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Dornoch Distillery unveils ambitious plans for £7m eco-friendly distillery and visitor centre: Developers say it would create jobs and bring visitors to the town


By Caroline McMorran

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Dornoch Distillery is set to unveil ambitious plans for a £7million, eco-friendly whisky distillery complex which it is hoped will attract visitors to the town and create employment.

Designs are to be showcased to local residents in a four-day community consultation exercise, starting on Sunday.

An aerial view of the planned new distillery complex.
An aerial view of the planned new distillery complex.

The development is planned to go on a 7.5 acre site at Dornoch South previously owned by Aberdeen and Northern Marts (ANM) and purchased for the community by Dornoch Area Community Interest Company (DACIC) in March 2021.

Plans include a two-storey new distillery, warehouses and a low-lying solar farm and wetland system. An existing old gas works building, dating back to the 1880s, would be transformed into a visitor centre with a tasting bar and shop.

DACIC chairperson Joan Bishop said: “DACIC is fully supportive of these plans which will allow a local business to expand in a sustainable way, creating good quality jobs and attracting more visitors.”

Brothers Simon and Philip Thompson, whose family run the Castle Hotel, established Dornoch Distillery in 2017, operating out of the town’s historic old fire station. It is thought to be the smallest distillery in Scotland.

Dornoch Distillery founders Philip and Simon Thompson.
Dornoch Distillery founders Philip and Simon Thompson.

The main income for the business is releasing independent bottlings of rum and whisky whilst the casks of Dornoch distillery spirit are maturing.

The business has grown exponentially and now exports to 12 countries worldwide. A bottling and logistics plant has been opened in a former slater’s yard along with a shop in Unit 3c at Dornoch Industrial Estate.

Simon said: “We have had it in our minds for years that at some point we would look to build a bigger distillery and we wanted to keep it either in or around Dornoch.

“When the opportunity to get the gas works and also to make the deal for the surrounding land came up, that set the ball rolling.”

The gasworks as it currently looks.
The gasworks as it currently looks.
It is intended to turn Dornoch's historic old gasworks into a visitor centre with tasting bar and shop.
It is intended to turn Dornoch's historic old gasworks into a visitor centre with tasting bar and shop.
It is intended to turn Dornoch's historic old gasworks into a visitor centre with tasting bar and shop.
It is intended to turn Dornoch's historic old gasworks into a visitor centre with tasting bar and shop.

It is hoped to approach private investors to help with the multi-million funding required, but the brothers have not yet ruled out at some point using the same successful crowdfunding model as they did to set up the distillery.

The new premises will enable production to be increased from a current 30,000 bottles (50c) of whisky a year to around 315,000 70c bottles. In addition the distillery produces 10,000 bottles of organic gin.

The Thompsons estimate their eight-strong workforce would need to double in size.

“There will be plenty of jobs available in everything from production to bottling, logistics, shop and tours,” said Simon.

Particular attention is being paid to the development’s green credentials and the most up-to-date technology is planned, new to the distilling industry, to make it as energy efficient and low carbon as possible.

Philip said: “If everything goes to plan, we will have a distillery capable of operating off grid with no external energy requirements. We are hoping the distillery will be a showcase in terms of the latest technology.”

The new distillery would showcase for the latest energy efficient and low carbon technology.
The new distillery would showcase for the latest energy efficient and low carbon technology.

An existing pathway through the area used by walkers will remain, although it will be shifted slightly to the west.

The community consultation is to be held at the Dornoch Hub with local residents encouraged to view the plans, ask questions and give feedback.

Philip said: “We see this as a heritage business for Dornoch and we want it still to be functioning in 100-200 years’ time. We want to make sure people are happy with what we want to do.”

The Thompsons are also keen to establish Dornoch, which also has the Carnegie Whisky Cellars, as a “whisky destination”.

Mrs Bishop said: “DACIC had previously planned to have a golf driving range on site so the proposed change needs to receive the support of the local community in order to satisfy the requirements of the Scottish Land Fund, who provided DACIC with the grant to purchase the land.

It is hoped to lodge an application for planning consent with Highland Council next month. If consent is granted, a start on the development could be made by next summer with a provisional completion date of summer 2024.


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