gavin smith




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Beam Goes Global

by Gavin D Smith

Part II

Beam Global's master blender and Laphroaig ambassador Robert Hicks may have made most impact with his notion of 'flavour profiling' in relation to Laphroaig Quarter Cask, but the success of the quarter cask method of maturation are central to another recent release from the Beam stable, namely Ardmore Traditional Cask (see Recent Releases, July 2007).

Ardmore is distilled in Beam's 'other' Scottish distillery, located at Kennethmont, on the eastern fringes of Speyside. Unlike Laphroaig, Ardmore has always had an ultra-low profile, with almost all of the single malt from this large, eight-still plant disappearing into the Teacher's Highland Cream blend. Ardmore has long been a favourite with connoisseurs, but has only been generally available in independent bottlings until the launch of Ardmore Traditional Cask.

As Beam's Scotch Brand Director Michael Cockram explains, "We had this fantastic product, and we know it's gone down very well in the past as a single malt when it has been available. It's one of the very few peated Highland malts. It doesn't have an Islay peatiness, with all that maritime character, but something quite different. We had the spirit available to do something with, and we knew from Allied days that the 'quarter cask' process works well with Ardmore. It seems to work best with the peated whiskies like Laphroaig and Ardmore."
  

Robert Hicks makes the point that "With Ardmore my idea was to produce a flavour package which would show the whisky at its best and be unique. As yet, of course, we don't have a fan base for Ardmore as we do for Laphroaig, but there's now an Ardmore website, which we never had before, and an Ardmore visitor centre should be up and running in 2008. The distillery is currently working flat out, making around five million litres of spirit per year, and the company may eventually get to the point where it increases the size of its two distilleries."

As at Laphroaig, there is a real sense of purpose about Ardmore distillery, with staff pleased to see the plant working at maximum capacity and a proprietary bottling on the market at long last.

There is also a degree of experimentation going on at Ardmore, similar to that at Laphroaig, with the warehouses holding 60 puncheons, each with 400 litre capacity, due for an eventual special release, plus casks filled with spirit made from barley malted to a variety of peat specifications, not to mention quarter casks. It is anticipated that some older expressions of Ardmore will be released in the not too distant future.

As well as the two Scottish distilleries and their single malts, the Teacher's blended whisky brand was a very important element of Beam's Allied acquisitions' package. It boasts world sales approaching two million cases, and grew by five per cent globally in 2006.

"Its real strength is in Brazil and India, both key 'BRIC' countries which are experiencing enormous growth in Scotch whisky sales," notes Michael Cockram. "It's the number one 'bottled in Brazil' standard blended Scotch, and also the leading 'bottled in India' standard blend. It's the number three standard blend in the UK market, and we're making progress to grow the brand there. Allied didn't spend much on promoting it, and we are reinvesting."



According to Robert Hicks "There are plans to do new things with Teacher's, but to do anything you need the stocks. It's difficult to buy whisky just now. Everybody's hanging onto it because of developing markets like India and China. However, the fact is there will be an aged expression of Teacher's a couple of years down the line."

"Whisk(e)y is very important to Beam," says Michael Cockram, "it's a major part of the company's heritage. The Scotch business is obviously a recent acquisition, but I think we have a very bright future with Scotch. The performance of our Scotch brands so far has been very good."

He adds that "Last year Beam, bought a significant part of the Westthorn complex in the east end of Glasgow, where John Dewar & Sons also has a blending and bottling facility. We acquired it principally for its warehousing capacity, and we have bottling contracts with Glenmorangie and Whyte & Mackay, with the latter bottling Teachers for us."

Robert Hicks states that "The fact that Beam only has two distilleries and one blend means they can concentrate and do the very best with what they've got. They understand the whisky business and are investing for the future. Multi-national companies are always looking for a two to three year payback, but Beam doesn't see it like that. I think they are doing a great job in Scotland."

go to part I of this two-part feature

This feature is based on an article published by The Malt Advocate in 2007.

  

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