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UHI Business Awards: Illicit distilling great-great grandmother inspired top University of the Highlands and Islands prize winner from Ardgay


By Alan Shields


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Ciara Bow with her UHI awards.
Ciara Bow with her UHI awards.

A craft distiller inspired by her great-great grandmother – one of Ardgay’s last illicit distillers – won the UHI business competition.

Ciara Bow (23), founder of Gledfield Distillery, took the award after impressing the judges with her passion to bring craft distilling back to Sutherland with her family’s age-old botanical spirit recipe.

Ciara, who studied fabrication and welding and performing engineering operations, wants to resurrect her ancestors’ craft by producing a botanical spirit.

She said: “My ambition is to bring craft distilling back to life in my home in the Kyle of Sutherland. I will resurrect my family’s age-old botanical spirit recipe with a modern twist, create employment opportunities, attract tourism to the area by way of tours and tastings and give back to my community with a donation to a local charity with every bottle sold.

“My inspiration is driven by passion and heritage. My great, great grandmother Marjorie Macbeath was one of the last illicit distillers in Ardgay in the 1800s. When the excise men came on horse and cart to remove her pot still, she hid it under her petticoats in the burn. She lived on a croft and distilled her spirit using botanicals which she had access to. Women were distilling long before men and it’s a story not celebrated enough.

“Taking part in this competition has been an amazing experience. It was a wonderful opportunity to network with other professionals and gain invaluable feedback which I am incredibly grateful for. The support I have received has been phenomenal, during and since the event. I love telling my story and I’m always so grateful when people give their time to listen, it means so much that the judges were quite literally invested in my story and prepared to support me in my journey.

“My next goal is to finalise recipe development and secure a premises, we are very nearly there! I am so very lucky to be living my dream. If you have an idea, a passion, just go for it! It does not matter if you are only able to take little steps, you are still making progress. Talk to people, to anyone that will listen, I have found so much support from others in different stages of the journey and hearing their stories has really helped, encouraged, and driven me. Never give up. If you can’t predict the future, create your own.”

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