Islay toast as whisky comes full cycle

THE FIRST new distillery on Islay for 124 years will open next month, to complete an 800-year cycle that returns whisky-making to its historical roots in Scotland.

The 1 million Kilchoman farm distillery will produce Scotch from the barley to the bottle, using ingredients grown on the island that is the birthplace of the national drink.

And Rockside farm, where a new single malt will be produced, is on the very spot where it began nearly a millennium ago.

It is recorded that Agnes, daughter of C-maige, Baron of Ulster, arrived on Islay 800 years ago, accompanied by a physician named MacBeth, who brought with him a recipe for the "water of life". Agnes married Angus Og - young Angus - Lord of the Isles, whose summer residence overlooked Machir Bay at Kilchoman.

Angus and MacBeth pioneered production of Uisge Beatha .

The new distillery has been in the making since 2001 when Anthony Wills, the founder and managing director, came up with the concept.

With the increased international demand for limited edition bottling of single malts, Mr Wills believes that the timing is right for the ultimate, self-sufficient distillery.

Kilchoman, which is situated on the west coast of the island, will be opened on 3 June during the Islay Whisky Festival.

The new spirit will be produced in the traditional "peaty" Islay style unique to the island.

"Production will begin by the end of June," said Mr Wills, who added: "Kilchoman is the only distillery in Scotland that will be able to claim that every step of production is carried out on site from the barley to the bottle."

The barley is being grown at Rockside farm by Mr Wills's partner, Mark French. Mr Wills said: "Production will be small compared with other island distilleries and in the first year we will produce 35,000 litres of alcohol, equivalent to 80,000 bottles. That will increase threefold in eight years."

Kilchoman will offer 25 per cent of each year's production in cask to private customers. In the first year, that will amount to 60 casks.

"There has already been great interest in the scheme," added Mr Wills.

A shop, caf and visitor centre, describing the story of farm distilling on Islay from its illicit beginnings to legislation, will be part of the operation.

It will chart the production of whisky from Agnes's arrival to the present. Mr French, who has been farming on Islay for 28 years, said: "We're committed to traditions that made Islay famous.

"The whisky will be hand-made, produced, bottled and bonded. Residue will feed cattle and waste will go on the land."

Mr French has already won international accolades for his production of specialist foods, such as smoked beef. He hopes to produce a version marinated in Kilchoman whisky.

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