gavin smith

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Whisky News, May 2014

by Gavin D Smith

Whyte & Mackay

logo No company in the Scotch whisky business has changed hands more times in recent years than Glasgow-based Whyte & Mackay, and it has been announced that owners United Spirits (USL) had agreed to sell the whisky-maker to Philippines-based brandy producer Emperador for £430 million. USL acquired Whyte & Mackay for £595 million seven years ago, but has been forced to sell it for 'antitrust' reasons after a move by Diageo to buy a controlling interest in the Indian spirits business. Andrew Tan, Emperador chairman, says that "Whisky is the second-fastest growing spirits segment in the world next to brandy. The growing demand for Scotch whisky has shown strong growth over recent years and is expected to continue this momentum going forward. "We believe that Whyte and Mackay is a prized asset with excellent growth opportunity and its acquisition is in line with our plans to enhance our product portfolio. Whyte and Mackay has a global distribution network in over 50 countries that Emperador brandy will have access to."

Taste of Islay

map Anyone visiting Islay for its annual Feis Ile (Festival of Malt and Music) during the last week of this month will find a new eaterie to sample. Morrison Bowmore Distillers have just opened what they describe as a "flagship daytime eating experience, named 'Bowmore Taste of Islay'". The venue is based on the site of the old Warehouse 4 building. The new venture is an addition to the Bowmore portfolio on Islay, which includes the distillery itself, visitor centre, self-catering cottages and the Harbour Inn and Restaurant, which Morrison Bowmore took over at the start of the year. According to a Bowmore spokesperson, "The licensed premises boasts a menu designed to showcase the true 'Taste of Islay', with dishes including 'home-smoked Bowmore whisky salmon' and locally sourced Islay Langoustines, available alongside a range of whisky expressions produced at the distillery. Visitor Centre and Commercial Operations Manager Anne Kinnes comments, "This is an exciting time for us growing our commercial operations - we are very much looking forward to the opportunity of welcoming guests to experience our world-class service on Islay."

Haig Club

bottle Diageo has launched Haig Club Single Grain Scotch Whisky, in partnership with David Beckham and entrepreneur Simon Fuller. A Diageo spokesperson says that "Working alongside Diageo, Beckham and Fuller will play a fundamental role in developing the brand, its strategy and positioning. David Beckham will also lead the promotion of a responsible drinking programme for Haig Club, which is at the heart of the brand." David Gates, Diageo's Global Head of Premium Core Spirits, adds that "Whisky is experiencing a continued global renaissance and like many of the world's most respected whisky experts, we believe this will be the year that grain whisky breaks into the mainstream and gains the recognition it deserves. Diageo has a proven track record in Scotch whisky innovation and we have applied this expertise through the House of Haig in liquid development and craftsmanship, creating a sophisticated new whisky in Haig Club." Haig Club - sourced from Cameronbridge distillery in Fife - has been created using a process that combines grain whisky from three cask types. According to Diageo, "This creates a fresh, clean style that showcases butterscotch and toffee for an ultra-smooth taste that the company believes will be enjoyed not only by current whisky drinkers, but also by those who have always wanted to try whisky." Haig Club will hit the shelves later this year, when details of pricing and availability will be announced. Based on our own pre-launch sampling, it promises to be something very special.

Wild Turkey

turkey Something else that promises to be pretty special is the new Wild Turkey visitor centre at Lawrenceburg in Kentucky. The facility is part of a $100 million investment by distillery owner Gruppo Campari. Jean Jacques Dubau, President and CEO of Campari America, explains that "Last year, our visitor centre was housed in a tiny 1,000-square-foot house from the 1800s and we still saw a 16 per cent spike in visitors to Wild Turkey Hill, With our gleaming new architectural masterpiece, we finally have a visitor centre worthy of Wild Turkey's legacy, as well as an outstanding calling card for Kentucky's Bourbon industry." A Campari spokesperson adds that "Designed as the architectural and spiritual centrepiece for the whiskey, which has more than a 100-year legacy on Wild Turkey Hill, the visitor centre is a mecca for Bourbon lovers and Wild Turkey fans across the globe. As the only destination on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail offering full visibility and complete access to the art and science of making Bourbon, the distillery expects to welcome approximately 80,000 guests this year, up from the previous 62,000 in 2013. "From portfolio tastings in the Angel's Share room to the Wild Turkey Wall of Fame, guests can sip and savour Bourbon seven days a week, while receiving an historical indoctrination into one of the oldest distillery operations in Kentucky. Exclusive keepsakes in the gift shop include recent, limited-edition products allowing visitors to bring a taste of Kentucky home with them wherever they may live." 2014 also marks Master Distiller Jimmy Russell's 60th year in the whiskey industry, and to honour the man dubbed 'The Buddha of Bourbon, Russell's son, Eddie, has created a special limited-edition blend of 13- and 16-year-old whiskeys, named Wild Turkey Diamond Anniversary Edition. More details on all of this at

Famous Grouse

signpost Back in Scotland, The Famous Grouse Experience at Glenturret distillery in Perthshire has also been getting an upgrade. The £250,000 refurbishment programme has seen the visitor café, shop and tasting experiences completely transformed, along with the 'welcome lounge,' which plays host to some 120,000 visitors every year. The distillery has also opened a new Tasting Bar, alongside which there is a series of 'nosing pods,' allowing visitors to get much closer to the whisky blending process and identify aromas and ingredients. Another new feature, capitalising on a growing trend for product personalisation, is the Personalisation Bar in the gift shop, which allows customers to not only bottle their own whisky, but also to personalise it on site. This year is expected to be a particularly busy one for Scottish tourism, with the country hosting the Commonwealth Games in July, and the Ryder Cup in September, and Lesley Williamson, Business Development Manager of The Famous Grouse Experience says that "The eyes of the world will be upon us and it's imperative that we continue to deliver our visitors a quality experience. Glenturret distillery has a place in Scotland's history as the oldest working distillery, and The Famous Grouse Experience is a popular visitor attraction for tourists from around the globe."

And finally...

maltings Music albums have been recorded in some unusual places, but the band Copper Dogs are to be congratulated on selecting the floor maltings at Balvenie distillery in which to lay down their debut album, titled 'The Balvenie Maltings Sessions.' This was quite an apt, if quirky, location, since the band line-up includes Balvenie Global Ambassador Sam Simmons on guitar and vocals and ex-Whisky Magazine editor and now Grant's Global Ambassador for blends Rob Allanson on bass. They combine with Cat Spencer on lead vocals and Simon Roser on drums. The album also features guest appearances from various leading whisky industry figures including Dave Broom (vocals), Brian Kinsman (bagpipes), Neil Ridley (organ) and Dr Nicholas Morgan (guitar). The album is available on vinyl only, and is limited to just 500 special copies. Details of how to secure one of the LPs are available via the Copper Dogs tab on The Balvenie Facebook page at

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