdams commented: ‘These new signings give us tremendous strength in two key areas. Michael brings cutting-edge expertise in distillery process design, whilst Gordon has a stellar track record in building export sales for niche whisky brands. Together they can help us make and market an outstanding and exclusive new Lowland single malt whisky.’

The team intends to release a peated 4-year-old and unpeated 5-year-old in Ardgowan’s early years, before a ‘premium’ 7-year-old Lowland single malt ‘with a distinctive taste and flavour given its proximity to the sea,’ is launched around 2026.  

September 2018
Ardgowan distillery has released its first bottling, a limited edition 20-year-old blended malt containing whisky that has visited the South Pole.

Robert Swan OBE with Ardgowan Expedition bottle and presentation case
On the rocks: Explorer Robert Swan, OBE poses with a bottle of Ardgowan Expedition
Polar explorer Robert Swan and his team carried an aluminium flask of unidentified malt whisky provided by Ardgowan on their low-carbon Antarctic expedition, the South Pole Energy Challenge.

On the team’s return, the whisky was added to a blend of Speyside and Highland malts to create Ardgowan Expedition.

Only 600 bottles of the limited edition whisky have been created, one for each mile of the explorers’ South Pole journey.

Ardgowan chairman Willie Phillips said: ‘By combining the richness of Speyside and whiskies from the north coast, and marrying in Sherry casks, the blend has an opening sweetness and a pleasant mouth feel – perhaps a little peppery undiluted – and a finish that reminds one of its age.’

Bottled at 46% abv, the whisky is housed in a wooden presentation case, while the 70cl bottle itself resembles an aluminium flask and has been signed by Philips, who rose to prominence in the whisky industry as the former managing director of Macallan.

Ardgowan Expedition is available for £500 either through Ardgowan’s website or via whisky and cigar retailer Robert Graham.  

Ardgowan will follow the launch of Expedition with a series of limited edition malts priced at around £50, which are set to be released later in the year.

Ardgowan has received full planning permission to build its new £12m distillery on the Ardgowan Estate near the Firth of Clyde, with construction set to begin in early 2019.

May 2019
New Lowland distillery Ardgowan has appointed Edrington veteran Max McFarlane as its whisky maker.

Whisky maker: McFarlane brings 25 years of experience at Edrington to Ardgowan
McFarlane worked for 25 years as whisky maker at Edrington and oversaw the quality and consistency of several of its brands, including Famous Grouse, Cutty Sark and Highland Park.

He will work to establish Ardgowan’s spirit style, a ‘coastal Lowland malt of real character’, as well as create a new series of sourced Scotch whiskies for release this autumn.

Ardgowan, which is located in McFarlane’s hometown of Inverkip in the Inverclyde area, is on track to open its £12 million distillery in 2020.

The distillery aims to eventually release a flagship seven-year-old whisky alongside a range of younger single malts.

‘When I first heard there would be a new distillery in Inverkip I knew immediately I wanted to be involved,’ said McFarlane. ‘I have long thought that Inverclyde is a natural area for a distillery.

‘It’s en route to the islands, it’s near the sea and I think this will help us create a coastal Lowland malt of real character.

‘Of course, this will be a number of years away, but our new series will give us something to enjoy while we wait.’

McFarlane confirmed the new series of sourced whiskies will feature a single malt, a blended malt and a grain from distilleries located throughout Scotland.

‘It will be the first of a series of affordable and accessible quality whiskies which we will issue in the years ahead,’ McFarlane added.

Commenting on the appointment, Ardgowan CEO Martin McAdam stated: ‘Max is an expert in assessing new make spirit and he is also working with the team at Ardgowan on our wood policy and production schedule.

‘By bringing Max on board now, and whilst we wait for our own product, we can showcase some really great-tasting, quality whiskies to establish the Ardgowan brand and give a sense of the kind of spirit the distillery will produce in the years ahead.’

Once operational, Ardgowan distillery will be capable of producing up to one million litres of spirit each year.

