DRINKS giant Diageo has been handed a boost in its quest to bring the Brora Distillery in the Highlands back to life – nearly a year after its plans were first announced.

Scotland’s biggest distiller has secured planning permission from Highland Council for a project to restore Brora’s original buildings, which date back to 1819.

The green light comes after Diageo, whose whisky include Bell’s and Johnnie Walker, revealed its intention last October to bring both Brora and the famous Port Ellen Distillery on Islay back into production.

Diageo said it would invest £35 million to revive the “lost” distilleries, which were both closed in 1983, and targeted re-starting production at both sites in 2019 or 2020.

The Guinness and Gordon’s Gin owner said yesterday that work on restoring the Brora buildings would now begin further to the planning boost.

It signalled that the project would involve the historic stillhouse being dismantled entirely, before being rebuilt in a manner which retains its original character. Diageo noted that it would be “structurally capable of once more producing the finest quality spirit” after the work.

Stewart Bowman, Brora Distillery project implementation manager, said: “This is a key milestone in our journey to bring Brora Distillery back into production.

“Everyone involved is raring to get going with the work to restore the beautiful distillery buildings, so they can once more produce the spirit that Brora is famous for.

“We will now begin the painstaking work of bringing down and reconstructing the stillhouse with care and attention to detail so that every stone is perfect.”

READ MORE: Port Ellen and Brora to be revived in £35m plan

Diageo said the plans for Brora have caught the imagination of the local community and whisky lovers around the world.

Earlier this year it engaged locals in the project by inviting them to share their memories, stories and artefacts relating to the distillery, which was known as Clynelish after opening in 1819 until the opening of the nearby Clynelish Distillery in 1968.

Diageo said it has been sharing its drawings and plans for the construction of the new-look distillery, where it aims to replicate the distilling regimes and spirit character of the original distillery as far as possible.

As previously announced, the new Brora and Port Ellen distilleries will be among Diageo’s smallest, and produce around 800,000 litres of alcohol per year.

A spokesman said the objective is not about how much spirit they produce, but the quality they make.

The projects come after collector interest in rare whisky from so-called “lost” distilleries, including Brora and Port Ellen, has steadily grown in the last 15 to 20 years. Both whiskies are well-regarded by enthusiasts, who have snapped up the limited edition whiskies which Diageo has occasionally released from existing stocks in recent years.

Meanwhile, Diageo is moving forward with a £150 million to invest in Johnnie Walker tourist attractions around Scotland.

The project will see it create a home for its flagship brand in the centre of Edinburgh and visitor facilities at distilleries from four whisky regions which provide malts for the Johnnie Walker blend – Caol Ila on Isla, Glenkinchie in Edinburgh (Lowlands), Clynelish in the Highlands, and Cardhu in Speyside. Collectively, the distilleries are known as the “four corners of Johnnie Walker”. Last week, the company gave Islay residents a first glimpse of plans for Caol Ila, and the chance to provide feedback on them, before their submission for planning approval. The plans would see the creation of a state of the art visitor centre inside the warehouse, incorporating a bar with views across the Sound of Islay. It is envisaged that guests would enter the visitor centre via a foot-bridge into the roof of the warehouse, linking to new parking facilities high above the distillery.

Caol Ila distillery manager Pierrick Guillaume said: “We are very excited about the ambitious plans to transform the visitor experience at Caol Ila with this investment.”