Shetland may yet become host to the country’s most northerly whisky distillery, if plans by one industry insider come to fruition.
The idea, which is so far at a “very early stage of development”, has come from Stuart Nickerson, who runs The Malt Whisky Company, based in Banffshire. He has identified Saxa Vord in Unst as a potential site for a “boutique distillery” and has made contact with the SIC to begin exploring the feasibility of the project.
Mr Nickerson has been involved in the whisky industry since the early 1980s, working in “various jobs and with various companies” since then. That has included time as distillery manager at Highland Park in Orkney, and, more recently, as managing director of Glenglassaugh, on the Moray coast.
Glenglassaugh was an ambitious and ultimately very successful project. The distillery had been mothballed for 22 years until 2008, but under Mr Nickerson’s management it was brought back to life and back into profit, before being sold earlier this year.
Mr Nickerson said he was well aware of the previous failed distillery plan in Shetland, but stressed that, other than having provided some consultancy services to Blackwoods, he was “not connected at all” with the company.
He believes that project failed for a number of reasons – most importantly, he said, it was “oversized for today’s marketplace …The growth for distilleries is in smaller-sized, boutique distilleries”.
Shetland offers a tantalising prospect for the whisky industry. It has “unique selling points”, being the most northerly part of the UK; it has good infrastructure and available buildings; and it is “probably the last part of Scotland that hasn’t been developed for distilleries”.
Unlike Blackwoods, however, Mr Nickerson seems more concerned with establishing the feasibility of the project rather than trumpeting his plans and making promises he cannot keep.
He believes his idea is workable, but said “the first thing is to ensure that we do things correctly, if it’s going to go ahead, with Shetland Islands Council.
“The next stage would definitely be to come and speak to people locally about it.”
Sonny Priest, who runs the Valhalla Brewery at Saxa Vord, said he believes a whisky distillery would be “an excellent idea”, and he felt sure it could be a positive thing for Unst and for Shetland.
“It would work in well with what we’re doing here”, he added.