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Whisky News, March 2010

by Gavin D Smith

Rich Oak

Glenfiddich's role as one of Scotland's more innovative distillers continues with the release of Rich Oak, an expression finished in virgin European oak and virgin American oak casks. Rich Oak is 14 years old and no other Scotch whisky distiller has previously used new European oak casks during maturation. Malt Master Brian Kinsman has been responsible for the final stages of the new variant's ageing programme, and he says that "At Glenfiddich, we pride ourselves in offering a range of pioneering single malts, so I feel truly honoured to be releasing a whisky that has been carefully crafted in the authentic Glenfiddich tradition, but that also has its own unique story to tell. I expect the new and complex harmony of rich flavours, derived from the virgin oak, will delight whisky lovers everywhere." To celebrate the Speyside   
whisky's unique association with virgin European wood, Glenfiddich is planning to plant a Glenfiddich Oak Forest, and the current Chairman and fifth generation descendent of the distillery's founder, Peter Gordon, will plant the first sapling this month, ahead of an official opening in November. Our sampling notes on the liquid itself will follow in due course.

Berry Good News

Still on Speyside, the Glenrothes single malt whisky brand, distilled in the village of Rothes, has been sold by The Edrington Group to leading London wine and spirits merchant Berry Bros & Rudd (BBR). In return, BBR has sold its Cutty Sark blended Scotch to Edrington, who continue to own the Glenrothes distillery. BBR's managing director Hugh Sturges says that "We are convinced that future growth will come from us focusing even more on our strengths. That means targeting our sales and marketing efforts on brands and sectors where we can compete most effectively and develop market positions that will drive real value long-term." The sale of The Glenrothes brand allows Edrington to concentrate on its key single malts, The Macallan and Highland Park, and Bill Farrar, group sales and marketing director for Edrington declares that "The acquisition of Cutty Sark is a very good fit with our   
current business objectives. Over the last year Edrington has made great progress in developing its route to market through its alliance with Beam Global. It's increasingly important to have control over our distribution in markets where we have strength or potential to grow. And, of course, it allows us some significant synergies and strengthens our position in the Scotch category as a provider of leading brands." Edrington and its predecessors have supplied the whisky for Cutty Sark for more than 70 years, and the light-coloured, light-bodied blend is a good fit with Edrington's Famous Grouse blend, both stylistically and in terms of principal markets.

Diageo (and Chivas) Down

Latest figures from the two largest Scotch whisky distillers, Diageo and Chivas, demonstrate that the economic downturn has hit luxury brands. Diageo revealed a three per cent fall in underlying operating profits across its drinks' empire to 1.63 billion in the six months to June 2009, with CEO Paul Walsh noting that the UK had outperformed difficult markets, including Ireland and Spain, where the on-trade, in particular, had experienced a net sales fall. "Consumers do not have as much disposable income or the confidence," declared Walsh recently. "They are a little leery of what the future offers. They are not going out or are not prepared to spend at the rate they were spending. They still want Diageo brands like Johnnie Walker whisky, Smirnoff vodka and Gordon's gin, but they don't have the wherewithal to experience them with the frequency they are used to." However, he noted encouraging signs of early recovery in 'emerging markets' such as Latin America, Asia and Africa,   
which helped to drive underlying sales up two per cent in the quarter to last December following a six per cent drop in the previous quarter. Meanwhile times are tough, too, for Pernod Ricard, whose Chivas Bros subsidiary is responsible for the company's Scotch whisky interests. Pernod recorded a three per cent fall in sales during the second half of last year, with its leading Scotch brands Chivas Regal and Ballantine's declining in sales value by six per cent and 13 per cent respectively on a year-on-year comparison. However, the situation for The Glenlivet was better, with flat sales and a volume decline of just one per cent.

Seeing Red

By contrast with the comparative gloom surrounding Scotch whisky's 'Big Two' producers, at the opposite end of the scale, Scotland's most westerly distillery, Abhainn Dearg, is garnering a great deal of publicity and radiating confidence. Last month, two casks of spirit from the distillery on the Isle of Lewis, whose name means 'Red River,' were handed over to a German importer, who is keen to showcase the youthful dram ahead of its ultimate launch as fully-fledged Scotch whisky. Meanwhile, a Stornoway-born Glasgow publican, Mike Donald, has recently made the return trip to his native island to collect a 40-litre cask of 'Spirit of Lewis.' He plans to share this with selected friends and customers at MacSorley's, which   
has been renowned as a haunt of exiled Highlanders and islanders for more than a century. Distilling commenced at Abhainn Dearg in 2008, and distillery owner Mark 'Marko' Tayburn says that "Last year, about 10 per cent of our grain was grown on Lewis. We have had significant interest from local crofters and I hope that figure will grow this year. I also plan to double our production levels." Tayburn plans to release a quantity of his 'make' as legally defined, three-year-old Scotch whisky to coincide with the staging of the Royal National Mod - colloquially known as 'The Whisky Olympics' - in Stornoway next year.

And Finally...

Never let it be said that here at whisky-pages we are anything less than up to date with the news. Accordingly, word reaches us that Charles Bramel of Mount Olivet in Robertson County, Kentucky, decreed that when he died he wished to be pickled in whiskey and buried in a limestone sarcophagus in Kentontown Cemetery. Sadly, his last wish went unfulfilled, as his family drank the 'embalming fluid.' Bramel died in January 1897, aged 80. Of course it's a true story...

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