The role of Uile-bheist Distillery and Brewery in the wider rejuvenation of Inverness has been hailed, with over 3000 visitors heading through the doors in August.
Despite the new £7.5m facility opening for production of Highland whisky and craft beer in February, the visitor experience on the River Ness only formally opened for visitors in June.
Now it has celebrated its 4-Star grading from VisitScotland with initial visitor figures showing it is on target to welcome 50 000 visitors per year in Phase 1, prior to planned further development.
The early success has been hailed by new CEO of the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions (ASVA), Michael Golding, who believes the project can help propel the transformation of the highland capital as a must-stay destination.
Inverness has earned a reputation as a short-break or ‘dormitory’ city, with tourists often day-tripping before visiting landmarks such as Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle and the wider highlands.
However, £20m UK Government Levelling Up projects such as the redeveloped Northern Meeting Park allied with the opening of Inverness Castle Experience in Spring 2025, are set to change that.
And the establishment of the city’s first distillery in 130 years has a pivotal role to play in the highland capital’s transformation, according to the tourism chief.
“Part of the challenge in Inverness is we have a healthy stock of accommodation but we probably don’t have enough year-round, non-weather reliant attractions to encourage people to stay longer and extend the seasonality. Thankfully, that is changing.
“We used to have an under-utilised riverside. Now we have the new renewable energy centre further down the river. You’ve got the Highland Food and Drink Trail, underneath the Cathedral, which is massively increasing footfall.
“You have the Levelling Up projects and then the coming of the Castle in 2025, which will be an amazing visitor attraction. So, walking the riverside in 2025 is going to look a lot different than it did just a few years ago and Uile-bheist is perfectly positioned, both geographically and in terms of a unique experience, to be a major part of that change. It is a very exciting project.”
Despite being new to the Visitor Attraction scene, Uile-bheist owners Victoria and Jon Erasmus have been encouraged by the first recorded months of footfall at the distillery, brewery and tap room.
The project, powered by the waters of the River Ness, has supported 15-20 local jobs so far and detail changes are currently being made to bring the attraction up to 5-Star rating by Christmas.
A planned Phase 2 of the project, which will increase retail and tour space and integrate an on-site restaurant, is projected to double the visitors to 100 000 per year, when running.
“We have opened at a challenging time and effectively in mid-season but we believe in the product we have delivered,” said Victoria Erasmus.
“We are the first ticketed type visitor experience in Inverness but we hope to see, in a few years, Inverness becoming a cultural hub. Hundreds of thousands of visitors come to the wider area but, with what’s happening, they could also be staying longer in Inverness. With things like the Academy Street redevelopment, open top city bus tours and the Castle, we are beginning to see the emergence of a city economy and we are really proud to be a part of that.”