gavin smith

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Whisky News, January 2009

by Gavin D Smith

Glenmorangie Stands Tall

The Scotch whisky industry remains bullish about its principal export markets despite the global economic downturn, and the latest major distillery to have its production capacity increased is Glenmorangie. The Ross-shire distillery saw the installation of additional wash backs last year in a purpose-built extension, and this has been followed by the acquisition of four new stills. Overall, this allows for a
50 per cent growth in output, which previously stood at 4 million litres per annum. The Glenmorangie stills are famously the tallest in Scotland, measuring 5.14 metres in height, and are based on the former gin stills put in place when Glenmorangie opened for business in 1843. The expansion of the distillery at Tain is a key plank of The Glenmorangie Company's £45m two-year investment programme to focus on building its Glenmorangie and Ardbeg single malt brands.

Glendronach Growth

   Positive noises are also emanating from Glendronach distillery on Speyside, acquired for £30 million from Chivas Brothers by the BenRiach Distillery Company last year. Managing Director Billy Walker has recently announced plans to develop a new visitor centre at the distillery near Huntly, which dates back to 1826, and to launch a new range of Glendronach single malts in March. According to Walker, "This is the
beginning of our strategy to repackage and re-launch Glendronach in markets worldwide. We will take Glendronach back to how it was, and promote it as one of Scotland's original Sherried whiskies." The new core range will consist of 12, 15 and 18-year-old expressions, along with a variant carrying no age statement, single cask bottlings and rare, vintage malts. Speaking of the associated visitor centre developments, distillery manager Alan McConnochie says "The aim will be to create an educational and vibrant visitor attraction where both connoisseurs and those new to whisky can learn more about Glendronach." Special tours, tasting master classes and fine dining experiences will be on offer, while corporate evenings, at which guests may stay overnight, will be hosted in the distillery's historic Glen House.

Shetland Saga

From two distilleries that boast lengthy pedigrees to one that many people fear may never see the light of day. The saga of the elusive Shetland distillery took a new turn recently with the announcement that the distillery venture's former promoters, Blackwood Distillers, have re-emerged under the name Catfirth, which is the location of the proposed distillery site. Last May, Blackwood's white spirits subsidiary, the Shetland Spirit Company, went into administration, and later its assets were acquired by drinks firm Blavod. Blackwood's former chief executive Caroline Whitfield says that “A new shell company called Catfirth was set up in June, ready for investment to take forward the whisky plan after the Shetland Spirit Company was sold to Blavod. All previous shareholders now have shares in Catfirth, including me as a minority shareholder, although I am not a director of the new company.” Declining to speculate on potential dates for construction of the long-awaited distillery to begin, Whitfield notes that “I can say that a number of parties could be putting funds in, and Catfirth is also looking at lower-cost
options going forward." Just what is meant by "lower-cost options" is unclear, unless Catfirth is considering having its 'Shetland whisky' produced under contract by a third party, as it did in the past with its 'Shetland gin.' However, forthcoming Scotch whisky legislation will make it much harder to get away with such practices. Whisky-pages will keep you posted on developments.

Whisky Bar None

   Ten leading 'Whisky Bars of Edinburgh' have joined together in a new initiative to attract visitors to the capital and promote their 'whisky experience' to tourists. The scheme - created under the auspices of ScotlandWhisky, Scotland's national Whisky tourism initiative - was launched last month. Chris Conway, of ScotlandWhisky, says that "Pubs and bars are an important part of many visitors' experience of Scotland, as is the wish to try Scotch whisky in its home country. 'Whisky Bars of Edinburgh' is a new collaboration to ensure that visitors know where they can be assured a great bar and whisky experience. "Edinburgh is rightly famous for its bars and 'Whisky Bars of Edinburgh' brings together ten fantastic examples of
where visitors can enjoy a dram in a traditional setting. Each bar has a great reputation for its Scotch whisky range and staff that have passed the Scotch whisky training school." Gary Still from the Royal Mile's 'Whiski Bar,' a member of the 'Whisky Bars of Edinburgh' group, adds that “With bars feeling the effects of the 'credit crunch,' this collaboration reflects the determination of the bars, and their partners in the Scotch whisky industry, not to standstill during this difficult period. Working with other bars in the group to attract locals and tourists alike, we want to show the best of Scottish hospitality and maybe teach customers a little bit about our national drink along the way.” The scheme is being supported by a free 'Whisky Bars of Edinburgh' map and a more in-depth website ( Similar schemes are also being developed in Glasgow and other parts of Scotland.

Crafty Whisky

Bill Owens is a pioneer of the ever-burgeoning US craft distilling movement and president of the American Distilling Institute. He has now published an engrossing book titled The Craft of Whiskey Distilling, and as he writes in the introduction, “This course manual is intended for the craft whiskey distiller who aims to make excellent-quality malt whiskey through artisan distillation methods and equipment.” The book contains step-by-step instructions on using an artisan still to produce a barrel of whiskey a week, and even boasts a spreadsheet that will help the start-up distiller develop a business plan. There is a useful index of websites and recommended reading, not to mention some interesting photographs and a quiz at the end. “This proves you've really read the book,” says Owens! Although unlikely to be of practical use for most of us, The Craft of Whiskey Distilling makes
a fascinating purchase. After all, how many people buy cookery books but never use the recipes? We can always dream… Exclusively available for purchase online ($110). Visit

And Finally…

   Remember our recent piece about running a Radical sports car on spirit distilled at Bruichladdich? Well now you can buy the stuff for your own consumption. 'X4' was made last year by distilling director Jim McEwan, and takes its name from the quadruple distillation process employed in its creation. This leads to a pure and extremely strong spirit, in this case 90%abv. However, it was reduced to 50% abv prior to bottling. "X4 has loads of flavour, it's no mere vodka substitute," declares McEwan. "It's the original usquebaugh, the spirit of the Vikings that our forefathers knew. They didn't wait to mature it, nor
did we. It's a little bit of history - so savour the flavour.” McEwan's recreation was inspired by the writings of Martin Martin, who chronicled in 'A Description of The Western Islands of Scotland 1695' an ancient, powerful, quadruple-distilled spirit made from oats and known as usquebaugh-baul, the Gaelic for 'perilous whisky.' During Martin's travels he was told that “…the first taste affects all the members of the body: two spoonfuls of this last liquor is a sufficient dose; and if any man should exceed this, it would presently stop his breath, and endanger his life.” No such worries with the Bruichladdich version, though do bear in mind Raphael Holinshed's 1577 declaration about whisk(e)y that “…truly, it is a soueraigne liquor, if it be orderlie taken.”


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