Scotland's illegal whisky heritage to be celebrated

NEW £5.3million visitor attraction to mark Scotland's intriguing illicit whisky history.

Artist's impression of Cabrach heritage centre. Picture: Contributed
Artist's impression of Cabrach heritage centre. Picture: Contributed

A trust set up to regenerate the historic Cabrach region of the North-east today unveiled major plans for a new distillery and heritage centre that will bring both jobs and visitors to this untouched, remote area.

The Cabrach Trust is embarking on a £5.3million fundraising campaign to transform the historic Inverharroch Farm into a visitor attraction, with the aim of putting the Cabrach firmly on the tourist map and marking its place in the story of Scotch whisky.

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Said to be one of the birthplaces of Scotch whisky, the Cabrach – which lies in a scenic area on the southern edge of Moray - is famed for illicit stills and smuggling routes in years gone by.

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The plans for the new distillery, heritage centre and community facilities have been funded through grants from foundations and private individuals, and a major grant application is about to be submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Led by executive director Sue Savege and a board of trustees, The Cabrach Trust was established to facilitate rural regeneration within and around the Cabrach area.

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Sue, whose background is in heritage management and sustainable tourism, said: “The Cabrach is a special location with a rich heritage and culture and we want to share this unique bowl of spectacular, untouched scenery with a wider audience, while facilitating the creation of at least 10 jobs initially and providing a long-term boost to the local economy.

“The planned heritage centre will be the catalyst to revive the community and put the spotlight on the heritage of the Cabrach and its place in Scottish history. We want to celebrate its remoteness and see a vibrant and thriving community in the Cabrach once again, and to bring more people to the area while preserving all that makes it unique.”

The distillery and visitor centre plans at Inverharroch Farm make use of the existing traditional farm steadings and have been designed by a team led by local architects AKA Ltd and interior designers Surface ID. Inverharroch Farm stands on the site of Inverharroch Castle.

The plans include the distilling, maturation and bottling of a unique whisky produced in a replica of an early 19th-century distillery using traditional methods, which will be available for purchase.

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The proposals for the heritage centre include a café, exhibition space for public and private hire and a gift shop, alongside a number of other offerings.

The Trust is also currently acquiring other nearby buildings to convert into accommodation and training facilities that would support the distillery and visitor centre.

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The School House will provide flexible accommodation for up to eight people, while the former primary school – currently home to the Trust and known as the ACORN Centre – will be used as a warehouse and offices for the centre.

The Old Cabrach Hall will be used as a training and meeting venue, which will be available for hire to community groups.

Grant Gordon, chairman of the board of trustees, said: “These are hugely exciting plans and we are delighted to see them officially launched today.

“Our vision is to help develop a thriving community that offers opportunities for both residents and visitors to enrich their lives by enjoying and sharing their surroundings. We believe that the distillery, heritage centre and the associated amenities will establish the Cabrach as a must-see in the North-east, bringing in new people and sustaining the local economy.

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“While the centre celebrates the Cabrach’s place in whisky history and folklore, it is to be built for the future and we hope this will act as the conduit for economic growth and regeneration.”

The plans have been welcomed by Fergus Ewing MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity.

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He said: “Our aim is to grow the rural economy sustainably for the benefit of everyone who lives and works in rural Scotland. Joining up opportunities for tourism, food and drink and employment in this kind of initiative is exciting and the sort of development that could bring significant benefits for the area.

“This commitment will not only help to build economic growth but also enhance the lives of rural communities such as the Cabrach, which should continue to make the most of the landscape and fine produce that Scotland has to offer.”

Richard Lochhead, MSP for Moray, attended the unveiling and added: “The Cabrach is a unique community with such a strong sense of place and rich heritage. The ambitious regeneration plans now officially unveiled promise to open a new chapter in the Cabrach’s powerful story and it is fitting that what is widely believed to be the birthplace of Scotch whisky could soon be home to a new distillery.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the plans develop and will do all I can as the Cabrach’s MSP to help the trust deliver what will no doubt be a massive boost for the local community.”

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Steve Harris, chief executive of VisitAberdeenshire, also welcomed the plans, saying: “Investment of this level in a new whisky visitor attraction would be a welcome addition to the tourism product locally.

“The story of malt whisky from its illicit beginnings to the global industry it has become is one which visitors from across the globe love to learn more about.

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“Whisky remains a key driver for visitors from the UK and overseas to come to this part of Scotland and additional reasons for them to visit should be warmly welcomed.”

A planning application is expected to be submitted later this year, with an estimated completion date of 2020.