gavin smith

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Whisky News, February 2009

by Gavin D Smith

Ailsa unveiled

William Grant & Sons tend not to shout their business from the rooftops, and while the construction of Diageo's new Roseisle malt distillery on Speyside has been well documented, Grant's quietly got on with building and commissioning their new Ailsa Bay distillery at Girvan. Last month, however, the new facility was officially opened by HRH Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay, and not even Grant's could play down such a notable occasion for the Ayrshire town. Ailsa Bay is located adjacent to the Girvan grain whisky distillery complex, which were built in just nine months by Charles Gordon, now Life President of the family company, in 1963. With construction starting in January 2007, the Ailsa Bay distillery was also built in nine months, and the first spirit flowed from the stills during September 2007. Ailsa Bay, named by the
company's employees after Ailsa Craig, ten miles from the distillery in the Irish Sea, makes use of the existing infrastructure at Girvan and contains four wash and four spirit stills that produce a range of single malt whiskies for the firm's range of blends. Peter Gordon, Chairman of William Grant & Sons, and a member of the fifth generation of the Grant family, said at the opening that "We are delighted and honoured to show the Ailsa Bay distillery to His Royal Highness. Everyone involved in the project demonstrated what can be done with the right blend of engineering expertise and a team spirit that generated remarkable shared commitment to the completion date. We are honoured that His Royal Highness was able to meet some of the team and affirm our pride in their achievements. "We have opened Scotland's newest distillery to increase capacity and supply of malt whisky for blending so we can meet the growing demand for Grant's around the world. By continuing our constant drive to develop and improve the quality of the Grant's blend, we hope that we can ensure the long-term future of the Girvan site and our 130 employees here." At the end of his visit, the Prince filled one of four casks with new make Ailsa Bay spirit, which will be laid down in the distillery's warehouses to mature and will ultimately be bottled for The Prince's Trust.

Rum do

   Staying with William Grant & Sons, a new expression of the company's Balvenie single malt is to be released into the travel retail market this month. The Balvenie GoldenCask 14 Year Old Single Malt is bottled at 47.5%abv and is un-chill-filtered. It has been matured principally in traditional oak casks before spending a final period of maturation in casks that previously contained golden Caribbean rum. Commenting on his latest creation, Balvenie Malt Master David Stewart says, “This unusual finishing period in rum cask has imbued the Balvenie whisky with a fruity sweetness and subtle spice, to create an interesting new Balvenie expression. For the Balvenie drinker this offers something a little bit special that you can only pick up on your travels.”

Highland Park

Scotland's northernmost distillery of Highland Park in Orkney has recently opened an upgraded and refurbished visitor centre. Visitors can now enjoy a dram at the bespoke tasting bar, featuring Orkney dry-stone walling and traditional oak reclaimed from an original Highland Park washback. A new 'cask education' area highlights the vital role of the ex-Sherry casks used during maturation of the single malt. The Connoisseurs Tour, costing £35, provides visitors with a more in-depth experience than the standard tour, ending in The Tasting Room with a sampling of various malts in Highland Park's portfolio, including the 12-year-old, 15-year-old, 18-year-old and 25-year-old. According to a Highland Park spokesman, “Visitors can also view historic Highland Park memoirs, including a note from Sir Winston Churchill. During the Second World War, the HMS Royal Oak was sunk in Scapa Flow and Churchill visited the distillery. When offered a cup of tea upon arrival, he immediately stated his preference for a glass of Highland Park in his typically direct manner.
"Book-loving visitors can also discover over 200 whisky publications including some rare tomes of up to 200 years old, such as an original copy of Alfred Barnard's The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom, published in 1887, which is said to feature the best-known Magnus Eunson anecdote. Eunson is credited with being the original founder of Highland Park, and was a beadle by day and a smuggler by night." Patricia Retson, Highland Park Distillery Visitor Centre Manager, says "The impact of the credit crunch indicates that more people will be staying in the UK for their holidays this year and we look forward to welcoming new visitors. A visit to Orkney would not be complete without a tour of Highland Park distillery - it is a truly exceptional experience and a wonderful way in which to learn more about the history and traditions of this award-winning single malt." For further information visit

