Saturday 22 July 2017

Former Airtricity investors back €20m Scotch whisky plan for 600-year-old estate

Ardgowan Distillery founder Martin McAdam
Ardgowan Distillery founder Martin McAdam

John Reynolds

Former investors in Eddie O'Connor's wind energy business Airtricity have backed an ambitious €20m plan to build a Scotch single-malt whisky distillery and visitor centre on a 600-year-old estate west of Glasgow.

Dubliner Martin McAdam, former chief executive of tidal power company Aquamarine Power, and prior to that ceo of Airtricity's USA operations has launched a €20m fundraising drive having raised over €550,000 in seed capital for the new firm, Ardgowan Distillery.

He has also recruited a number of whisky industry heavyweights to the venture, which was recently granted planning permission by the local authority Inverclyde Council.

Global whisky distilling expert Professor Michael Egan, known as 'The Whiskey Professor', who has worked for Irish Distillers, Guinness and John Teeling's Cooley Whiskey will review Ardgowan's process engineering design.

Another industry veteran, Willie Phillips who was MD of Scotch whisky firm Macallan for 18 years until 1996 and helped establish it as an international brand, is Ardgowan's chairman.

"We're looking to raise £12m (€11.1m) for the capital spend on the project and £5m (€4.6m) for working capital," McAdam said. "We have a few Irish backers who were investors in Airtricity, in which I also made some money myself. This is a long-term investment for patient capital such as family offices or others who can wait for us to develop the brand, build up our stock, scale the business and create shareholder value. We'll be continually producing stock, from five to 25-year-old whisky as well.

"Scotch is a €5bn a year market, with 8pc or 9pc market share by volume, but 23pc of the value. There's also a great potential market for our visitor centre.

"This area of Inverclyde and Greenock, which is 30 miles west of Glasgow is undervalued for its tourism potential, but this will help make it a destination. Whisky tourism attracts 1.6m visitors to Scotland every year, who on average spend £35 on it," McAdam added.

The Ardgowan Estate was originally a Bronze Age settlement. In the early 1300s, 'King of the Scots' Robert the Bruce defended it, alongside William Wallace of Braveheart fame, but Edward the First who he was fighting also used it as a base and launched a huge 300ft siege tower from there with which he attacked Stirling.

During World War II, industrial alcohol that was used to fuel British planes for the war effort was produced there, which resulted in the area being bombed by the Germans.

Construction on McAdam's project is expected to begin later this year, and it will open in 2019.

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