SCOTLAND's first "private club" whisky distillery begins construction at Ladybank near St Andrews today, in an initial £1m construction phase, to be funded by subscriptions from a network of whisky enthusiasts throughout the world.
The Ladybank Company of Distillers Club, the brainchild of web design entrepreneur and whisky expert James Thomson (46), is to be built on the site of a deserted farm steading, and will have a production capacity of 35,000 litres per annum.
Emphasising quality over yield, the management of the new distillery claim that they will be "working with the industry's best chemical analysts to produce a unique range of single malts that combine the latest whisky production technology with bygone craft traditions". It is planned that the membership will be closely involved in production decisions such as length of ageing and type of casking, affecting the taste of the product.
Thomson, who ran a whisky distilling school for international connoisseurs at Bladnoch in Dumfries and Galloway, explained that the idea for a "co-creative" distillery came from his disillusionment with the distilling and production practices of an industry dominated by "inflexible multinational conglomerates", and his experience of training enthusiasts in the art of distilling.
"I used to look after people from around the world taking them on tastings and distillery tours which led to teaching them to make their own whisky at the Whisky School. Such was the enjoyment they derived from distilling their own, that I saw a gap in the market.
"The idea of 'co-creation' - getting consumers involved at every stage of the production process - is increasingly popular in marketing these days. It is the distilling equivalent of the 'user-generated content', or blogging".
Joining the Distillers Club, which is limited to 1,250 members, will entitle participants - or their heirs - to six bottles of whisky per year for the next 30 years, a total of 300 bottles. The 300 existing members have each paid a one-off fee of 3,250 for membership, though subsequent members will pay slightly more, along with a subscription.
Thomson claims that the distillery, which will also make gin and other spirits and which will cost a total of 2.5m to complete and fit out, will have a "strong hospitality function for our members".
He added: "We are laying it out so that it will be suited to small groups who come to learn how to make whisky, and that role has very much fed into the way we have designed it."
"We are not just creating a distillery but we are also creating the home of the brand. Because of this, and because we have a 50-year lease on the property, we are being very careful that it is built to the highest specifications."
Location is the key
WHY choose Ladybank as the home of the smallest production plant on the distilling map of Scotland? Fife after all has never been a whisky heartland. "Location location location," says Thomson. "It is equidistant between Edinburgh and Gleneagles, and many of our members - who come from 30 different countries - come to nearby St Andrews anyway to play golf."
Thomson, educated at Glenalmond and Aberdeen University, and who "got closer to whisky consumers" via his work as a whisky company web designer, argues there is no significant value attached to the traditional centres of Scotch production such as Speyside and Islay. "With modern whisky chemistry, the water source is irrelevant. Also, I wanted a name that people could pronounce and remember."