gavin smith

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Whisky News, May 2009

by Gavin D Smith

GlenDronach on the Web

As you may have seen from our latest 'Recent Releases' report, Billy Walker and his BenRiach Distillery Company team are not letting the grass grow beneath their feet when it comes to re-launching whiskies from Glendronach distillery, acquired from Chivas Brothers last summer. In keeping with the quirky internal capitalisation now
employed in 'BenRiach,' Walker and co are calling their latest purchase GlenDronach, and in addition to attractively repackaged whiskies in a range of ages, there is also a new website at . According to the company, "The website, entitled 'A Journey of Re-Discovery,' explains how the incomparable malt is making a triumphant return under its new owners, The BenRiach Distillery Company. "People who log on can take their own journey of re-discovery to find out more about this richly-Sherried single malt. You'll discover everything about the distillery's 200-year history. "Characters such as James Allardice who founded the distillery and sold his 'Guid GlenDronach' into Edinburgh public houses in the nineteenth century...with a little help from some ladies of the night. "Far-sighted investors such as Walter Scott and Captain Charles Grant. The renaissance in 2008 under Billy Walker and The BenRiach Distillery Company. The committed team at the Aberdeenshire distillery who ensure that the distinctive practices that have always defined the process will live on." Well worth a visit, if only to read about the little-known role of Edinburgh's 19th century 'working girls' in the history of Scotch. Although the whisky's pretty good, too.

Wild Turkey Gobbled Up

The French spirits giant Pernod Ricard has sold its Wild Turkey Bourbon operation to Campari in a move worth some £390 million. Wild Turkey's Boulevard Distillery is situated on Wild Turkey Hill, above the Kentucky River, near Lawrenceburg, in Anderson County, Kentucky, and the distillery and its whiskeys has belonged to Pernod Ricard since 1980, when they took over New York-based Austin Nichols Distilling Co. The plant had been established in 1905 by three Ripy brothers, and the Wild Turkey brand was conceived in 1940, when Austin Nichols' president Thomas McCarthy chose a quantity of 101 proof straight Bourbon from his company stocks to take along on a wild turkey shoot. At the same time that Pernod disclosed the Wild Turkey sale, the company also announced a £900 million right issue, designed to help raise additional cash, having borrowed heavily to purchase Absolut vodka distiller Vin & Sprit last year. Pernod has net debts of Euros 12 billion, and has declared its willingness to sell "important but not indispensible" drinks brands. Fifteen key, strategic brands will not be affected, and these include The Glenlivet single malt and
Chivas Regal and Ballantine's blends, operated by Pernod's Chivas Brothers' subsidiary. However, Pernod also numbers well-regarded single malts such as Aberlour, Longmorn, Scapa and Strathisla among its assets, not to mention the Clan Campbell, Passport, Royal Salute, 100 Pipers and Something Special blends. In total, the firm operates 26 Scottish sites and employs in the region of 1,500 people in Scotland.

Bruichladdich in High Spirits

In contrast with the doom and gloom surrounding Pernod Ricard, independent Islay distiller Bruichladdich recently reported continued growth during 2008. Sales for the privately owned, Scottish company increased by 15 per cent during the year ending 31st December 2008, up to £7.89 million from £6.86 million in 2007, and slightly ahead of forecast. Pre-tax profit increased by 42 per cent to £1.07 million, despite significant investments in what the firm describes as "…an enterprise resource planning system, and other exceptional costs." CEO Mark
Reynier declares that "Despite the environment - economic climate change, global financial warming, and banking meltdown - we are forecasting continued growth. "Bruichladdich appeals to sophisticated palates, while the variety of our bottlings stimulates the more open-minded consumer. We're not only preaching to the converted. This is an exciting, innovative, but authentic brand, in a deeply consolidated industry where 80 per cent of production is owned by five groups. We are premium, quality and niche. "All profits are re-invested in the business and 2009 distillation will increase 15 per cent to 800,000 litres of alcohol from traceable barley grown on 23 Islay and mainland Scotland farms."

Scotch and China

Following a recent visit to China, Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) chief executive Gavin Hewitt and Scotland's first minister Alex Salmond have declared themselves optimistic about safeguarding the integrity
of Scotch in the Chinese market. In 2007 the SWA applied for Geographical Indication of Origin status, which would help ensure that all whisky sold in China as 'Scotch' is the genuine article. Since then, the watchdog body has investigated no fewer than 200 fake products. After meeting with Chinese government minister Wang Yong, Gavin Hewitt declared that "We were encouraged by Mr Wang's positive response. I believe we can now look forward to achieving Geographical Indication of Origin for Scotch whisky in China soon." Alex Salmond added that "The opportunity for Scotch whisky exports to China is enormous, given its premium status and increases in disposable income among many millions of Chinese citizens. Securing better legal protection will establish a solid platform for growth." China is currently the 15th largest international market for Scotch whisky, worth some £42 million to the Scotch whisky industry.

Grouse and Burns

This year Scotland celebrates the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, and as part of the celebrations, The Famous Grouse created 250 limited edition bottles of 37-year-old blended malt. According to the distillers, "In keeping with the humanitarian spirit of Burns, these bottles were only available for charity auction or raffle with a minimum value of £400. As a result, over £70,000 was raised at Burns Suppers and similar events around the world from auctioning The Famous Grouse limited edition blended whisky. "The Scottish Tourism Forum was successful in its application for a bottle to auction at its dinner held on 9th March to mark Scottish Tourism Week, and raised an
impressive £1,916.55 for the Hospitality Industry Trust (HIT) through the sale of raffle tickets at the event." The Scottish-based charity raises funds to support and encourage excellence in the hospitality industry, and David Cochrane, chief executive of HIT declares that "HIT Scotland is immensely grateful to receive a cheque for such a large amount and the quality of whisky certainly contributed to that! The money raised will go towards the HIT scholarship programme that enables the emerging talent of our industry to learn from the best at home and abroad and bring the new found experiences back to help their business in Scotland. Our thanks go out to the industry for their support, especially Famous Grouse!" The Famous Grouse 37-year-old blended malt marked both the 250th anniversary of Burns' birth and also the 37 years of his short, but extremely fruitful, life. Renowned Scottish artist and playwright John Byrne was commissioned to create an original drawing of Robert Burns to adorn this limited edition whisky, making it an even more desirable collector's item.

And finally...

Whisky-pages recently received a friendly letter from those charming folk at Highland Park, informing us of their plans to reduce the strength of their 21-year-old from its current 47.5%abv to 40%abv. Such a move was necessary, they said "…in order to protect the character of this variant…this reflects the relatively lower cask strengths of the whiskies coming from the mid-to-late 1980s, the key constituent components of this expression." Taking on the mantle of fearless, investigative reporters, keen to champion consumer rights, we asked Global Controller (of Highland Park, not the entire globe, we assume) Jason Craig whether customers could expect to see a proportionate price reduction on the 21-year-old. The alternative seemed to be what amounted to a 'back door' price rise. "The retail price will not be coming down by 7.5 per cent," he responded. "However, we will not be seeking the same scale of price increases that we are looking for on the rest of the range." Thanks, Jason. We'd say you would make a great politician, but you might be inadvertently offended...

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