gavin smith

 home    about    forum    tasted    features    whisky A-Z    directory    books    links    sign-up    beer    wine

    stories news


Whisky News, June 2008

by Gavin D Smith

Drams in Demand

All the frantic efforts to increase production at distilleries the length and breadth of Scotland, as chronicled in whisky-pages, are justified by the latest set of export figures, released by the Scotch Whisky Association. Apparently, Scotch whisky exports earned £90 every second for the UK last year, with the value of shipments increasing by 14 per cent to a new record of £2.8bn. Export volume was also at a historic high in 2007, growing eight per cent, with the equivalent of 1,135 million bottles of Scotch whisky shipped overseas. Meanwhile, bottled blended Scotch whisky exports broke the £2bn barrier for the first time, with shipment value up 15 per cent to £2.22bn. Bottled malt exports also rose by 11 per cent in value to £454m.

Exports to most regions increased during the year, with shipments to Central and South America (+ 4 per cent in value), Asia (+ 4.5 per cent), North America (+ 5.5 per cent) and the European Union (+ 27 per cent) all growing. Tariff reform in the middle of 2007 gave exports to the key emerging market of India a significant boost, rising by 36 per cent in value to £33m. South Africa's rapid rise into the industry's top ten markets continued, with exports up a further nine per cent in value to £91m. SWA Chairman, Paul Walsh, said "This record export performance underscores just how important Scotch whisky is to our economy. This is all the more impressive given the economic difficulties encountered in certain markets during the second half of 2007 and demonstrates that Scotch whisky's international appeal can mitigate against individual market or regional fluctuations. Distillers continue to watch market developments carefully but the trends remain positive, with both mature and emerging markets performing well, and Scotch whisky growing on a sustainable basis. "Announcements of new capital investment of £400m across the industry last year were a public vote of confidence in Scotch whisky's prospects and are good news for the wider economy. Distillers look to government north and south of the border to continue to work with them to support future international competitiveness, tackling barriers to market access overseas, whilst also recognising the importance of a fair tax and regulatory environment at home."

Blackwood Unbeaten?

   Despite the fact that its Shetland Spirit Company subsidiary has recently gone into administration, Blackwood Distillers Holdings (BDH) apparently remains optimistic about creating a Scotch whisky distillery on its site at Catfirth, near South Nesting, on the Orkney mainland. Shetland Spirit Company was responsible for Blackwood's gin, vodka and vodka-based liqueur, which were intended to raise funds to bankroll the distillery project, but in the financial year 2005/2006 BDH recorded pre-tax losses of £2.438 million, having racked up losses of £2.165 million in 2004/2005. There has been increasing scepticism within the world of whisky regarding the viability of the distillery venture, which was originally to have been operational by late 2004, but BDH's chief executive Caroline Blackwood says that plans for its construction are progressing and details of a new funding package will be announced shortly. According to Whitfield, "Blackwood Distillers is dedicated to ensuring that the business will flourish long term and the board is working hard to ensure that we overcome the current difficulties in the most effective way."

Diageo Canada

The world's largest distiller, Diageo plc, has announced its intention to purchase the Schenley distillery at Valleyfield, Quebec, from Constellation Spirits. A deal is expected to be finalised next month.

Constellation also owns Palliser distillery at Lethbridge in Alberta, where production and bottling operations will be consolidated. At present, Schenley distillery is best-known for its Gibson, Schenley Golden Wedding and Schenley OFC brands of Canadian whisky, and the plant operated as a brewery before being converted for distillation after the end of the Second World War. Half a century ago, Quebec boasted eight working distilleries, but now Schenley is the last, and it boasts the distinction of being the only French-speaking distillery outside Europe. Schenley is a modern, flexible facilitiy, capable of producing 25 million of litres per year, and it can distil vodka and rum as well as whisky. It has been a long-term supplier of both spirit and packaging services to Diageo, and as part of the acquisition deal, Diageo will take on the Constellation Spirits' employees. Diageo already owns the giant Gimli distillery in Manitoba, which is home to the best-selling Crown Royal brands. "The Schenley Distillery and Bottling plant in Valleyfield, Quebec has been an integral part of our supply chain, providing high quality distillation and bottling services for a variety of Diageo brands," says John Council, president, Diageo Americas Supply. "After reviewing a number of options, we have determined that the possibility to purchase this facility was a great opportunity and the best way forward to support the continuing growth of our brands. The facility has dedicated and skilled employees, a welcoming community and business environment and we look forward to being present and operating there."

