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Whisky News, April 2007

Shetland Shift

Blackwood Distillers has announced its intention not to develop Shetland's first legal whisky distillery on the northern island of Unst after all. Instead, the company will revert to its earlier chosen site at Catfirth, South Nesting, on the Shetland mainland. The plan had been to convert a range of motor transport and supply buildings on Unst's former RAF Saxa Vord base into the distillery and bonded warehouses, but Blackwood's chief executive Caroline Whitfield blames Military Asset Management (MAM) for its change of heart. MAM is converting the former military camp into a holiday resort, and Whitfield says that MAM had moved the goalposts regarding what was on offer at Saxa Vord, leaving the company no choice
but to revert to the Catfirth site. "At the time, the offer from MAM was to lease a fully paid for and fitted out distillery - a compelling commercial reason to move - but that offer was ended late last year and a lease of the empty buildings offered," says Whitfield. "Repeated offers by Blackwood to buy the Saxa Vord buildings at their current commercial value, once title finally passes from the Ministry of Defence, were declined by MAM."

According to Whitfield, Blackwood received a detailed assessment in February which highlighted significant additional works required to develop the proposed buildings. “In addition, “she adds, “with Blackwood being responsible for £2.5million investment in fitting out a distillery, it has concluded it does not make sense to invest so much when Blackwood cannot own the underlying buildings for at least 10 years.” MAM owner Frank Strang confirmed that his company had initially offered to lease a fully fitted out distillery, but that this proposal was withdrawn when the company realised the full costs involved. ”Over the period of many months of discussions we took the commercial view that it was very, very risky for us to fund the bill, and that it would be best to pass the site over on a fair commercial rent to Blackwood, and that they would get on to source the funding, as well as building and running the distillery,” reports Strang. “That was mooted to Blackwood in October and they were happy with that. We then sat down to negotiate a commercial figure of rent. In an effort to bring this to a conclusion and to be fair to everybody, we met on Monday and put our position on the table and that position was, for whatever reason, unacceptable to Blackwood. “I understand that they couldn't accept our terms, but I would like to wish them all the very best for the future. I am sure Blackwood will make a success of their business and I think that the vision for a distillery in Shetland is a winner.”

Blackwood Distillers Holdings recorded pre-tax losses of £2.438 million in the year to the end of April, but Caroline Whitfield stresses that the losses had been anticipated. “The value of brands we have developed are large and well in excess of what we have put in,” she insisted. “The value of the distillery once built will be excellent.”

George Square No More

   It's not just Shetland's first distillery that is on the move. Glasgow's Whisky Live event has outgrown its George Square venue in the city centre and is moving out to the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre later this year.
Last time around Whisky Live attracted in excess of 3,000 people, and the traditional September slot has been swapped for one on 2nd and 3rd November, allowing this celebration of Scotch whisky to run alongside the BBC Good Food Show, at which Glasgow-born celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay is set to make an appearance. According to Whisky Live director Damian Riley-Smith, "The move to the SECC, along with our new dates, will bring the next exciting burst in the growth of Whisky Live Glasgow. Now in 10 cities around the world, Whisky Live shows the breadth of fascination whisky holds globally. Where better to hold the very greatest celebration than in the heartland of whisky production and only moments away from visiting the distilleries on an extended stay?" See

Whisky Rankin

Orkney's Highland Park distillery has launched an extremely limited edition 'Rebus 20' single malt whisky to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the publication of Ian Rankin's first Inspector Rebus novel, Knots and Crosses. Around 150 bottles of the 20-year-old expression have been produced, and the distillers describe it as “…an exclusive, money-can't buy whisky which will be available to fans of the malt and the character through competitions on the Highland Park website.” Ian Rankin personally selected the whisky when he visited Highland Park last November, and he says “It will be brilliant to toast the anniversary with an extra-special dram of Rebus' favourite drink. Just like the whisky, Rebus likes a dark caramel colour - a rugged, manly, smoky whisky. We
can describe it as being like him, dark and complex with a long finish. “Rebus has never been to Orkney before so who knows what this might inspire for the next book? In terms of whisky Rebus would go for something traditional like the Highland Park 12-year-old which he would be more likely to find in the pub.” Jason Craig, Global Controller, Highland Park, declares that “We are delighted to offer Ian Rankin this single cask whisky to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his famous detective. Highland Park and Rebus share many attributes; they are products of exceptional quality, created by master craftsmen, which continue to exceed our high expectations year after year.” See for further details.


   Islay's newest distillery, Kilchoman, is set to resume its floor malting operation this month following refurbishment after last year's kiln fire. An oil-fired indirect heating system has also been installed to replace the previous, less efficient direct-fired one, and a new boiler has been fitted, following a breakdown earlier this year. Anthony Wills' venture has not had its troubles to seek, but Wills is optimistic about the future of Kilchoman, pointing out that the warehouse is now almost full of spirit, and that a new one is to be constructed in the next few months. Two new washbacks are also to be pt in place in order to increase capacity from the present level of 65,000 litres of alcohol per annum to around the 100,000 mark. "It's 100 per cent Islay from barley to bottle," says Wills. "60 per cent of the barley we use is grown
on Rockside Farm, where the distillery is located, and we plan ultimately to release two expressions of whisky, one of which will be distilled from all Islay raw materials and the other will be a mixture of that and mainland barley. We will also install our own on site bottling line. “My aim was to create a light, fruity style of whisky but with heavier peating levels. We think it's a young maturing spirit and we hope to release a small amount of three-year-old and then launch another bottling on a given date every year. The whisky may well be at its best at ten.” Wills has also pioneered the concept of selling miniature bottles of 'new make' spirit: look out for April's 'Recent Releases' for our tasting notes.

Spirit of Speyside

The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival runs from 3rd to 7th May, featuring a wide range of events in a variety of locations throughout the Speyside region. Gavin Smith will be conducting a talk/tasting on the subject of 'Distilleries
That Came Back From The Dead' in Dufftown's Whisky Museum at 3pm on Friday 4th April, and some intriguing drams and a couple of newly-released expressions will be on offer. Gavin will also be signing copies of his latest book Whisky A Brief History in Dufftown on Saturday and Sunday 5th and 6th April. Do go along and say hello if you're attending the Festival. For more information and to book events online see or

And Finally...

   Diageo is apparently not the only company planning to build a new distillery in the not too distant future (see March 'Whisky News'). Our industry mole tells us he has it on good authority that William Grant & Sons intends to establish its fourth malt distillery, this time not in Dufftown but on the site of its grain distilling complex at Girvan in Ayrshire. Meanwhile, on Speyside, Hunty-based independent bottler and whisky merchant Duncan Taylor & Co is also apparently intending to construct its own small-scale distillery. Our mole is a man of impeccable credentials, so watch this space for more details as and when…


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