gavin smith

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Whisky News, March 2007

by Gavin D Smith

Diageo in Demand

As the international future of Scotch whisky continues to look rosy, industry leaders Diageo have committed themselves to a £100 million investment programme, designed to meet anticipated long-term demand in growing markets
such as China, India, Russia, Brazil and Mexico. Some £80 million is to be spent in expanding capacity in both malt and grain distilling, while more than £20 million will be invested in packaging and warehousing developments. Central to Diageo's plans is the creation of a new malt distillery at Roseisle, where the company already operates a major maltings facility. Roseisle is just inland from the Moray Firth, between Elgin and Forres, at the north-west end of the Speyside whisky region. Subject to planning consents, it is hoped construction will begin later this year, with the distillery opening in early 2009. Theoretically, mature spirit from the new distillery will be available from 2012 onwards. Roseisle will be the first new, large-scale malt distillery to be built in Scotland since the creation of Auchroisk, Allt-à-Bhainne and Braes of Glenlivet during the 1970s, unless one counts fellow Speysider Glenburgie, which was totally rebuilt by Allied Distillers in 2003/4, and subsequently expanded by Chivas Bros.

Output at Cameronbridge grain distillery in Fife will be increased by up to 50 per cent, while bottling capacity is to be expanded at the Shieldhall packaging plant in Glasgow, and more warehousing space will be created in Central Scotland. According to Bryan Donaghey, Managing Director of Diageo Scotland, “This is a significant investment. It underpins our commitment to Scotland and the long term growth and sustainability of our Scotch whisky business. We see very encouraging growth in our Scotch whisky brands. Expanding our capacity now will help us meet demand well into the future.” Diageo's Chief Executive Paul Walsh points out that the planned investment should increase the firm's output of whisky by 10 per cent or 10 million litres per annum, and he declares that “If India takes off, I do not discount another similar investment in Scotland.” Inevitably, Diageo is not alone in gearing up to meet increased global demand for Scotch whisky. However, rumours to the effect that we can expect an imminent announcement of major investment in new distilling facilities from at least one of its principal competitors seem to be wide of the mark. The company's biggest rival, Chivas, still has excess capacity to play with at present, and it is difficult to see anyone else following Diageo's example in the near future.

Heaven's Above

   Expansion is also the order of the day at Heaven Hill Distilleries Inc's historic Bernheim distillery in Louisville, Kentucky. Heaven Hill is the USA's largest independent family-owned distilled spirits producer, and boasts the world's second-biggest inventory of maturing Bourbon. With significantly increased demand both domestically and internationally for its Evan Williams, Elijah Craig, Old Fitzgerald, Heaven Hill, Rittenhouse Rye and Bernheim Wheat brands, Heaven Hill intends to significantly enhance its production capacity. This
will involve the addition of a new grain handling system, mash cooker, and fermenters. Fifteen new jobs are to be created, in addition to the 34 people currently employed at what is generally considered to be the most technologically advanced large-scale distillery in the USA. Heaven Hill's plans will also see both the square footage and the output of the distillery increase by approximately 40 per cent. “We are proud and excited to be planning this major expansion to our Bernheim Distillery facility in Louisville,” says Heaven Hill president Max L Shapira. “This investment in the future of our company is true evidence of our confidence in the economic vitality of the community, and of our confidence in our industry, our brands and our business.”

Gibbston Go ahead

It's not just Scotland and the USA where distillery building is in the air. Following on from Josie Brennan's recent feature on DramFest and the New Zealand whisky scene, word reaches whisky-pages that North Island businessman Warren Preston (right) has won approval to create a $5 million whisky distillery at the eastern end of Gibbston Valley. The development, which has been approved by independent commissioners John Matthews and Michael Parker, is to include a distillery to produce single malt whisky, accommodation for a manager and professional overseas distiller, a bar and restaurant, golf-driving fairway, a natural amphitheatre for outdoor concerts and walkways to viewpoints of the Kawarau River. In terms of size, the distillery is expected to be considerably more 'boutique' than that planned by Diageo for Roseisle, and no timescale for its construction has so far been revealed.

Balblair Born Again

   Inver House Distillers is undertaking a radical revamp of its Balblair single malt brand, replacing conventional expressions carrying age statements with a series of 'vintages.' The vintage approach has certainly paid dividends for The Glenrothes, and the team behind Balblair describe their new offering as “Premium vintage whisky inspired by its Pictish roots but with a contemporary design and international focus.” Initially, the Balblair portfolio will include bottlings from 1979, 1989 and 1997, and these should be in the shops later this month. Look out for April's 'Recent Releases' where we will have further details along with our sampling notes for the new range.

Purists Appalled?

