Raise a glass to Scrabster couple
Get a digital copy of the Courier and Groat delivered straight to your inbox every week
An ambitious Scrabster couple, hoping to be a tourism asset to the county, have just received planning permission to build a microbrewery at Thurso Business Park.
Alan and Lesley Sinclair, who were both born in Thurso, returned to Caithness in 2014 after living around the Aberdeen area for a few years due to work commitments.
"I'd been working in the oil and gas industry and still commuting to Aberdeen even after we'd bought a house in Scrabster in 2014," said Alan.
The couple's main impetus for moving back was to bring up their children, Kyla (9) and Alasdair (7), in their home town.
Alan looked for ways to escape the the constant commute to Aberdeen and being a "part-time dad" so in 2017 the couple decided they needed to plan their family future out better.
"That was when we started seriously considering a microbrewery," he said.
So they spent the last few years developing recipes, brewing and general business planning but lost a bit of traction with Covid-19 hitting.
"Back in 2014 I had no idea we'd be doing this kind of thing. I've been close friends with Martin Murray who started up Dunnet Bay Distillers [the company behind Rock Rose Gin] that same year we moved back.
"We watched his company doing really well, together with some other local breweries and distilleries, and saw the increased interest in the North Coast 500 all happening at the same time. It all bolstered our confidence to take our own project forward."
The couple's plan is to create "a new and exciting family run modern microbrewery" that includes a shop, taproom and tour offering.
"This means we will span the tourism and food and drink industries, both of which are key to the Caithness economy," he said.
A plot at Thurso Business park was secured from Highland and Islands Enterprise subject to full planning permission and full project funding being in place prior to transaction completion.
"We now have the planning permission in place and, providing it gets the full project funding, we expect to be able to provide several local jobs and be trading by May 2021."
In line with the North Highland Initiative’s Highland Time campaign, aiming to encourage visitors to spend more time exploring the region, Alan and Lesley believe their project will create a "wider visitor offering" for Caithness and increase "dwell time" by encouraging visitors to stay in the area longer – which will benefit other local businesses as well.
"We're at an early stage with naming the company and products but I can say we're aiming for the craft beer market and will probably start with around five or six different beers."
An initiative called Ambition 2030 – a cross sector growth strategy developed by the Scotland Food and Drink Partnership and the Scottish Government –- establishes a vision to cement food and drink as Scotland’s most valuable industry, with the opportunity to more than double turnover in the sector to reach £30 billion by 2030.
"We want to be a part of that," said Alan.
With planning permission now in place and the location at Thurso Business Park being adjacent to the major tourist trail of the NC500 route, it seems the couple are well ahead in achieving their goal of becoming a recognised visitor attraction in Caithness.