Plans for first farm-to-bottle distillery in almost 200 years – with a second new distillery also in the pipeline

How the entrance to The Machrihanish Distillery could look. Image: ZONE Architects.
How the entrance to The Machrihanish Distillery could look. Image: ZONE Architects.

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Ralstons retire after 40 years of dairy farming

Whisky fans will be toasting news that the world-renowned Campbeltown single malt-producing region could be soon be welcoming its first farm-to-bottle distillery in almost 200 years.

R&B Distillers, owner of the Isle of Raasay Distillery, has set its sights on building The Machrihanish Distillery after purchasing Dhurrie Farm from Tommy and Elaine Ralston, who have retired after 40 years of dairy farming.

Dhurrie Farm could be transformed into Campbeltown's first farm-to-bottle whisky distillery in 180 years.
Dhurrie Farm could be transformed into Campbeltown’s first farm-to-bottle whisky distillery in 180 years.

The distillery, thought to be the first of its kind to be built in Campbeltown in over 180 years, could create more than 20 new jobs, with developers keen to hire locally for all positions.

As well as creating much-needed skilled employment in Kintyre, R&B Distillers’ move will bring a contemporary distilling business to the former whisky capital of the world, once home to more than 30 distilleries.

It is the artisanal distillers’ ambition to create a sustainable, net-zero distilling process that doesn’t use any fossil fuels.

It also plans to use biological farming practices to ensure it has a positive impact on the surrounding environment and create greater biodiversity on the farmland.

The business is currently developing a recipe for the Machrihanish single malt that it says will bring a different style of whisky, from a different whisky region in Scotland, to complement its existing Isle of Raasay single malt, as well as increasing the company’s total market input and production output.

The planned initial production output of The Machrihanish Distillery will be 400,000 litres of pure alcohol per year.

The distillery will also feature a visitor centre and, ultimately, its own whisky club, with the distillers expected to finalise planning during 2022, with the aim of breaking ground in 2023.

On choosing Campbeltown as the location for its second distillery, R&B Distillers says it believes the area is an under-served, sleeping whisky region, with a community that welcomes new inward investment.

The area is also home to some of the family of R&B Distillers’ co-founder and executive chairman Bill Dobbie, bringing extra conviction to The Machrihanish Distillery’s part to play in regenerating a rural community in Scotland.

Isle of Raasay Distillery founders Bill Dobbie and Alasdair Day.
Isle of Raasay Distillery founders Bill Dobbie and Alasdair Day.

Mr Dobbie said: ‘When the business was founded in 2015, we had a clear ambition to create Scotland’s leading artisanal distiller – building on Raasay’s nascent success, and noticing the clear global demand for supreme quality drinks with unquestionable provenance, this announcement confirms significant progress towards this goal.’

Local businessman Andrew Smith, a friend of Mr Dobbie’s family, assisted R&B Distillers in finding a suitable location for the distillery.

‘Being from the family that owned Drumore Farm, one of the last farm distilleries in Campbeltown which closed in 1837, I am over the moon to see the return of farm distilling in the Campbeltown region,’ said Mr Smith.

‘When the R&B Distillers team came to me with the idea, we embarked on the pursuit of finding the perfect farm for growing barley and that’s when we found the Dhurrie.

‘The location is perfect and I can’t wait to taste the whisky that is produced by the farm.’

South Kintyre councillor Donald Kelly added that he was ‘delighted’ to see what ‘could be the beginning of a renaissance of whisky distilling’ in the Campbeltown region.

‘With years gone by since we were Scotland’s home of whisky,’ he said, ‘seeing the return of a farm-to-bottle distillery, that will provide important local employment and a vibrant visitor attraction, is something that really excites me and the broader community.’

The farm sale has allowed Mr and Mrs Ralston to begin their well-earned retirement after four decades in the dairy farming industry.

Elaine and Tommy Ralston have sold Dhurrie Farm after more than 40 years of dairy farming.
Elaine and Tommy Ralston have sold Dhurrie Farm after more than 40 years of dairy farming.

Dhurrie Farm, often referred to simply as ‘the Dhurrie’, was purchased in January 1981 and the couple moved in after they married in October that year.

They told the Courier their ‘goal and passion’ was to build up the farm and dairy business, which they did successfully, first with their Ayrshire herd and later with Holstein and Jersey cattle.

In 1987, they were delighted to be awarded Highest Yielding Ayrshire Herd in Great Britain and Ireland and in the early 1990s, changing to pedigree Holsteins and Jerseys, they were grateful to continue that success locally.

The Ralstons hosted many Holstein and Ayrshire visits over the years, with a herd numbering over 130 enjoying regular success with each breed at local cattle events.

The most recent was receiving the overall top herd prize and the top individual prize in the Kintyre Holstein Breeders’ Club’s annual herds competition in 2021.

‘This was a great honour and a nice way to end our time milking,’ said Mr and Mrs Ralston, who now live in a house, called Carol Ann, that they built just a couple of miles from the farmhouse.

‘It gives us such a sense of pride seeing our stock, that gave us such pleasure to work with, move onwards.

‘We farmed the Dhurrie for 40 years and it had its challenges, as farming has, but it wasn’t just a job, it was a passion.

‘We were a team, milking together for 40 years, and we brought our daughter Susan and son Craig up on the farm and have many happy memories.

‘Craig now runs his own contracting business and Susan is married to Alister Graham, a neighbouring dairy farmer.

‘We are sad to leave the farm but now have a lovely new home.

‘We send R&B Distillers best wishes for the future.’

Second new distillery announced

Plans to create a second new whisky distillery in Campbeltown were revealed yesterday (Thursday, February 17).

The Dál Riata Distillery is a proposed distillery from South Star Spirits, which will have the capacity to produce 850,000 litres of spirit annually, using barley grown at Dunadd Hillfort near Lochgilphead.

Plans have been submitted for the distillery, which will be located on Kinloch Road overlooking Campbeltown Loch, by Bowman Stewart Architects of Lochgilphead.