The Macallan has long appealed to traditionalists among whisky drinkers, and some were less then pleased when the Speyside distillery launched its Fine Oak range three years ago. The Macallan had always made a great play of its expensive Sherry wood maturation policy, but Fine Oak was predominantly matured in American Oak, and was designed to appeal to drinkers who had perhaps found the 'real' Macallan a touch too full-bodied for their tastes. Now, however, The Macallan's owner the Edrington Group risks even more raised eyebrows with the launch of a Macallan-based liqueur, complete with pecan and maple, under the name Amber. The Macallan component of Amber is believed to be between three and eight years old. Amber is currently being trialled in Washington, Denver and Seattle after low profile exposure in Boston. According to Ken Grier, Director of Malts at the Edrington Group, "This reinforces our position as the leading innovator in the Scotch whisky market." However, Michael Jackson is one of those whisky aficionados who are less than impressed with the innovation, declaring "It is madness to do this. It is like putting go-faster stripes down the side of a Rolls-Royce. If you are going to do something like this, Macallan is not the whisky to use. It sounds like a bit of an alcopop," Nonetheless, public response has been enthusiastic, so perhaps British drinkers will soon get a chance to make up their own minds. Amber retails in the USA for the equivalent of £20.

Water of Life

   More strain for the bookshelves in the shape of C Anne Wilson's substantial tome Water of Life. Subtitled a History of Wine-Distilling and Spirits 500BC to AD2000, this may sound rather like a Mastermind special subject, but is actually a fascinating and absorbing read for the serious-minded imbiber. According to the cover blurb, “The compelling narrative of wine-distilling is at once romantic, intriguing and unlikely, appearing more the stuff of historical romance than banal reality.” All that, plus footnotes! While the first half of Water of Life focuses on the earlier history of the subject, the rest of the volume is largely dedicated to the British experience of spirit manufacture and consumption from Tudor times to the present day. This is not the lightest of reads, and at £30.00 is unlikely to be an impulse purchase, but it is
warmly recommended for anyone with a thirst for in depth knowledge about the heritage of drink and drinking. Prospect Books. Distributed by Central Books, tel: + 44 (0) 20 8986 4854 for orders or e-mail:

Inverleven on Your Mind

The ever-innovative team at Bruichladdich on Islay has just announced an exciting new development which will surely add further stature and diversity to the Islay classification of single malt whiskies. Jim McEwan and co are to revive the former Lochindaal distillery in Port Charlotte, using plant from Inverleven distillery, the small malt production unit formerly situated within the Dumbarton grain distillery complex near Glasgow. Inverleven was
mothballed in 1991, while Dumbarton itself closed in 2002. According to Bruichladdich supreme Mark Reynier, ""It was Jim's idea. In 2003 Inverleven Distillery was to be demolished, so why not bring it to Islay? Obvious really!" The entire plant was dismantled by a team of Ileachs led by Bruichladdich manager Duncan McGillivray. The machinery was shipped to the island on barges and has subsequently been in storage. Reynier says, “As progressive Hebridean distillers, we believe strongly in the Islay Appellation, and artisanal distilling. One set of stills was never going to be enough for us. This new distillery will allow us to diversify our skills, provide new options and allow further scope for our new ideas. We rather enjoy distilling.” The original Port Charlotte distillery was built in 1829, but was later renamed Lochindaal. It closed exactly a century after its foundation, as the effects of Prohibition in the USA and a worldwide recession decimated the Scotch whisky industry. The new Port Charlotte distillery will be created within existing distillery buildings at Port Charlotte, and will have a maximum capacity of 1.2m litres, meaning that this is no 'boutique' operation. “We have the chance to create an entirely 'green' distillery, with a genuinely zero carbon footprint by using all the latest environmentally sustainable concepts,” says Mark Reynier. “The environmental movement is strong on the theory, but weak in the practice. It will be quite an engineering challenge to see what really is possible.” When a new distillery is built there is usually the best part of a decade to wait before stocks of mature spirit are available for sale to the public as single malt. However, the Bruichladdich team has been distilling heavily-peated whisky under the Port Charlotte name since 2001 (see 'Tasting Notes'), so in this instance it is really a case of creating a distillery to go with the whisky! The 'First Turf' of the Port Charlotte project will be cut during the Islay Whisky Festival, when Bruichladdich hosts its open day on Sunday 27th May.

And Finally...

   Fancy your Scotch for £3.00 a bottle? That's how much it might cost for a standard blend if the government didn't take 70 per cent of the retail price - or around £1 billion per year - in excise duty and VAT. With that in mind Andrew Ferguson has started a petition on the government's E-petition website. It reads: "We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to abolish the duty on
whisky." If you are a UK citizen and wish to sign up for (the extremely remote possibility of) cheap whisky, visit


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