However the building has been designed to allow for future expansion, which could double the output of the distillery.

A separate visitor centre, featuring a farm shop, microbrewery, café and restaurant will be incorporated into existing buildings on the Bankfoot estate, where Ardgowan is situated.

September 2019
After 44 years at Edrington, whisky maker Max McFarlane recently joined the yet-to-be constructed Ardgowan distillery

New direction: After 44 years at Edrington, Ardgowan was ‘a match made in heaven’ for McFarlane
‘I’m a great believer that if you don’t have great casks, you won’t have good whisky. So we have to protect the trees. The industry puts another three trees, on average, back into the soil for every one felled for casks. It’s sustainable at the moment, but because of the popularity of Scotch whisky the world over, there’s going to be a push for more. Scottish oak is absolutely useless because it’s difficult to mature whisky in, so the industry is currently looking at the forests in eastern Europe.

‘It was 44 years ago when I first started at Edrington (then Robertson & Baxter). I started in finance, but was soon working in the sample room nosing whiskies from Famous Grouse, Highland Park, Glenrothes, Cutty Sark and Glenturret. I was never on the fence – it was either good enough to go into the blend, or it wasn’t. Right up until March this year I was the nose for all of those, conducting sensory analyses and quality control.

‘To manage popular and long-running whiskies, the first step is to find a bodega in Spain or a cooperage elsewhere to provide you with casks you can rely on. It’s not rocket science – you don’t have an industry if you don’t have a good ongoing source of casks.

‘From there, the next step is to check your new spirit – at Ardgowan, I’m nosing the new spirit running off the stills to make sure it’s of a quality I would anticipate will mature really well. Combine the two and with a bit of luck, a few years down the line you’ll have a great single malt.

Ardgowan’s Inverkip location is said to have a ‘unique microclimate’

‘Ardgowan, for me, is like a match made in heaven. I live in Inverkip where the distillery project has been proposed, so it was a natural move for me. I expect us to break ground next year and be operational within two years of that,  but I’ll be able to walk to the distillery from my house.

‘Although we are a Lowland distillery, we are on the coast have a unique microclimate as a result of the Gulf Stream. I actually got Mr Willie Philips [former Macallan managing director, now Ardgowan chairman] into the company as well. We now have a great team on board with Willie and Professor Michael Egan – who designed Teeling distillery and headed up the Guinness brewery in Dublin – so we are in great hands.

‘Ardgowan’s new Coppersmith blended malt is a project I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. It’s a pretty unique whisky – all the single malts going in are from first-fill Sherry casks, which is unique in the industry. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I’m pretty sure the next one in the series will be first-fill Sherry cask again, but with a different selection of single malts going into it.

‘The things I look for in a great whisky are a great nose, natural colour and non-chill-filtering. First and foremost, before you even drink it, there’s the nose. I understand some people can smell very little, but for me, the first thing you look for is great, multi-layered aromas. I’ve nosed nearly every single whisky in Scotland at one time or another.

Ardgowan’s Coppersmith blended malt is McFarlane’s first project

‘Next is non-chill-filtering. I do believe chill-filtering strips flavour from a whisky, without doubt. Often, non-chill-filtered whiskies are above 48% abv and have no added spirit caramel. If whisky makers add enough water that it goes below that abv, they’ll likely need to filter to ensure the whisky remains consistent. However, chill-filtering removes fatty acids in the whisky, which does strip it of some taste.

‘Finally, natural colour. Caramel is necessary when you look at huge products like Famous Grouse, when you need the same colour with every bottle and it doesn’t add an awful lot to the whisky, so its use is understandable. But I like the idea of natural colour, it’s a big thing for me.

‘Scottish people need to get educated about whisky, employment, and how important it is for communities. Whisky employs a whole lot of people in communities across Scotland and around the world. It’s an industry we cannot do without, but I’ve had Scottish people in the sample room who’ve never tasted a drop of Scotch. It’s an education thing. The more people understand how important it is for Scottish people and Scotland, the better. We must protect it.’

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