I was standing in a bus shelter in Hawick at the weekend, just after learning of the announcement that Commercial Road may become the home of a £10 million whisky distillery, when I heard one woman say to another: “Whit guid wull a distillery dae Hawick?”
Well, actually, it could do quite a lot for the town’s fortunes.
As a health board chairman, the last thing I should be doing is promoting alcohol, but when it comes to the economic benefits of whisky production you just need to look to Orkney where it is a vital part of the county’s booming quality food and drink sector.
I was privileged in June to be a guest at the official opening of the Scapa Whisky Distillery Visitor Centre, Orkney’s latest Mecca fortourists; and, of course, Highland Park – which retains its place as the third best malt whisky in the world – benefits from thousands of tourists and whisky connoisseurs from across the world each year, so much so that it is now the fourth biggest tourist attraction in Orkney after the Italian Chapel, Skara Brae and St Magnus Cathedral.
While I’m sure a great deal more negotiations will need to be undertaken before distilling in Hawick becomes a reality, with possibly the lack of peat in the lowlands proving a challenge, I wish the project well. It will likely be ten to 12 years before we see the outcome of the endevours once production gets underway, but being able to market the end product as whisky from the most southerly distillery in Scotland could have real visitor appeal.
So come on Hawick, start thinking positively and believe in yourself – this is part of the diversity required to make the town great again – a distillery may just prove a salvation for the grey auld toon!
John Ross Scott