Plans lodged for carbon neutral distillery on Islay

A representation of how the new ili distillery will look once built. Image: Schmidt Massie Studio and Design by Alan Higgs Architects

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The planning application for a new whisky distillery on Islay has been submitted, with the aspiration that it be carbon neutral in its operation.

The distillery, brainchild of islanders Scott McLellan and Bertram Nesselrode, seeks to provide a long-term and sustainable future for the existing farm operation, whilst creating a distillery of the highest quality that will be a credit to Islay, enhance tourism, generate employment and wider economic opportunities and produce a product that reaches new consumer markets. The proposed distillery will have a target capacity of 200,000 litres per annum, highlighting the smaller, more bespoke approach being taken.

Under the brand ili, a name based on the oldest form of Islay and with a brand identity based on the standing stones which dot the island’s landscape, the plans would represent a substantial investment in the local area, bringing a number of skilled permanent jobs and apprenticeships, in addition to the investment and jobs brought about in the construction phase.

Once opened and in operation, it is anticipated that the distillery would welcome an additional 2,000 visitors annually to Islay, with £1.2m GVA added to the island’s economy. It is also predicated that the distillery would create 23 jobs (including apprenticeships), providing opportunities for young people on Islay and tacking the important issue of rural depopulation affecting many of the Hebridean islands.

Aware that the distillery will benefit from the natural capital and international reputation of Islay, the ili team has been seeking a way to ensure that the local community can also directly benefit from the distillery. A funding model, based on a Community Benefit Fund linked directly to future operation of the distillery is proposed, with a commitment to contribute to a local community fund once the distillery is fully operational.

Speaking about the proposals, Bertram Nesselrode said: ‘We’re really excited to be bringing forward these proposals to create a bold, new, sustainable distillery on Islay. The island has a rich heritage of whisky production, and ili would mark a milestone in this heritage – respecting Islay’s legacy while representing something innovative and contemporary.

‘We believe that Gearach Farm, with its rugged landscape, loch, and working traditions would be the ideal place to make this new venture, and importantly we want to ensure that the whole of the island can benefit, through inward investment and job opportunities, along with our community benefit fund.’

In being carbon neutral in its operation, the ili team is acutely aware of the responsible role distilleries must take in tackling climate change. A feasibility study into the lowest carbon and sustainable operation processes for the distillery has been undertaken, with the long-term aspiration that a range of innovative renewable energy processes, including solar and wind, will power the future operation.

Architecturally ili will fit seamlessly into the surrounding environment in a way that responds to the ancient built forms and local landscape. Inside, the building will open up with large windows displaying beautiful views over the adjacent Gearach Loch. Materials have been chosen to reflect a philosophy of ‘use natural, reduce and source locally’ helping to achieve the goal of net zero embodied carbon. This includes the use of natural building materials where possible, such as locally sourced timber and stone and only using concrete / steel where a natural / low carbon solution is not suitable.