This was the culmination of a dream which had begun some years earlier when Mr Harold Currie, a man with a distinguished background in the distilling industry, started looking for somewhere in Scotland to establish a new distillery. A friend, the architect David Hutchison, suggested Arran, and subsequently designed the attractive buildings in which the distillery is housed.
Work began on construction of the new distillery on 16 December 1994 and, after a two month gap in the spring to allow a pair of Golden Eagles nesting on the hillside above to raise their young undisturbed by building work, the distillery was ready for operation by the end of June 1995 and was formally opened on 17 August 1995.
Just over two years later, on 9 August 1997, the distillery's visitor centre was officially opened by HM The Queen during a tour of the Western Isles on the Royal Yacht Britannia, the last she was to undertake before the Britannia's decommissioning. In celebration of the royal opening, hogsheads of Arran Malt were set aside for Prince William and Prince Harry, and they continue to mature in one of the distillery's warehouses.
Today the Isle of Arran Distillery is one of Arran's main visitor attractions, and by far the largest outside Brodick. In 2005, some 50,000 people visited the distillery, of whom nearly 50% were from overseas.
What visitors find is a spacious and well laid out distillery that has been designed to look like it is a distillery without going overboard. The visitor centre is spacious and welcoming, and as well as being the gathering place for tours of the distillery it is home to an excellent restaurant and the distillery shop.
Most of the production takes place in a single building. The process at Arran begins with the receipt of malted barley, which is milled on the premises before being passed through to the large open and well lit space in which you find the mashtun, the washbacks, the stills and condensers, the spirit safe and all the other elements needed to conduct the magic of distillation.
Incredibly enough, everything that happens on the production side of the distillery, from the milling through the distilling to the warehousing operations, is done by just three men. You can find out more about Making Malt Whisky from our series of feature pages showing the stages in the process.
A unique feature at the distillery is found in one of its warehouses, where barrels of maturing spirit are stacked far higher than you would find in a traditional bonded warehouse. Individual barrels anywhere - and at any height - in the warehouse can be picked by a single man operating a specially adapted forklift truck.
The distillery tours are conducted by knowledgable and experienced guides and begin with an audio visual presentation in the visitor centre before moving on to a detailed exposition of the distilling process within the distillery itself. This is the sort of tour you'll enjoy whether it's your first time in a distillery or your hundred and first. It is fascinating to see how a distillery can be designed from scratch in the modern era, and the ways in which this makes it different from many older distilleries.
All of this slightly begs the question of why someone would decide to set up a new distillery on Arran. Why subject yourself to the additional transport costs that inevitably come with island life, both during construction and subsequent operation? There were a number of answers to this.
The first was the quality of the most important raw material used by a distiller, the water. The water used in the Isle of Arran Distillery rises in the mountains that dominate the north end of Arran before collecting in Loch na Davie and flowing down to the distillery. Climate and air quality were a second consideration: and Arran's mild climate and its clean air were judged suitable for the maturation of single malt Scotch whisky.
The potential for developing an income from visitors was another reason. When you start a distillery from scratch, you don't make a penny back on your investment for the legal minimum of three years during which the spirit has to mature before it can be called Scotch whisky, and usually for many more years as the spirit slowly turns into the fully rounded product. Realistically, you are only going to start to see a full return on your investment when your fully matured product can be bottled and sold, often a decade or more after production starts. Operating the distillery as a visitor attraction helped fill this gap.
And finally, Arran was chosen because of its long heritage of distilling. In 1793 there were three legal distilleries on Arran plus - at best estimate - 50 more illicit ones. Whisky smuggling was a major industry and conflict with excisemen a frequent occupational hazard. As late as 1817 two men and a woman were shot and killed on Arran by excisemen while smuggling whisky.
A change in the law in 1823 made legal distilling a much more attractive proposition and Arran's illicit stills died out: sadly, though, the island's legal distillers then found themselves unable to compete with the lower transport costs of the many new distillers in places like Campbeltown, where no fewer than 34 distilleries were established, and the island's last distillery, at Lagg, closed in 1836. It was this long if rather turbulent heritage which the Isle of Arran Distillery started to revive in 1995.