July 27, 2015 – More than a year after entering administration, Bladnoch Distillery’s future has been preserved with the sale of the Lowlands distillery to an Australian entrepreneur. David Prior has purchased the distillery, which entered the UK’s equivalent of bankruptcy court after members of the Armstrong family could not agree on whether to sell the distillery or continue it as an ongoing business. Prior has pledged to keep all of the distillery’s current eight employees and create additional jobs as the distillery returns to production.
No purchase price was disclosed, and Prior will have to invest a substantial amount of capital to bring the distillery up to current standards. Prior has engaged former Scotch Whisky Association CEO Gavin Hewitt to serve as a non-executive director of Bladnoch and oversee the early stages of the renovation process. “His early idea was to establish a brand-new distillery elsewhere in Scotland,” Hewitt said in a telephone interview. “The offer of Bladnoch came up in February and he jumped at it.” Hewitt expects the renovation process to take between 12 and 18 months, and says candidates have been identified to serve as the distillery’s manager and master blender. He declined to identify the candidates, noting that both currently hold other jobs within the industry .
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Gavin Hewitt:
In a news release, Prior said “I am delighted to have been able to purchase a Scotch Whisky distillery of such renown as Bladnoch. Scotch Whisky is the world’s foremost spirit drink and I am proud to be part of the Scotch Whisky industry.” Prior made his fortune in the food business, and sold his organic yoghurt and granola business five:am last year for £52 million ($80.7 million USD). The purchase also includes Bladnoch’s existing stocks of aging whisky, but Hewitt says no plans have been determined for how or when that whisky will be bottled. However, Prior said in a separate telephone interview for this week’s WhiskyCast that he hopes to have a Bladnoch bottling ready for release in Australia by the end of the year.
The Armstrong family acquired Bladnoch in 1994, a year after it had been mothballed by Diageo predecessor UDV. The original sale agreement banned the resumption of whisky production at Bladnoch, but that agreement was changed to allow limited production of 100,000 liters of spirit annually starting in 2000. The distillery last produced spirit in 2009 under the Armstrong family’s ownership. According to Hewitt, the cap has been removed and Prior will be able to run the distillery at its full capacity of between 1.25 and 1.5 million liters of alcohol per year after the renovation process is completed.
Editor’s note: This week’s episode of WhiskyCast features our interview with David Prior.