18 May 2024
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Four innovative new whisky distilleries set to open in 2023

From a towering tribute to Scotch whisky in Edinburgh to a modern masterpiece sprawling down a mountainside in China, we take a look at the world’s most exciting new whisky distilleries set to open their doors in 2023

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Port of Leith Distillery, Edinburgh

Rising up from the waterfront beside the Royal Yacht Britannia, this impressive project in Edinburgh’s historic port is Scotland’s first vertical distillery. The venture from the duo behind Lind and Lime gin distillery promises an innovative approach both to whisky-making and to distillery architecture. 

The urban site is in stark contrast to the traditional image of Scotch distilleries – there are no rolling hills and lush fields – instead, the architects have designed a mini whisky skyscraper which pierces the clouds above the city. The commanding nine-storey structure houses both the whisky production facilities – grain milling and mashing at the top, down through fermentation, to distillation at the bottom – and a rooftop bar which will offer spectacular views out across the water to the Fife coast.

Founders and co-CEOs Ian Stirling and Paddy Fletcher are self-confessed whisky fanatics who have been on quite a journey from experimenting with whisky production in their back garden to launching this much anticipated £12 million distillery. Their journey has taken them on a deep exploration of the flavours of Scotch whisky and how they are created – particularly with regards to yeast and fermentation. The whisky they will ultimately produce promises to be something unique in flavour and complexity. To be first in line to try it, you can join their Quality Control Division, offering an 8 year membership with exclusive tastings and events, including an invitation to the opening festivities. It’s sure to be quite the celebration.

Chuan Malt Whisky Distillery, China

The Chinese whisky industry may be in its infancy but with local demand soaring, the big boys are responding with mega-investments. Costing an eye-watering $150m, Pernod Ricard’s gargantuan Chuan Malt Whisky Distillery is a breathtaking architectural gem. 

Set against the dramatic backdrop of Mount Emei, a UNESCO World Heritage site, the distillery project was designed by award-winning architects Neri&Hu. The design combines local influences – the pitched roofs and clay tiles of the production facilities – with a more modern aesthetic used throughout the visitor centre. This impressive area – due to open later in 2023 – features a subterranean round tasting room, open square courtyard restaurant and winding pathways which are specially plotted down the natural slope of the landscape to offer the best panoramas of the Liu creek below, and mountain peak above. 

While Pernod Ricard have revealed details of the distillery, the whisky itself is a far more mysterious proposition. Philippe Guettat, Chairman and CEO of Pernod Ricard Asia, said: “Our master distiller, Yang Tao, has been working with our heritage master distillers in Scotland to bring the most authentic whisky making know-how into China, while leveraging the pristine water source of Emei, renowned for its utmost quality.” With production already underway, it is hoped the distillery’s first whisky will have reached perfect maturation in time for the arrival of the first visitors. Tick tock.

ili distillery, Islay

With a target capacity of 200,000 litres per year, iii will be the smallest of Islay’s many whisky distilleries but it has pretty big ambitions – namely to be highly sustainable and carbon-neutral from the outset. 

Designed to blend into the landscape of Gearach Farm near Port Charlotte, the distillery will include a hydrogen plant, solar panels, battery storage and wind turbine, making the venture almost totally off-grid. However, the project’s small scale and subtle footprint contrast with its bold architecture. The modern drum-shaped design of the main building is  intended to deliberately juxtapose with the traditional rectangular, white-walled, shed-type distilleries so common across Islay. Alan Higgs Architects took inspiration from similarly circular buildings, such as lighthouses, Bowmore Church, duns, brochs and an unusual 1820 steading nearby to come up with the striking single-storey design.

“The distillery will form a part of Islay’s legacy of whisky production, with a range of important benefits for the local area,” the team has stated. “It will be highly sustainable from the outset through the inclusion of renewable energy generation on-site, and will represent a long-term and sustainable diversification of the existing farm operation.” With planning permission coming through at the tail-end of 2022, completion will likely be towards the end of 2023 and we’re yet to hear more about the whisky which will be produced onsite. However, with such thoughtful design and honourable intentions, we’re pretty sure it will be worth the wait.

Scapegrace, New Zealand

Scapegrace new whisky distillery 2023

Another project striving for sustainability is a new home for the already established Scapegrace Distilling Company. Seeking to upsize and seriously upscale, the brand is hoping to create the largest distillery project in New Zealand this year.

Located within an 88-hectare plot overlooking Lake Dunstan, the £13 million distillery boasts a dramatic backdrop spanning Mount Pisa and the Bendigo mountains. Aiming to be carbon neutral, the distillery will be powered by electrode boilers while the building itself will be constructed from sustainable timber. A regenerative planting programme will also see NZD$150,000 worth of native Kanuka trees replanted on the site, and visitors will be encouraged to explore the land around the property which features remnants of historic gold mines.

With construction already underway, the distillery should be completed in October 2023, and open to the public from November. As for the whisky itself, expectations are high. Founded by brothers-in-law Daniel McLaughlin and Mark Neal, Scapegrace made its name in gin (in particular, a headline grabbing colour-changing black gin and an award-winning London Dry Gin) and they announced the launch of a limited-edition range of single malts at the end of 2022 to an enthusiastic audience. 

“We have the facilities and natural resources to create some of the best whisky in the world and we are so excited to finally be delivering on our promise,” said McLaughlin. The first range features four bottlings: Rise I and Chorus II, both of which are aged in virgin French oak, Revenant III, made with Manuka smoked laureate grains, and Timbre IV which is aged in Bulgarian oak. World whisky lovers (including us) are keen to get their hands on some.

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