Blackwood Distillers is to begin whisky production on the Shetland Isles with a GBP5m (US$8.7m) project to build a distillery on the island of Unst.

The Shetland-based spirits group, which produces Blackwood gin and Blackwood vodka, has joined forces with Scottish entrepreneur Frank Strang to convert a former RAF base on the island into a distillery.

Blackwood chief executive Caroline Whitfield told just-drinks today (13 April) that, when operational, the distillery would produce 40,000 to 50,000 cases of single malt Scotch whisky a year. The first whisky is due to go into barrels next April.

"We're only producing single malt. It will be very delicately peated, quietly gentle, not like Highland Park, which is the nearest distillery to us and not like single malts from the western isles. We're looking for something really distinctive with an indigenous flavour profile."

Whitfield said that Blackwood's ever-growing distribution network - the company exports 80% of its output to 36 countries - would provide a healthy consumer base for the company's single malt.

She said: "The plan was always to have the white spirits provide the venture capital for the whisky, while growing the commercial and distribution platform for all our products. Our trading partners are very keen to get some (of our single malt)."

Blackwood plans to consult with residents on Unst on the name of the single malt and is looking at Norse and Shetlandic names.

Whitfield added that the company was looking to launch another new product next year, outside its current presence in gin, vodka and cream liqueurs. "We focus on being a truly innovative player in the market and find a new market space - we don't try to go head to head with others."