Sea stories

   If Highland Park is Scotland's most northerly distillery, then Pulteney, in the Caithness port of Wick, can boast that it is the country's northernmost mainland distillery. The marketing team behind Old Pulteney single malt have put a lot of time and effort into emphasising their whisky's maritime credentials, and they launched their latest promotional venture at the recent London Boat Show. Old Pulteney's Stories of the Sea events run in partnership with The Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph and feature intimate storytelling sessions from some of the world's most established and entertaining
adventurers, followed by an interactive whisky tasting and workshop. The London Boat Show event featured maritime adventurer Jasper Shackleton, a relative of the explorer Ernest Shackleton, and future speakers will include Atlantic adventurer Tom McClean, BBC's Coast presenter and maritime archaeologist Mark Horton, SAS trained survival expert, Martyn Helliwell, TV presenter and wildlife expert Chris Packham and Alvaro de Marichalar, the Spanish aristocrat who travelled from Rome to New York on a jet ski! Readers of the Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph can apply for tickets through the newspaper's website for these free events, and the national tour continues until August, visiting Liverpool, Edinburgh, Wick, Bristol and Southampton. Iain Baxter, Senior Brand Manager for Old Pulteney says "We are incredibly proud of our maritime heritage and close links with the sea, so to launch such a major new initiative with some of the world's finest adventurers at one of the biggest events in the UK is very exciting."

Spirit of Spey

This year the Spirit of Speyside Festival celebrates its 10th anniversary, and due to increasing popularity, the event has been expanded from its previous five days to ten, running from 1st to 10th May. The 2008 Festival enjoyed its highest visitor
numbers ever, attracting many people from Central and Eastern Europe, and organisers hope to see that trend continue this year. They anticipate drawing in some 23,000 visitors, and the Festival is expected to generate around £750,000 for the local economy. This year the Festival has been chosen to play a leading role in the Homecoming Scotland 2009 programme, which marks the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns' birth. It has been designated the Signature Event of the Whisky Theme - May is 'Whisky Month' in the Homecoming calendar - which will help to showcase the heritage, folklore and culture of the River Spey, Speyside and its people. According to Marie Christie, Homecoming Scotland 2009 Project Director, "Whisky is one of the five main themes of Homecoming Scotland 2009 and one of Scotland's greatest treasures, therefore we are delighted that the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival launches Whisky Month for Homecoming with a newly extended programme which celebrates the very best of Speyside's whisky, music, dance and song". In total, there will be more than 250 events, including the prestigious annual Whisky Awards, Professional Chef Competition and Student Chef Competition, while the Festival also offers tours of many distilleries not normally open to the public. New for 2009 is an exclusive Malt Whisky School - a three-day master class for whisky enthusiasts. Visit the newly-revamped website for further information and to make on-line bookings.

Whisky truths

   Classic Expressions has recently published its latest facsimile edition of a rare and long out of print whisky title in the shape of Truths About Whisky. Truths About Whisky was issued in 1878 by the four principal Dublin distillers, namely John Jameson & Sons, William Jameson & Co (of Marrowbone Lane), John Power & Sons and George Roe & Co. As noted in the first chapter, “The four firms of whisky distillers by whom this book is published ... have for the last two years been engaged in an endeavour to place some check upon the practices of the
fraudulent traders by whom silent spirit, variously disguised and flavoured, is sold under the name of Whisky." As co-publisher Ian Buxton says, "Note the spelling of 'whisky,' even in Ireland! 'Silent spirit' is, of course, a reference to grain whisky and the book is an impassioned defence of malt whisky. It includes details on 'The Qualities and Popularity of genuine Dublin Whisky,' 'The Growth of Silent Spirit into Sham Whisky,' 'Grogging' and 'Whisky Frauds.' "The book is an important contribution to the great 'What is Whisky' debate, which was even then gathering pace and culminated in the 1909 Royal Commission, the recommendations of which shaped the future direction of the distilling industry." A fascinating and beautifully reproduced book. First editions can sell for sums in the region of £750 at auction, so the £50.00 cover price is not unreasonable. Visit for more information and on-line ordering.

And finally...

Most of us tend to steer clear of psychologists in case we discover things about ourselves we would rather not know, but what happens when a psychologist reveals himself to us, and more particularly, when he reveals his take on Scotch whisky? Dutch psychologist Ap Dijksterhuis does just that in his latest book, entitled Whisky by Numbers, edited by whisky journalist Hans Offringa. According to Offringa, “With soft self-mockery the author gives an autobiographical account of his falling in love with whisky and Scotland. The way in which he relates psychological as well as statistical issues to whisky is funny and highly readable. Whisky maturation, the interpretation of tasting notes, ratings and the behaviour of people at online whisky auctions - nothing escapes the humour-filled pen of Dijksterhuis.” Offbeat and thought-provoking, the book is written in English and is available for 12.95 Euros via email from

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