gavin smith

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Whisky News, March 2008

by Gavin D Smith

Jameson and St Patrick

Later this month anyone with a drop of green blood will be celebrating St Patrick's Day, and the best-selling Jameson whiskey brand has got in on the act, staging a series of 'Jameson Live' gigs. According to the distiller, which is owned by Pernod Ricard and operates under the Irish Distillers banner, "The aim is to strengthen and reinforce Jameson's credentials as a modern and contemporary brand, using the medium of live music and intimate exclusive gigs to create excitement around the brand for key target consumers. The gigs will also provide the perfect opportunity to drive trial of Jameson's great-tasting perfect-serve Jameson & Ginger and further raise awareness among males between 25 and 34 years of age." Highlight of
the celebrations will be two gigs in Manchester and London on Sunday 16th & Monday 17th March respectively, when The Coral will be the headline act, while support artists include Florence and the Machine, and The Aliens. Patrick Venning, Head of Marketing for Whiskies at Pernod Ricard UK, says "We are extremely excited about this opportunity to build on the success of last year's Jameson Live promotion with the St Patrick's Day Jameson Live gigs - especially because we're making a real investment here at a time when few of our competitors will be doing so. The gigs offer our target consumers the opportunity to enjoy a great passion of theirs - live music - in a light-hearted, relaxed and intimate atmosphere, reinforcing Jameson's credentials as an accessible, versatile and mixable whiskey that is always at the heart of the occasion."

Whiskey of Note

   Staying in Ireland, the Bank of Northern Ireland has announced plans to feature the Old Bushmills distillery in County Antrim on a new issue of bank notes. From next month, the reverse of £5, £10 and £20 notes will feature the distillery, coinciding with celebrations to mark the 400th anniversary of the granting of a licence to distil in the Bushmills area. Bushmills is now owned by Diageo, and its whiskey brands are therefore key rivals to Jameson's. According to
Kirkpatrick, Chief Executive of Bank of Ireland Northern Ireland, "The Old Bushmills Distillery represents both the history and the future of Northern Ireland business. It is a long established company which is currently expanding production under the ownership of Diageo plc. "Because Bank of Ireland is one of the leading business banks in this region, we felt our new notes should feature a business that is symbolic both of our heritage and of our skill in crafting products for a global market." Gordon Donoghue, Managing Director of Old Bushmills Distillery, says "Appearing on the new notes is especially pleasing for all of us at the distillery because we are celebrating such an important anniversary in our long history. "It was in April 1608 that King James I granted a licence to distil whiskey to the territory then called 'the Rowte' in Co. Antrim. Even then, distilling was a tradition in the area and today we are proud to be Ireland's oldest working distillery and to be recognised by Bank of Ireland as an icon of Northern Ireland."

Once More with Teeling

Not to be outdone by its large-scale competitors, Ireland's only independent distilling outfit of Cooley, headed by entrepreneur John Teeling, also makes the news this month, though not for feel-good reasons associated with celebrations. Pernod Ricard's Irish Distillers subsidiary is flexing its mighty muscles in an effort to stop Cooley bottling whiskey for one of its Russian competitors. Irish Distillers is suing the County Louth-based company to prevent it producing
St Patrick's whiskey for the Russian firm Roterhouse, which, Irish Distillers claims, bears more than a passing resemblance to Jameson's in presentation. John Teeling intends to defend the action which alleges breach of copyright, pointing out that Cooley simply bottles the whiskey for Roterhouse, who then provide all branding and labelling. Happy St Patrick's Day!

Behold Braeval

   As whisky-making fever continues to sweep Scotland, the latest producer due to increase its capacity is industry number two Pernod Ricard, through its Chivas Brothers subsidiary. While market leader Diageo is developing its new Roseisle distillery and William Grant & Sons now has Ailsa Bay on stream, Chivas has just announced that is to re-open its remote Braeval distillery on Speyside later this year and also increase production at The Glenlivet. Braeval dates from 1973 and is an efficient plant designed to be operated by one person per shift. With a capacity in excess of four million litres of alcohol per annum it is also sizeable enough to be worth the expense and effort of resurrection. Braeval has been mothballed since 2002, and will start producing
spirit again this July. In May 2005 Chivas re-opened Braeval's 'sister' distillery of Allt-à-Bhainne in order to supply malt spirit for the increasing international sales of Chivas Regal. Meanwhile, the company has also started discussions with Moray Council regarding the anticipated expansion of The Glenlivet, where it wants to install a second mash tun, six new stills and six wash backs to accommodate increased production.

Kilchoman Casks

Islay's Kilchoman distillery is now offering aficionados the chance to secure some whisky from its first bottling. Kilchoman was officially opened in 2005, when it became the island's first new distillery in 124 years. Three-year-old whisky will be available next year, and Kilchoman founder
Anthony Wills says "The nature of the product is such that anything new in the whisky industry takes a long time to come to fruition. We began planning for this in 2001 and it's now very exciting to think that our first bottling will be next year! "There is a general increase in interest and demand around the world for limited edition bottlings of single malt whisky. We've been delighted with the advance orders received so far. However there is a finite number of bottles which will be available so we're encouraging enthusiasts to register early for this and our five-year-old which will be due for release in 2011." Kilchoman is now taking orders for its five-year-old single malt, which will be bottled at 46% ABV without chill-filtration or added colour. 1,540 cases (six x 70cl bottles) will be released, priced at £165 per case, with just one case being allocated to each potential purchaser. See for further details.

