Pernod have announced plans to build a new distillery on Islay. The drinks company behind Chivas Regal, Aberlour and Glenlivet have purchased land on Gartbreck Farm, west of Bowmore and on the shore of Loch Indaal, with a view to building the group’s first distillery on the island.

Jean-Etienne Gourgues, chairman and CEO of Chivas Brothers, hails the plans as “completing our comprehensive and award-winning Scotch portfolio”.

He also highlights the company’s excitement at the developments: “as a business built on hundreds of years of heritage, it also gives us the opportunity to do something we rarely do, which is to start from scratch.”

Little has been revealed about the plans for the Gartbreck site, other than that the distillery will produce single malt. The distillery will also be carbon neutral, in line with Pernod’s ambition to achieve net-zero carbon emission across all their facilities by 2026.

While this might mark an exciting new chapter in Islay’s whisky-making history, the story of potential whisky production at Gartbreck Farm has a complicated prelude.

In 2014, planning permission for a distillery had been granted to Jean Donnay, owner of Glenn ar Mor distillery in Brittany. The intention was to convert the farm into a distillery and Donnay sought further investment for the plan.

By early 2015, an agreement had been made with independent bottler Hunter Laing. Donnay had traded with Hunter Laing before, and although no formal contract had been signed both parties began working on their plans.

That summer, Donnay rejected some of the terms of the final contract and the deal was off. However, Hunter Laing had purchased land adjacent to the planned distillery that had been earmarked for warehousing and visitors’ carpark - land deemed essential for the Gartbreck project.

Hunter Laing refused to sell the land to Donnay, resulting in a long-standing stalemate between the parties.

At this stage it gets a bit ‘he said she said’. Hunter Laing believed Donnay’s offer was far below their valuation, which included money invested in development, and did not see the benefit in working with someone who, in their eyes, had already broken their word. On the other side, Donnay claimed Hunter Laing bought the land to strong-arm him into accepting terms he wasn’t happy with.

It might be worthwhile to remember Hunter Laing’s Ardnahoe project. Permission was granted for the distillery in 2016, with production starting in 2018 and visitors welcomed from 2019. Importantly, Ardnahoe pipped Gartbreck to the post in the race to become Islay’s ninth distillery.

Reports emerged in November 2017 that a deal between the two may be on the verge of being struck, however no further news followed. As such, hopes for the Gartbreck distillery were apparently doomed, the name seemingly destined to be an intriguing footnote in whisky history.

Regardless of who was right or wrong in the early Gartbreck saga, it’s fair to say there were two main losers. Firstly, there’s us selfish whisky drinkers, who no doubt would have clamoured for yet another Islay dram to sip and savour.

Perhaps more important was the effect this would have had on the Islay community. Gartbreck would have been immensely important for the local economy: the distillery would have provided jobs for 13 people, maybe more depending on future plans; initial plans would have seen approximately 20% of the distillery’s barley being sourced locally, which would have benefitted Islay farmers; and there’s no doubt a new distillery would have boosted local tourism.

Pernod’s project on Islay will hopefully bring the story of Gartbreck to a positive conclusion.

As stated, not much has been revealed about Pernod’s plans for Gartbreck. Donnay originally intended for the distillery to have a capacity of 120,000-190,000 litres producing a peated single malt. Plans also included traditional production methods and equipment such as direct-fired stills, worm-tub condensers and its own malting floor. Whether or not Pernod’s vision lines up with Donnay’s remains to be seen.

Jean-Etiene Gourgues believes that Gartbreck will ultimately be beneficial for the Islay community, particularly with regards to their sustainability efforts. He stated that Pernod & Chivas Brothers “are committed to Scotch, to the Islay community and the landscape that makes it the perfect place to continue our vision to shape the future of whisky.”

Ensuring the long-term future of the industry through sustainable practices is absolutely essential, and it’s reassuring to see one of the world’s leading drinks companies take their efforts to one of Scotch whisky’s most iconic and beloved locations.

And with that, hopefully we will see the Gartbreck name move on from its complicated origins to become a pioneer in the era of sustainable Scotch whisky production.