Uile-bheist distillery and brewery opens in Inverness

Uile-bheist distillery and brewery opens in Inverness

Pictured (L-R): Master distiller Bruce Smith with owners Victoria and Jon Erasmus (credit: Heartland Media and PR)

Inverness’ first distillery in 130 years has officially opened, reconnecting the highland capital with its proud but lost whisky and brewing history.

The £7.5 million Uile-bheist distillery and brewery on River Ness, powered by a low carbon sustainability centre on site, is expected to attract 100 tour visits per day in peak season.

Future phases will see the creation of a distilling ‘campus’, with increased capacity, a bonded warehouse with shopping plus enhanced tap room, tasting and visitor spaces.

Inverness, once Scotland’s malting hub, was home to the Glen Mhor, Glen Albyn and Millburn distilleries, with rare bottles still fetching high prices. However, the distilleries were all shut in the infamous ‘whisky loch’ days of the 80s, when global production outstripped petering demand, leading to closures across the highlands.

Uile-bheist, Gaelic for ‘monster’, is the first distillery to open in the city since 1892, with the first sought-after casks being filled in the coming days. Its signature five craft ales will be ready by early April.

“Our scale is craft, not volume. Our clean energy process, using shallow water wells, has been described as exemplary,” said owner Jon Erasmus, whose first application for a brewery on the current Ness bank site was knocked back in 2014.

Mr Erasmus continued: “It’s great to bring whisky distilling and brewing back to the city but we also wanted a high level of design specification throughout, from the stills to the dramming area, to the tap room.

“If people have travelled from New York or Tokyo, or if they’ve seen a lot of other distilleries, we want them to come here and think: I really like what they’ve done, here. Everything is photogenic.”

Water and energy for Uile-bheist’s whisky production comes from the River Ness through a pioneering district heating system which uses shallow water wells to fire heat pumps; a system being eyed by local authorities.

Water is treated by fluorescent light with the only grid requirement being electricity, partly provided by the glass-fronted building’s roof-top solar installations.

The production of the low carbon whisky and craft beer comes through a dual technology developed by, and imported from, famous German brewing innovators and coppersmiths, Kaspar Schulz.

Master Brewer, Bruce Smith, who previously worked for Innis & Gunn, said: “We are using an efficient set-up which effectively ‘shares’ the equipment up to a point in the initial process, with some subtle differences in recipe and process. Thereafter the processes for the craft beer and the whisky obviously differ significantly.

“With our whisky, we are looking to forge our own path. We are not going to bind ourselves to traditions of the 1800s. We want to be a little experimental. Basically, we will release the first whisky only when we are proud of it and feel it truly represents the brand.”

Uile-bheist enlisted Melbourne-based pop culture illustrator, Ken Taylor, who has worked with Jack White, The Pixies and Pearl Jam, to design their ‘monster’ motif.

Large scale installations by the designer, who also created posters for films Up, Pikachu and How To Train Your Dragon, adorn the tap room and tour space walls.

Mr Erasmus said: “Whisky tourism has changed massively in the last 5 years.

“You have Johnnie Walker on Edinburgh’s Princes Street and Macallan investing heavily in visitor experience. It is pointless doing this unless your emphasis is on quality.”

Uile-bheist will produce 200-300 casks of Highland Single Malt per year, rising to 500-600 in development Phase 3.

Around 350 000 litres of craft beer a year will be produced on-site, piped directly to their visitor tap room, adjacent to the brewing floor.

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