Ernie - Ernst Scheiner
Uile-bheist. The Making of Whisky
Updated: Mar 29
INVERNESS DISTILLERY OPENS, REVIVING LOST WHISKY HERITAGE
- new £7.5m low carbon distillery and brewery opens doors -
Press Release March 1st, 2023
Inverness’ first distillery in 130 years has officially opened, reconnecting the highland capital with its proud but lost whisky and brewing history.
The £7.5m Uile-bheist distillery and brewery on River Ness, powered by a low carbon Sustainability centre on site, is tipped to attract 100 tour visits per day in peak season.
Future phases will see the creation of a distilling ‘campus’, with increased capacity, a bonded warehouse with shopping plus enhanced tap room, tasting and visitor spaces.
Inverness, once Scotland’s malting hub, was home to the Glen Mhor, Glen Albyn and Millburn distilleries, with rare bottles still fetching high prices.
However, the distilleries were all shut in the infamous ‘whisky loch’ days of the 80s, when global production outstripped petering demand, leading to closures across the highlands.
Uile-bheist, Gaelic for ‘monster’, is the first distillery to open in the city since 1892, with the first sought-after casks being filled in the coming days.
Its signature 5 craft ales, ready by early April, will be the first beers brewed in Inverness for 34 years.
“Our scale is craft, not volume.
Our clean energy process, using shallow water wells, has been described as exemplary,”
said owner Jon Erasmus, whose first application for a brewery on the current Ness bank site was knocked back in 2014.
“It’s great to bring whisky distilling and brewing back to the city but we also wanted a high level of design specification throughout, from the stills to the dramming area, to the tap room.
If people have travelled from New York or Tokyo, or if they’ve seen a lot of other distilleries, we want them to come here and think: I really like what they’ve done, here.
Everything is photogenic.”
Water and energy for Uile-bheist’s whisky production comes from the River Ness through a pioneering district heating system which uses shallow water wells to fire heat pumps; a system being eyed by local authorities.
Water is treated by fluorescent light with the only grid requirement being electricity, partly provided by the glass-fronted building’s roof-top solar installations.
The production of the low carbon whisky and craft beer comes through a dual technology developed by, and imported from, famous German brewing innovators and coppersmiths, Kaspar Schulz.
“We are using an efficient set-up which effectively ‘shares’ the equipment up to a point in the initial process, with some subtle differences in recipe and process. Thereafter the processes for the craft beer and the whisky obviously differ significantly,” said Master Brewer, Bruce Smith, who last worked for Innis and Gunn.
“With our whisky, we are looking to forge our own path. We are not going to bind ourselves to traditions of the 1800s.
We want to be a little experimental. Basically, we will release the first whisky only when we are proud of it and feel it truly represents the brand.”
Uile-bheist enlisted Melbourne-based pop culture illustrator, Ken Taylor, who has worked with Jack White, The Pixies and Pearl Jam, to design their ‘monster’ motif.
Large scale installations by the designer, who also created posters for films Up, Pikachu and How To Train Your Dragon, adorn the tap room and tour space walls.
“Whisky tourism has changed massively in the last 5 years,” said owner Jon Erasmus, who hopes to attract some of the near 300 000 annual visitors to Inverness, to the distillery.
“You have Johnnie Walker on Edinburgh’s Princes Street and Macallan investing heavily in visitor experience.
It is pointless doing this unless your emphasis is on quality.”
Uile-bheist will produce 200-300 casks of Highland Single Malt per year, rising to 500-600 in development Phase 3.
Around 350 000 litres of craft beer a year will be produced on-site, piped directly to their visitor tap room, adjacent to the brewing floor.
A limited ‘Discovery’ tour programme begins on March 1st, with a full hourly tour programme starting on 1st April. Investors can now purchase the very first limited run of 100 casks by mailing email@example.com
Facts and Figures
Uile-bheist will create 200-300 casks of single highland malt per year, matured in ex-bourbon and sherry casks. Locally grown malting barley will be used, with the water sourced from the River Ness.
Bruce Smith, Master Brewer, has worked for Heineken, Innis and Gunn and Stewart Brewing. He graduated from Herriot-Watt University with a Masters degree in brewing and distilling. This is his first venture into whisky and he is keen to fuse his distilling knowledge with diverse experience gleaned within the Scottish micro brewing scene.
Distilling begins this week.
Uile-bheist will produce a craft lager, Pale Ale, IPA, White IPA and a Stout. The on-site tap room, designed with unique copper piping and featuring scale illustrations by Ken Taylor, will be open to visitors for tasting and purchasing.
Craft beers will be piped directly into the tap room bar, fresh from the production floor. The first craft beers will be ready and ‘on the bar’ by early April.
“I aim to take some of the principles from the best of Scottish small batch craft brewing into distilling.
We are not sticking rigorously to the whisky distilling tradition but forging our own path.
What we have at Uile-bheist is a nice balance between the craft beer side, which is on the bar in weeks and the whisky side, where you can be looking at something which is produced, now, being available in 20 or 30 years’ time.
It adds a whole new dynamic to the job,”
said Bruce Smith.
“We are not going to restrict ourselves to a strict timescale for our whisky.
We aim to keep monitoring the maturation and keep sampling.
We will only make it available when we are proud of the product.”
Project Architects for Distillery, Brewery and Sustainability Centre: Colin Armstrong Architects, Inverness.
Project Construction: Compass Building and Construction Services.
Mechanical Engineering: G&A Barnie Group
Project started in January 2021, completed February 2023
Challenges: Building on a city centre site, in a gap site between 150 year old listed buildings in a conservation area. Planning was difficult (first plan rejected). Additionally, site work was happening whilst the other elements of the business (hotel and apartments) were operational.
“It was an extraordinarily technical build. Integrated on the one site, you have an Energy centre, brewery, distillery, a district heating system, a visitor centre and a bar and restaurant.
“At the same time, we had to avoid business disruption which would have added to what is already a high-cost project.
There was the engineering challenge to make it all sustainable as well as the need for everything to be visual.
Everything, even the whisky making process must be like a showroom where the visitors can get a real glimpse of what goes into making single highland malt whisky in a modern setting, today,”
said Jon Erasmus, co-owner of Uile-bheist.
Sustainability is important to Uile-bheist and partner businesses/sites. The Glen Mhor Hotel is a signatory to the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism, which works towards climate action and Scotland’s NetZero aspirations.
The on-site Sustainability Centre/distillery project was backed by Scottish Government’s Low Carbon Infrastructure Transition Scheme as well as Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Energy Saving Trust. ...
Around 40 jobs will be created by Uile-bheist’s operations, in production, tours, admin and marketing and indirectly (downstream).
Uile-bheist Tour Visitors will be able to Taste, Dine and Stay during their visit. Uile-bheist is partnered on adjacent sites on the desirable Ness Bank by the Glen Mhor Hotel and Waterside Restaurant, also owned by Uile-bheist founders, Jon and Victoria Erasmus. "
All Photos Courtesy of Uile-bheist Distillery
End of Press Release