Benbecula Distillery: A Revival of Tradition in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides

Benbecula Distillery, nestled in the scenic Outer Hebrides of Scotland, has embarked on an exciting journey to produce single malt whisky, aiming for an annual output of 350,000 litres. 

This ambitious endeavour is rooted in a 130-year-old recipe, discovered by owner Angus A MacMillan in the writings of the 19th-century distilling historian Alfred Barnard.

outer Hebrides scotland

A Historical Recipe

The distillery’s unique whisky recipe, unearthed by MacMillan, dates back over a century and forms the foundation of Benbecula’s offerings. To bring this historical recipe to life, MacMillan enlisted the expertise of master distiller Brendan McCarron. 

McCarron’s impressive resume includes stints at the Glenmorangie Company, managing Oban Distillery, and serving as master distiller for Distell, known for its brands like Bunnahabhain, Deanston, and Tobermory distilleries.

Locally Sourced Ingredients

Benbecula’s whisky production process is deeply intertwined with its local environment. The primary ingredient, bere barley, is cultivated on MacMillan’s own croft and nearby lands. This barley is fertilised using seaweed collected from the island’s shoreline, infusing a distinctly maritime character into the whisky. The whisky also incorporates local peat and heather, further enhancing its regional authenticity.

The Distinctive Flavour Profile

Brendan McCarron describes the Benbecula whisky as “classically maritime in style: smoky on the nose, with salty and sweet peated notes.” 

This profile is achieved using light- to medium-peated malted barley, allowing the smoke to complement rather than overpower the fruity and floral notes. Each year, a special batch of heather-peated bere barley will be produced, blending innovation with traditional island methods.

Production and Facilities

The distillery, which also plans to produce gin, will use Bourbon and Sherry casks for whisky maturation. 

Transformed a disused salmon-farming processing plant in the construction of Benbecula Distillery. The facility now features a striking glass-walled extension resembling a lighthouse, housing a copper pot still. MacMillan proudly describes this addition as a “new landmark” on the island’s rolling landscape.

Economic and Community Impact

The project, first proposed in 2020 with an investment of £12.5 million (US$17.3m), received substantial financial support from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), amounting to £2.8 million (US$3.2m). 

This venture not only promises to produce high-quality spirits but also aims to bolster the local economy by creating skilled jobs and sustaining the island community.

A Bright Future

Reflecting on the journey so far, MacMillan expressed his enthusiasm: “After quite a journey over the past few years, it’s fantastic to see the first spirit flowing at Benbecula Distillery. There’s nowhere quite like Benbecula, and we are proud to be able to play a part in sustaining our island, creating new, skilled jobs, and producing a single malt whisky that will capture the essence of this unique place.”

He added, “Brendan McCarron, one of the best-known names in modern distilling, has – we believe – created something very special, making the most of the good things Benbecula has to offer. Our malt will be kilned over fires laid with peat and foraged heather – a revival of a rare malting technique completely unique in Scotland today and from a recipe last used by distilleries such as Glen Ord and Highland Park in the 19th century. Brendan has adapted and developed this process to create a smooth, gentle smokiness and sweet floral character in our spirit. Under his guidance, we will also be creating a variety of flavour styles.”

With its rich heritage, innovative practices, and deep connection to the local landscape, Benbecula Distillery stands poised to make a significant mark in the world of whisky, offering a taste of history and the Hebrides in every bottle.

The future of whisky is in good hands, with several new distilleries opening across Scotland. These include:

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