Distilling returns to Scottish Borders after nearly 200-year absence

Jane Ryan

18 May 2018

With new-make spirit flowing off the stills and the first public tours winding their way around the old stone buildings, the new Borders Distillery is truly up and running.

It’s taken five years for those first few clear drops of liquid to free themselves from the copper pot distillation process – destined to either spend the next few years of its life slumbering in wooden barrels or getting well acquainted with some juniper berries.

The opening marks the revival of an industry that ceased to exist – at least legally – in the Scottish Borders in 1837. The region can thank its newfound opportunity to join the prestigious Scotch-producing towns of the county, not to locals, but four men who saw a business opportunity.

In March 2013, Tim Carton, John Fordyce, Tony Roberts and George Tait founded The Three Stills Company ‘aiming to capitalise on the growth of Scotch Whisky sales’, in particular looking to the boom in malt whisky, and the explosion of interest in Scottish gin.

Their collective CVs all point to William Grant & Sons, and, they say, they knew there was an opportunity to be had in building a new distillery and that opportunity lay in the Scottish Borders.

‘There were some very convincing arguments for us to look to the Scottish Borders for our distillery,’ John Fordyce said. ‘The skilled labour market and textile manufacturing history, particularly in tweed and cashmere, were two big influencing factors, as was the ready availability of natural resources and raw materials.’

Hawick and its surrounding countryside are the heartland for barley production in the UK. Yet another box ticked for the company.

Two years after founding, they reached their £10m fundraising target giving them the green light for work to start on the 1.3-hectare site overlooking the River Teviot in Hawick, named The Borders Distillery.

Housing two large sheds from 1888 and a Tudor Cotswold building from 1903, the owners decided to try and keep as much of the buildings’ historical features as possible. Today, as visitors snake their way from the fermentation vats to the still house, they’ll see random rubble walls left exposed, original trusses, wooden sarking and aluminium batons – all fully refurbished.

It isn’t just the ideal of Borders’ whisky distillation that’s being revived though, so too is the economy in Hawick, with TTSC boasting up to nineteen jobs being created locally and over 65% of the civil budget spent in the area.

Playing into the notion of terroir that is increasingly prevalent in spirits today, the barley sourced for distilling is entirely grown in the Scottish Borders, while the water is drawn by borehole from the water table and cooling water is taken from the River Teviot, in the same way the town’s textile mills have done for centuries.

‘This is a seminal moment for our business. In addition to being the first Scotch Whisky distillery to exist and operate in the Scottish Borders since 1837, we are now in a position to contribute to the growth of this fine industry.  Scotch whisky is again experiencing exciting times with growth fuelled by new and more mature markets,’ said Carton.

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