The Netherlands-based Scaent Group acquired the mothballed Glenglassaugh Distillery from Highland Distillers in February. After nine months of preparation, the distillery will be up and running by the end of November. Managing director Stuart Nickerson spoke with Olly Wehring about the challenges of bringing a single malt out of retirement and the new owner's plans for the company.

just-drinks: Who is behind the Glenglassaugh Distillery Company?

Stuart Nickerson: Glenglassaugh Distillery Company was registered in Scotland in 2006. We're 100%-owned by the Scaent Group, a Netherlands-based company with shareholders spread throughout a number of countries, with diverse interests and different businesses. The group was formed from a company called Unitrade, which focused primarily on energy trading. Glenglassaugh is the Scaent Group's first interest in the spirits industry, partly because many of the shareholders have a strong interest in Scotch whisky. Energy trading, however, remains the company's core business.

j-d: What attracted this energy trading group to the Scotch whisky industry?

Nickerson: The executive vice president of The Scaent Group is Scottish, and he's brought many shareholders over to Scotland, and they've fallen in love with the place. They loved Scotch whisky before, then they loved Scotland when they came over, and they also like golf. It's easier rather than being a Donald Trump to come and look at Scotch whisky, and they really wanted to buy a distillery.

They gave me two criteria when we were looking to acquire a distillery. One was that the distillery must have provenance - it had to have been around for a long time. Secondly, there had to be some stock and it had to be of a good quality. Glenglassaugh fitted both criteria.

j-d: What have you bought, and how much did it cost?

Nickerson: We've bought a distillery that can produce about 1.1m litres of alcohol a year. We've also bought a warehousing complex, which is on-site and can hold up to 30,000 casks. These warehouses have been maintained and used by Edrington to the present day to store other casks from other sites as well as the last few remaining stocks of Glenglassaugh. So, we've got the ability to produce, the ability to store, the spring water supply and all the stock of Glenglassaugh that Edrington had left. We know there are a few other casks of Glenglassaugh out there owned by other people. If they'd like to sell them, we'd be interested to talk about it.

We bought this on 29 February this year from Highland Distillers, who are part of The Edrington Group. It had been in their hands since 1892. The distillery was originally built in 1875 but has laid silent since 1986. The whole deal, including the refurbishment, will come in at around GBP5m (US$7.93m).

j-d: What has the journey since the end of February been like?

Nickerson: For me, it's been very exciting. It has been stressful at times, certainly, and extremely challenging - we're trying to get the distillery back on-line as soon as we can.

Stuart Nickerson, managing director of The Glenglassaugh Distillery Company

The major elements of the plant were already in place when we bought it, but we've had to make quite a few modifications from how things were 22 years ago, due to changing legislation in that time. There are always challenges around money, thanks to the fluctuating financial situation around the world today. Then, there have been challenges finding the right wood in which to mature stocks going forward, and also in sourcing barley. So, yes, there have been lots of challenges and a few sleepless nights, but it's been very exciting.

We're hoping to be up and running by mid-November, the end of November at the latest. We should come in on budget. Most of the companies we've been working with have been pretty good and are doing everything to help us, in terms of both costs and time scale.

j-d: Buying a mothballed distillery, though, won't offer quick returns, will it? Is this just a rich man's plaything?

Nickerson: Many people who get into distilling are not rich men! To buy one that already has remaining stock is obviously better because it's easier to get some cash into the business sooner rather than later. If you're building from scratch, firstly, you're never 100% certain what the whisky's going to taste like and, secondly, it's going to take even longer before you get any returns.

j-d: What does the company have lined up for the short to medium term?

Nickerson: We have three products lined up from the existing stock - a 21-, a 30- and a 40-year-old. We'll be selling these over the coming years, but we have very small volumes of these. But, going forward, we anticipate launching a 12-year-old. We don't think we'll go out with a younger expression at this point. So, we're looking at other potential income sources, such as a visitors' centre, and maybe a blended whisky, but we'd obviously have to buy those components in and put it together.

j-d: With production set to start in the coming weeks, has the global economic meltdown come at the wrong time for you?

Nickerson: At this moment in time, we don't anticipate the economic climate being a concern. We see other single malts of similar vintages coming out at very high prices. We're seeing GBP3,000 to GBP4,000 a bottle for some 40-year-olds, and that's not the sort of price that we're going to be aiming to achieve. We think our product is exceptional, and it's very rare - there are only going to be a few hundred bottles available every year.

So, we don't think it's going to be a huge impediment at this moment in time, but I'm sure there will be lots of other challenges still to overcome.