Whisky Rose

   William Grant & Sons Ltd has released a new expression of its Balvenie single malt, distilled in the Speyside 'whisky capital' of Dufftown. However, this is no ordinary 'line extension,' but something so exclusive it even has a rose named after it and whisky-pages' intrepid taster is required to make a journey to the distillery (not too much of a hardship) in order to sample it. The Balvenie Rose is a 16-year-old single malt that spends its final stage of maturation in casks from Portugal used in port production, giving the whisky a delicate rose hue. The Balvenie Malt Master David Stewart describes the whisky as having a distinctly floral aroma with hints of rose petals and a sweet, rich taste bringing an abundance of fruit, raisins, sultanas, apricots and a little citrus, all overlaid with gentle spice and delicate oak notes. The inspiration for the new expression comes from the history of the ruined Balvenie Castle, which stands close to the distillery. In 1460 the annual rent of the castle was set at a single red rose. During the 15th century the castle was owned by the Fair Maid of Galloway, Margaret
Douglas, but following the rebellion of the infamous 'Black Douglas' against the king, all of the family's titles and estates were forfeit to the Crown. The king, however, was so taken with Margaret's beauty, that he reinstated her at Balvenie Castle for the unusual annual rent of a single red rose. Balvenie distillery's Rob MacPherson says "This wonderfully romantic story of Margaret Douglas and the single rose inspired us to create The Balvenie Rose single malt. We're so pleased with the result that we decided to also name a red rose in honour of this historic tale." Just 426 bottles of Balvenie Rose have been produced, and are for sale exclusively at The Balvenie Distillery Shop, with a price of £100 a bottle. The Balvenie Rose plant can be purchased from

Whisky Beer

Dougal Sharp, originator of the remarkably successful specialist beer Innis & Gunn has taken control of the company after buying out the 90 per cent stake owned by distiller William Grant & Sons Ltd. His intention now is to target the growing international market for specialist beers. Innis & Gunn was launched in 2003 after Sharp, former head brewer at Edinburgh's Caledonian brewery, realised that Grant's 'seasoned' a number of specialist casks with beer which was subsequently discarded. Sharp recalls "I was shocked how good it was," and in association with William Grant & Sons Ltd he established a brewing operation to capitalise on the concept of beer aged in oak casks. Beer brewed under contract at Belhaven is aged in American white oak casks ultimately destined for the whisky industry, and the result is a unique style that has won a fistful of awards
and, according to Sharp, "It is the number one Scottish beer in both Sweden and Canada. IN the UK it is the number four speciality beer and our growth last year was 60 per cent." A spokesman for William Grant & Sons Ltd says "We wish him all the best of luck with it. It was always our intention to work with Dougal as he set up the brand, so this is a natural fruition of our relationship." See for Innis & Gunn tasting notes.

Beaming with Delight

   Congratulations to Beam Global Spirits & Wine, which is celebrating a historic milestone with the filling of the eleven millionth barrel of Jim Beam Bourbon. February 1st, 2008 marked the first time Jim Beam has filled one million barrels in less than three years. Jim Beam is the world's best-selling Bourbon brand, with the USA being its largest market, followed by Australia and Germany. According to its makers, 2007 saw revenue grow at a double-digit rate with worldwide consumption surpassing six million cases. "We are proud to celebrate this important company milestone," declares Jeff Conder, Vice President, North American Operations for Beam Global Spirits & Wine, Inc. "We quite literally pay tribute to our brand messaging 'The Stuff Inside Matters Most.' Not only have we filled another million barrels, but we've done so in the shortest amount of time our company has ever seen - two years, eleven months and three weeks.
The demand for Bourbon is growing, and we are prepared and proud to accommodate this trend among consumers seeking the authenticity represented by Jim Beam."

And finally... Drinking and Driving

Researchers at Dundee's University of Abertay are currently experimenting with ways of turning spent grains from whisky-making into biofuel. At present, much of the residue of whisky-making is processed into animal feeds, but now Professor Graeme Walker and his team are working in conjunction with the Scotch Whisky Research Institute and Heriot-Watt University to develop the optimum way of converting it into fuel for motor transport. One of the attractions of bioethanol is that it produces 65 per cent fewer greenhouse gases than traditional petrol. "Many technical challenges remain to converting waste biomass into fuel," concedes the professor. "We'll focus on finding more efficient and cost effective processes."
Inevitably, the question on every connoisseur's lips is will we know the provenance of our future whisky fuel? Instead of petrol pumps carrying BP and Shell logos, shall we see fuel bars offering derivations of Glenfiddich and The Glenlivet? Will The Macallan be the first distillery to market its fuel in bespoke Lalique crystal decanters, complete with those handy pouring nozzles that come with plastic gallon petrol canisters? So far the professor is remaining silent on such key issues…

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