Whisky galore in £30m flotation

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The Independent Online

Blackwood Distillers, a fledgling spirits group which is converting an abandoned Shetland Isles RAF base into a whisky distillery, is preparing for a £30m London market flotation.

"We have been approached by five different brokers," said chief executive Caroline Whitfield, "though we haven't picked one yet."

The company is near to closing a pre-float £3m financing round among institutional investors, and the listing is expected within a year. Blackwood will use the cash to continue its international expansion, specifically in China and America, added Ms Whitfield.

Blackwood sells high-end, specialised spirits in 34 countries. These include Diva Vodka, which comes in bottles containing multi-coloured cubic zirconias, and Jago Strawberry Love, a cream and vodka cocktail.

Ms Whitfield, who used to work for Unilever and drinks giant Diageo, started Blackwood in 2002 to exploit the void left by the world's drinks giants as they turned away from niche premium products. "We started with a single-minded focus on drinks which are highly innovative," she said. "When you hit that mark, you hit it big time. We have been going like a train." The firm also sells a pale green gin made with roots and tree bark.

Last month, Blackwood teamed up with the Scottish entre- preneur Frank Strang to announce they would spend £5m converting part of the Saxa Vord base on the island of Unst into a whisky distillery.

Whisky will not go into barrels until April 2007, with the first bottled in 2010. To get the money rolling in, Blackwood will next month launch an online whisky futures platform to let individuals reserve and trade the bottles before they are available.

The company already has more than 90 people signed up to the scheme, including wealthy New York hedge fund managers and whisky connoisseurs who are also investors in the company.

The futures platform would be the first of its kind. Ms Whitfield said: "It's Wall Street meets peat fires."