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Islay Ales owner seeks funding to build rum and whisky distillery

The businessmen behind Islay Ales are planning to build a combined brewery and distillery, which will produce single malt and the Scottish island’s “first” rum.

L-r: Donald MacKenzie and MacKay Smith, founders of Scotch whisky bottler The Islay Boys

Independent Scotch whisky bottler The Islay Boys, owner of Islay Ales brewery, is looking to relocate its Islay Ales site in Bridgend to a site at Glenegedale in Laggan Bay.

The new one-hectare site, which will incorporate a whisky and rum distillery, will be called Laggan Bay Brewery & Distillery.

The distillery will have the capacity to produce 150,000 litres of pure alcohol and a 1.5 tonne mash tun. The site will use double distillation in traditional copper pot stills – a 7,500-litre wash still and a 5,000-litre spirit still. The site will also have a multiple plate column still for rum production. It will also include an upgrade of its brewery from a four-barrel capacity to 12 barrels.

The Islay Boys is owned by two local businessmen, Donald MacKenzie and MacKay Smith. The pair purchased Islay Ales, the island’s only brewery, in 2018.

MacKenzie was trained in whisky production by Jim McEwan at Bruichladdich and has “extensive” experience in the distribution of spirits, mostly in France.

Smith has managed a number of projects, from strategy development to implementation, as well as supporting alcohol companies to export from Scotland. He has worked in sales of Scottish craft spirits and beer in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific.

The duo launched their single malt Scotch whisky brands Flatnöse and Bårelegs six years ago. The brands are available in around 15 countries.

Jim McEwan and Scott Williams of independent Scottish brewery Williams Bros will act as advisors to the new site, using their combined knowledge in spirits and beer.

‘Islay’s first rum’

“As Islay boys, we are delighted to announce our plans for a major expansion of our brewery Islay Ales, adding a craft distillery for peated Islay single malt, and more radically, Islay’s first rum, with the world’s best distiller, Jim McEwan, a fellow Islay boy, giving us a big helping hand,” MacKenzie said.

McEwan retired as production director and master distiller of Bruichladdich Distillery in 2015.

MacKenzie and Smith are currently seeking fundraising for the new site and are looking for 500 investors to join Laggan Bay as shareholders in the new 500 Founders Club.

Each investor will be required to provide £10,000 (US$12,850), which is split into £7,000 (US$9,000) for a first-fill ex-Bourbon barrel of either peated whisky or molasses-based rum, and £3,000 (US$3,857) of equity in the new venture. In the following years, the firm will offer private single casks for sale to members.

MacKenzie and Smith will launch a Laggan Bay Islay single malt range in the future, which will sit at a “more premium level” to the existing Flatnöse and Bårelegs brands.

The firm’s rum range will consist of both spiced and aged variants and “will have its own brand identity”. The site also plans to develop a range of whisky barrel-aged beers.

The project has been the subject of a pre-planning application, with a full planning application being prepared for January 2020. The duo plan to open the distillery by the Fèis Ìle festival in Islay in 2021.

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