Ian Stirling: How to build a distillery in Edinburgh part 1 – Three things

Fascinated that someone was writing a diary blog about their proposed £5m new Edinburgh distillery project, we asked Ian Stirling of Port of Leith Distillery if we could republish his blog here.

Ian said “yes”, so here is part 1.

To build a distillery you need three things: a plan, a site and investors. The problem is, all three of those things are totally interdependent.

A plan needs a site if it is to mean anything. Without it, you can’t know how much space you will have to operate, therefore how much whisky you will produce, therefore how much revenue you will generate and therefore how much money you even need to raise.

Unless you’ve built a distillery before, you will probably need to consult with a lot of people who have. They’re not always willing to talk to someone with no investment or site behind them.

To find a site, you need to talk to land owners and agents. It’s very difficult to secure anything from them without demonstrable funding behind you.

Without a site and a viable plan, how do you even begin to talk to an investor? Without an investor, how can you tell those experts and land agents that you’ve got anything more than a few good ideas and a lot of ambition?

Of course, for some people, one or two of these aspects is already in place from the outset. The site might be their country estate, or their shed. The expertise might come from their decades spent already working in the industry. The money might be their own, or their rich mate’s.

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We had none of those to begin with. So the answer, we found, was, er… to tell all those people about our good ideas and ambition. It transpires that if the ideas are good enough, and enough people believe in you, then very slowly, and somewhat unsurely, it is possible to drag that carefully tangled holy trinity through to fruition.

It took us years, and we needed a bit of luck to meet the right people at the right time, and we needed a bit of blind determination to get over the bad luck, and we had to spend most of our disposable income because there are costs you can't avoid, and we needed a truly painful degree of patience. But it did happen, and now we have those three things.