Bid to revive Thurso distillery after 135-year gap

27th April 2012 from John O'Groat Journal

Plans are being made to bring back to life a Caithness whisky distillery that was closed down 135 years ago.

A private consortium has announced its intention to re-establish Wolfburn Distillery, on the outskirts of Thurso.

An application has been lodged with the Highland Council. If permission is granted, it is hoped construction will begin during the summer, with the first casks being laid down at the beginning of next year.

Wolfburn Distillery development manager Stephen Light told the John O’Groat Journal the new firm would create five jobs initially but hoped to expand to a workforce of 10.

“It is our firm intention to establish a new distillery near Wolfburn’s original site, subject to planning permission,” he said.

“The idea came about as across Scotland it is becoming a well-trodden path that abandoned distilleries are being brought back to life.

“After some investigation we discovered that the burn runs alongside Thurso Business Park where there was vacant land available - therefore it was ideal for our plan.

“We’ve purchased the land from Highlands and Islands Enterprise and we’ve spoken to civil engineers and fabricators in researching how to physically put a distillery on site.

“All of this is planning ahead and we’ve now submitted drawings and plans from the architects to the Highland Council for its consideration.”

The distillery would be built about 350m from the original Wolfburn building, which closed in 1877. The ruins can still be seen today.

The development would consist of three new buildings - the distillery itself along with two warehouses.

The distillery would draw its water from the Wolf Burn, as did the original building which was constructed in 1821. It was owned by William Smith and was passed down through subsequent generations of the Smith family in the 19th century.

Although little remains of the original distillery, parts of it will be incorporated into the development.

The buildings are to be constructed by Forsyths of Rothes and Wolfburn Distillery aims to produce a single malt that will appeal to the global market.

Mr Light said the whisky industry had fared well in the recession and he hoped Wolfburn could capitalise on emerging markets abroad.

“We are looking to make a high-quality malt that can sell on the international market,” he said.

“There are increasing numbers of markets around the world, especially in the Far East, where Scottish whisky is in huge demand.

“The primary aim of the business is to become a successful whisky distillery, but we are also looking to make a significant investment in Thurso and the surrounding area by creating permanent jobs.”

Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MP John Thurso welcomed the proposal and said that, if approved, it would be a positive move for the local economy.

“Any new investment which will result in permanent jobs in Caithness is very worthwhile,” he said. “With the consortium planning to create more employment opportunities in the future, it can only be seen as good news.”

John O'Groat Journal