Love of a dram bonds investors in island distillery: Enthusiasts prepared to wait several years for their first taste have financed the return of Isle of Arran whisky. John Arlidge reports

WHISKY distilling is to return to the Isle of Arran for the first time in two centuries, following the sale of 1,000 'malt bonds'.

Islanders, whisky specialists and investors more used to dealing in cocoa futures than alcohol have each paid pounds 450 for 60 bottles of blended spirit to be delivered in 1998, and 60 of single malt to be ready by 2001. After paying about pounds 7 excise duty and VAT on each bottle - at today's prices - investors will save about pounds 600 by buying ahead.

Harold Currie, a former managing director of Chivas Brothers, part of the pounds 2.5m Arran Distillery project, which organised the bond scheme, said: 'It seems like a long time to wait for your first taste but we believe it will be worth it. The investors will get a return and we will, hopefully, build up a client base before distilling begins.'

A new pounds 75 bond offering 12 bottles of eight-year-old Founders' Reserve single malt will be launched next month. Although industry analysts caution that 'there's many a slip betwixt cup and lip', Mr Currie insists that with backing from the Bank of Scotland and 'several wealthy individuals', the project will go ahead, eventually producing up to 100,000 litres each year.

Construction at the site near Lochranza, on the northern coast, was due to begin this month, but a golden eagle nesting in nearby hills forced a delay. Under an agreement with Cunninghame District Council and Scottish Natural Heritage, work cannot begin until June, when the eagle eggs will have hatched.

Although whisky sales have fallen about 10 per cent in Britain in the last five years, Jim Lees, the local agent for the distillery, believes there is room for a new 'niche' malt. 'We believe that the future of the industry lies in single malts. People want the best, particularly in the growing export market. If we were producing yet another Speyside we could have had problems, but because we are on Arran we will have a certain cachet.'

It is difficult to predict the flavour of the new whisky, which will mature in Tennessee bourbon casks. Records from the last distillery on the island, at Lagg, offer few clues. Mr Lees said: 'Arran is described as Scotland in miniature so we would like to combine the best of the Highland, Lowland and Island malts.'

Wallace Milroy, author of the Malt Whisky Almanac, said: 'Each island tends to produce its own distinctive malts. Islay whiskies are, for instance, much more peaty than those from Jura, Skye and Orkney. Given its location, an Arran malt is likely to combine characteristics of whiskies like Bushmills in Ireland, Bladnoch near Stranraer, Springbank near Campbeltown and Jura from the Isle of Jura.'

(Photograph omitted)

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