GlenWyvis Distillery

One of Scotland's most historic whisky distilling towns is toasting a £2.5 million community investment.

Dingwall in Ross-shire has been home to a malt whisky distillery since 1690.

Now, 90 years after the last of the town's original distilleries closed its doors, whisky production will fire up again at the world's first community-owned plant, GlenWyvis.

And it's all thanks to their groundbreaking community share offer scheme, which attracted high-profile backers from all over the world.

Scotland's former first minister Alex Salmond was one of the first to invest.

Flying Farmer John McKenzie launched GlenWyvis' game-changing project on April 16 – 270 years to the day after Bonnie Prince Charlie consoled himself with a bottle of Ferintosh whisky following the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

In just eight weeks, £1m had flooded in via Crowdfunder to build a new distillery on his loch-side farm in the Highlands, complete with hydro power and a community-owned wind turbine.

By July, over 2,400 investors from 30 different countries had bought shares in the GlenWyvis Community Benefit Society, pledging over £2.5m to build the state-of-the-art plant which will be powered by green energy and local barley.

The record-breaking project is Crowdfunder's biggest ever and the largest of its kind in the UK.

 

The idea for GlenWyvis was born out of three former distilleries: Ben Wyvis in Dingwall; Glenskiach in Evanton and Ferintosh – so beloved of the Scots that Robert Burns even wrote a poem about it.

The original Ferintosh distillery – one of the oldest in Scotland – was established by the Forbes of Culloden family in 1690 on the Black Isle, just east of Dingwall.

US prohibition eventually put paid to the whole industry.

But John, a retired Army officer and helicopter pilot, had a dream of resurrecting the town's craft whisky heritage. And he turned to Crowdfunder to make that dream a reality.

He wanted a high level of local ownership for GlenWyvis, so shares were offered to supporters living in the surrounding 'IV' postcode areas for just £250.

Wider UK and international investors were offered opportunities starting from £750, up to a maximum of £100,000.

Through Crowdfunder, shareholders were offered rewards ranging from bottles of whisky – which they would have to wait three years for, to allow it to mature – to 'first-fill' sherry casks, private distillery tours and masterclasses.

Those who invested in the top flight – £49,999 of shares – were promised their names on the roof of the distillery, plus cases of gin and whisky every Burns Night for 10 years and a private helicopter whisky tour with John at the controls.

All were given one vote, to protect the business – which is 75% Scottish-owned – from ever falling outside the community's control.

In 77 days, Crowdfunder's ambitious scheme had become the biggest in its history and the largest community share issue outside of the energy sector. 

Its unprecedented success means GlenWyvis in the top 30 crowdfunded schemes in the world.

Now the distillery is on course to deliver its first whisky on Burns Night – January 25 – 2017, and will have bottles of eight-year malt on sale by the middle of the next decade.

The initial production run will be 30,000 litres a year, but could rise to 200,000 litres.

"We hoped for £1.5m, we were delighted when we hit £2m and we're ecstatic to have reached £2.5m so quickly," says Burns Night-born John, who spent three years planning the project, and drove around the country distributing marketing leaflets himself.

"It really does underpin our ambition to make whisky history in Dingwall.

"We've a huge following local and this has been borne out in pledges from over half local investors and more than £1.3m coming from the local IV area, making it a community-owned distillery without a doubt."

Thanks to the Crowd's backing, GlenWyvis will create new jobs, attract tourists to the area and put Dingwall on the world whisky map once again.

"We've worked so hard to raise awareness across Scotland, the UK and beyond, and this has paid off," added John, who now has ambitious plans for a visitors' centre.

"It's history in the making and we're delighted to be able to say we'll be reintroducing craft whisky distilling back to the Dingwall area after a gap of 90 years.

"Partnering with Crowdfunder was the best way to do this. They are very focused on community projects, and that was the main driving force for us.

"It's absolutely the place to go if you're looking to do a community crowdfunded project."

Community Shares Scotland, a Heritage Lottery-funded organisation, worked with Crowdfunder to deliver the groundbreaking project.

Programme manager Kelly McIntyre said: "This has been amazing right from the start, with interest from individuals globally, business, media and international organisations."

"The GlenWyvis community share offer is a bright, shining light showing just what can be achieved in a short period of time," she added.

Phil Geraghty, managing director of Crowdfunder, called it a "historic milestone".

"We're seeing more and more communities coming together to run pubs, shops, football clubs, swimming pools – businesses that serve a community purpose," he said.

"GlenWyvis will go down in history as a true pioneer in this exciting area of business."