A SCOTTISH distillery which has not produced whisky for nearly 100 years, and for 82 years produced only porridge, is to fill its first cask this week -- thanks to the dream of a professor to see the water of life flow once again in Dumfries-shire.
The rebirth of the old Annandale Distillery and its transformation into a 21st century whisky-making centre and visitor attraction is underway - and the distillery will throw open its doors on Saturday to invite visitors in for a look.
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The listed building has been painstakingly refurbished over three years, and will once again produce single malt Scotch whisky after a 95 year absence.
Production of whisky started last week, but the first cask will not be filled until this Saturday.
The first fill cask will be matured at the distillery for a minimum of 10 years in a 2nd-fill American white oak bourbon barrel.
The £10.5 million development has employed 16 people in the region, with plans to recruit additional staff for peak tourism seasons.
Re-establishing the distillery has been a long-term ambition for Dumfries-born Professor David Thomson, 59, a scientist, and Teresa Church, 55, a nutritionist.
They bought the old distillery in 2007 and began restoration in 2011 - describing their special project as a “labour of love”.
The married couple also own MMR Research Worldwide, a global sensory and consumer research company.
Although the distillery is “something of a departure” from their normal area of work, it is one which is fuelled by their passion for Thomson’s home region and a fascination with whisky production in the region.
The historic Annandale Distillery was orginally built by George Donald, an excise man from Elgin, who ran it in its first whisky era circa 1836 -1883.
The tenancy was then passed to John Gardner, the son of a former mayor of Liverpool in 1883, and finally Johnnie Walker acquired it in 1893.
From 1924 to 2007 it was owned by the Robinson family, who were producing the then-famous “Provost” brand of porridge oats from their mills in Annan with the distillery maltings, kiln and mash house used as a drying plant for the oats - and in an even greater indignity, the bonded warehouses were used for housing cattle.
Professor Thomson said: “The transformation has been quite spectacular. It came about by virtue of the fact that I was very interested in doing a project like this.
“I thought does Scotland need another single malt distillery? - and I decided yes.
“I looked at the area and there is nothing down there, did a bit of research and it gave indication that Annandale Distillery might still be there but could be in poor condition - which it was.
“It had been essentially forgotten.”
He added: “I suppose the interesting thing is that there is no reason at all why really good whisky cannot be made in the South of Scotland.
“It was a combination of these things - the ambition to bring whisky production back to the area.
“Teresa has been quite a driving force behind the project. She encouraged me very strongly, and she has been very supportive throughout.
“She always thought it was a good idea, she very much convinced me we should do it.
“Apart from our master distiller, everyone is being employed locally and trained locally. The visitor centre will be opening on the 17th November.
“We are going to make a smokey, peaky whisky - which we know was historically made at Annandale Distillery. We are also going to make a complex whisky - we are looking for characterful whisky.”
The two styles of whisky that the re-born Annandale Distillery will produce will honour two of Scotland’s most iconic figures, both with strong ties to the Annandale area.
The smoky, peaty “Man O’ Sword” is to be the “single malt whisky of kings”, inspired by Scotland’s most famous warrior king and 7th Earl of Annandale Robert the Bruce.
The other whisky, the non-smoky “Man O’ Words”, pays tribute to Scotland’s national bard, Robert Burns.
The names are anagrams of each other.
Neither will be available for sale until early 2018 - as they have to be matured for a minimum of three years.
The project incorporates local cultural knowledge, too, for Annandale Distillery’s branding is a tribute to Annan’s rich maritime history and ship building heritage, with the ‘A’ of Annandale in the image of a billowing sail.
Between 1830 and 1930 over 2.5 million people emigrated from Scotland, many of them leaving from Annan and the other Solway ports. .
Mr Thomson added: “We want to create a sense of belonging that links Annandale Distillery with local people, with whisky enthusiasts around the world and with people of Scottish heritage living anywhere on this planet.”
Visitors will be offered different tour options and can meet master distiller, Malcolm Rennie, formerly of the Kilchoman Distillery, Islay.
The woodwork and furniture at the distillery has been made by Kirkcudbright master craftsman, Ian Cameron-Smith.
There is also a Coffee Shop and retail area.
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