ISLAY’S famous whisky industry received a major boost with the announcement last week that Diageo, the world’s leading premium drinks business, is to invest £3.5million in expanding and upgrading its Caol Ila distillery.
The distillery – which enjoys one of the most stunning locations in Scotland on the Sound of Islay and produces one of the island’s iconic Scotch brands – will see its production capacity increased by 700,000 litres per year from 5.7 million litres per annum (mla) to 6.4mla.
The extension of the distillery will see two new 62,000litre washbacks installed in addition to the eight which are already onsite. [Washbacks are the vessels in which the fermentation process takes place prior to distillation. ] It is the new washbacks that will drive the increased production capacity.
The refurbishment of the distillery will see key equipment upgraded, including the replacement of the distillery’s mash tun – a crucial piece of equipment in the distillation process – and a new control system installed in the stillhouse. Caol Ila’s six large onion-shaped copper stills, overlooking the Sound of Islay, are not part of the refurbishment project.
The investment is a major boost to local contractors who will benefit from work on the site as well as generating a knock-on financial benefit to the local economy from contractors who will have to be brought on to the island to carry out aspects of the work. The Caol Ila project builds on £3million which Diageo has already invested in upgrading and developing its Port Ellen Maltings on Islay over the past three years.
Six months closure
The refurbishment work is scheduled to take six months beginning in June, following the Islay Festival. The distillery will be closed to public tours for that period; however, the popular distillery shop will remain open to visitors.
Rolling investment programme
The project is part of Diageo’s rolling programme of capital investment across its Scottish sites, amounting to £600 million over the past six fiscal years – as the company builds capacity to meet rising global demand for its world renowned Scotch whisky brands such as Johnnie Walker. This included the opening of the £40 million Roseisle distillery on Speyside last year – the first major malt whisky distillery to be built in Scotland in over 30 years.
Kevin Sutherland, Diageo’s Senior Site Manager on Islay, welcomed the investment as a major boost to the island’s whisky industry. He said:
“This is great news for Caol Ila and great news for Islay. An investment of this scale is fantastic for the local economy and it signals Diageo’s deep-rooted commitment to the Islay whisky industry.
“Caol Ila is a wonderful distillery of which we are very proud and I am delighted we are going to be able to produce even more fantastic single malt as well as contributing to the growth of Johnnie Walker and Diageo’s other leading global Scotch brands.”
Bryan Donaghey, Managing Director of Diageo Scotland, said the expansion of Caol Ila was part of an overall programme of investment in the Scotch whisky industry by Diageo. He said:
“Over the past six years Diageo has made around £600 million in capital investment in Scotland, largely aimed at building our capacity to meet the growing demand for Scotch whisky around the world.
“Last year we opened our new £40 million distillery at Roseisle in Speyside and the expansion of Caol Ila demonstrates our commitment to another of Scotland’s great whisky-making locations. The success and growth of our Islay distilleries is central to our ambitions for the Scotch whisky industry and demonstrates again our confidence in and commitment to the future of Scotland and Scotch.”
About Caol Ila
Caol Ila is the largest distillery on the Isle of Islay. Most of the output of Caol Ila goes to Diageo’s blended Scotch whiskies. But as a single malt Scotch Whisky, Caol Ila has enjoyed huge popularity and success since its relaunch in 2002.
Caol Ila is distributed in many markets in five complementary expressions:
– a 12 year old, that has won numerous Gold Medals including most recently the supreme prize, the Trophy for the best single malt whisky under 15 years old at the IWSC in 2010. It also won Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2009, Master at the Scotch Whisky Masters 2009, Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2010 and Master at the Scotch Whisky Masters 2010.
– An 18 year old.
– A Natural Cask Strength expression (with no age statement).
– A Distillers Edition of Caol Ila has also been warmly welcomed. It is double matured for up to six months in dark Moscatel caskwood, hand-selected to complement the whisky’s sweetly fruity, smoky intensity. It won Gold – Best in Class at the International Wine & Spirit Competition in 2009, and Gold at the International Spirits Challenge 2009
– Moch [Gaelic for Dawn] – a new expression with no age statement, recently launched for Friends of the Classic Malts
Enthusiasts have also enjoyed the unusual unpeated 8 year old and later 10 and 12 year old expressions of Caol Ila, which figure regularly among the annual Classic Malts Selection Special Releases.
The distillery was established in 1846 near Port Askaig by Hector Henderson, and borrows its Gaelic name from the sea sweeping past its dramatic and almost secret location, squeezed tight between the steep cliff and the sea, hard on the shores of the Sound of Islay with its fast and challenging currents. It was a spot originally chosen in 1846 partly because of the fresh water which still provides its main supply, rising from limestone in nearby Loch nam Ban, then falling to the sea at Caol Ila, just behind the distillery. Before electricity came to the island in the 1940s, this same stream, harnessed to water wheels, lent its motive power to everything in the distillery.