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Plans lodged for Caol Ila visitor centre upgrade

Diageo has submitted plans to “significantly expand” the visitor centre at Islay distillery Caol Ila as part of the firm’s £150 million (US$215m) investment in Scotch whisky tourism.

An artist’s impression of the upgraded Caol Ila visitor centre on Islay

In April this year, Diageo announced plans for an extensive upgrade of its Scotch whisky visitor centres, in addition to the build of a new Johnnie Walker experience in Edinburgh.

The upgrade will see Islay site Caol Ila “directly linked” to the new Johnnie Walker site, along with three other distilleries representing the ‘four corners of Scotland’ and Scotch whisky’s regional flavour profiles: Cardhu (Speyside), Caol Ila (Island), Clynelish (Highlands), and Glenkinchie (Lowlands).

Plans to transform the Caol Ila visitor centre were submitted to Argyll & Bute Council today (14 November).

Subject to approval, a new visitor experience will be created inside the distillery’s warehouse and will feature a new bar with views across the Sound of Islay. Plans will also include a new footbridge, allowing visitors to enter the site through the roof of the warehouse, along with new parking facilities.

Caol Ila was built in 1846 and was bought by blender Bullock Lade before being absorbed by DCL (now Diageo) in 1927. The original distillery was destroyed in 1972 and was replaced with a large building, with production restarting in 1974.

Caol Ila has supplied single malt Scotch whisky for Johnnie Walker for over a century, providing the key smoky character in the blend.

“We are very pleased to take this important step in the exciting journey to transform our visitor experience at Caol Ila Distillery,” said Leigh Aitken, Caol Ila Distillery visitor centre manager.

“We have had good engagement with local residents and stakeholders on our plans so far and we will continue to work with the local authority and the community as we progress through the formal planning process.

“We believe this investment will not only be great for Caol Ila Distillery but is another positive addition to the rich visitor landscape of the famous Scotch whisky island of Islay.”

Diageo submitted plans to expand Glenkinchie Distillery’s visitor centre last month.

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