—> 2013 —> My questions about Gartbreck Islay distillery

Diluain, 16/Sep/2013

My questions about Gartbreck Islay distillery

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Over the weekend in particular the whisky blogs as well as Twitter and Facebook went wild about a possible ninth Islay distillery, believed to be called Gartbreck distillery. It all started off with Dominic Roskrow's post Islay to get ninth distillery on the Whisky Advocate Blog, soon picked up by other blogs. These included Gordon Homer with A 9th Distillery on Islay….., Ron with Gartbreck - A New Islay Distillery and Eye For Spirits in Germany with Gartbreck Distillery: Islays neunte Brennerei kommt 2015. This mainly broke the news.

Quite quickly we figured out that a company called GARTBRECK DISTILLERY CO LTD had been registered in May 2013 with Jean Donnay as Director. He's quite well known in the whisky scene for founding and running Glann Ar Mor distillery in France. In addition the domain was registered in 2012:

To fuel the story about a ninth distillery on Islay, a Gartbreck distillery company was registered on 22/May/2013:

— Armin (@islayblog) September 15, 2013

@WhiskyAdvocate (@GlenfiddichJM): looks like registered July12 to Martine Rochard Donnay of Celtic Whisky Compagnie.

— Joel Harrison (@joeldram) September 15, 2013

However, to me after having let the initial dust settle for a day this still leaves quite a few open questions:

Let me start with the planning permission. Without that nothing will happen. It was quite easy to find the ones for Port Charlotte distillery or Kilchoman distillery, two comparable projects. I might be wrong, but I believe it took Bruichladdich quite some time to sort theirs for Port Charlotte (before they mothballed the project, hopefully now to be revived by Remy Cointreau). I haven't been able to find a single thing for Gartbreck. May be I've missed something, but I don't believe there's one public yet. I believe the area around Gartbreck is designated a SSSI, which might make it tricky. Quite a few people were rather baffled how the Gartbreck recycling plant got approved if I remember correctly. Keeping all that in mind with what I know so far I'm not convinced of a 2015 start date.

Next the financing and startup costs. From all I know launching a distillery doesn't come cheap, especially keeping in mind it will take several years until serious revenue will start to come in. Kilchoman (which I think is more comparable for what we are talking about here than Bruichladdich) among other things sold casks and futures as well as had the restaurant and visitor centre. Not to forget (I believe) a large investor believing in the project (also see this video with Anthony Wills about Kilchoman for some background about the finances and time required). At this point we don't know anything about how Gartbreck will be financed. May be that's all sorted, but until we see more I'm curious.

Distilleries need a lot of water. I've seen claims that the water supply is sorted, but not from where it is going to come. I can't imagine Bowmore sharing theirs and there isn't an awful lot else (maybe Grunnd Loch). No idea if a borehole could provide enough. Again, until we know more I'm sceptical.

Finally, who is going to oversee and run the new distillery? Obviously Jean Donnay has the experience, but won't he be busy running the existing distillery in France? When Bruichladdich was reopened they had plenty of expertise around (and Mark Reynier had to move to Islay), at Kilchoman to my knowledge Anthony Wills brought in expertise from various areas (e.g. Dr Jim Swan as consultant and some experienced distillers from Islay distilleries). This will be interesting to watch for Gartbreck.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not against this project, at least not with what I know. I'm just struggling to fully join the enthusiasm as with what we know at the moment there are too many open questions for me, in particular for a projected 2015 launch. I'll be following developments with interest…

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