Ding Dong

   Staying with Diageo, the UK side of the operation has recently announced its intention to launch Bell's Original in place of the current eight-year-old blend. The new expression will appear on the shelves from September onwards. Bell's has now been the leading blended Scotch whisky brand in Britain for 30 years, and Diageo GB Whisky Brand Director James Pennefather, says, "Bell's has been around for over 100 years and during this time, in his strive for perfection, our Master Blender has periodically updated the blend. The latest recipe echoes one of the original Bell's blends and will therefore be known as Bell's Original. We're delighted taste tests show that the latest blend performs very strongly with people who drink Bell's regularly so we're confident that it will be a smooth transition to Bell's Original for retailers and licensees." The new blend will have a recommended retail price of £13.84 for a 70cl bottle, and however Diageo dresses up the change it is obvious that removing the age statement from the bottle allows for the inclusion of younger whiskies. This has become necessary due to the global pressure on ageing whisky stocks, and allows the producer a greater degree of flexibility.

Diageo's Master Blender, Dr. Jim Beveridge, notes "As people are increasingly enjoying Bell's as a pre-dinner drink, Bell's Original retains the quality, richness and complexity of the current blend but adds a fresher taste. We're delighted with the results. Taste tests with people who drink Bell's regularly resulted in comments like 'It's the same smooth, good flavour I expect from Bell's' and 'This latest blend is a full-bodied whisky, even better than I expected, a great taste.'" Diageo will be doubling investment behind Bell's during 2008, not only to support the launch of Bell's Original, but also to increase overall consumer awareness of Scotch whisky. This investment will include advertising and a direct mail communication to 250,000 existing Bell's consumers, introducing the latest blend. James Pennefather adds "When Arthur Bell established his business in the early 1800s, he believed his whisky should taste distinctive, be of the best possible quality and represent real value for his customers. We believe Bell's Original captures everything that helped make Arthur Bell one of the most successful names in Scotch whisky history. We're delighted to be introducing Arthur Bell as the brand icon, featuring him on both the bottle label and in future advertising campaigns." Here at whisky-pages we look forward to sampling the re-launched Bell's alongside the current eight-year-old and giving you our opinion on the differences.

Antiquary Ages

On the subject of blended Scotch whiskies, the Tomatin Distillery Company has just launched a limited edition bottling of the Antiquary, distilled in 1977. The Antiquary 1977 commemorates the 150th anniversary of brothers William and John Hardie's whisky-blending activities, and contains malts mainly sourced from Speyside. It is based on an original blend recipe developed by the Hardie brothers in the mid-19th century. Alistair Mutch, Director of Harvey Miller Wine & Spirit Agencies, UK distributors for Antiquary, says “Tomatin distillery produces some of the finest and award-winning whiskies in the world. The Antiquary 1977 is very much a superior deluxe Scotch whisky of the highest quality.” Stephen Bremner, Marketing and Sales Manager for Tomatin distillery, adds that “Originally, John and William produced only very small batches of The Antiquary, stipulating that these few bottles should not leave their small circle of friends and relatives. In keeping with this request, we decided to limit the bottling to just 1,148 of The Antiquary 1977.” Priced at £150 a bottle, whisky-pages hopes to bring you our assessment of The Antiquary 1977 in the near future.

Whisky and Water

   Scotch whisky has a strong affinity with sailing, from Diageo's celebrated, annual Classic Malts Cruise to the current race partnership of Benromach Speyside single malt with the 'Glasgow: Scotland with Style' clipper, in the Clipper 07-08 Round the World Yacht Race. The latest company to exploit this synergy is Broxburn-based Ian Macleod Distillers, who have entered into a sponsorship and branding agreement for their Six Isles blended malt with the 46-foot Bavaria yacht in the Round Britain Experience. The yacht, named Six Isles, will be skippered on one of the legs around Scotland by Sally Thompson, sister to Ian Macleod Distillers' Area Director for Northern Europe, Stuart Thompson. The yacht is branded with a mast flag and banners, and the crew has also been provided with stock and point of sale material to promote Six Isles throughout the voyage in over 60 UK ports. These include all the islands that provide whisky for the Six Isles blended malt, namely Islay, Jura, Mull, Arran, Skye and Orkney. Iain Weir, Marketing Director for Ian Macleod Distillers, says "This sponsorship is the perfect synergy for The Six Isles Blended Malts. Blended Malts are a great way of introducing a curious younger audience to the malt whisky sector as innovative newer brands such as The Six Isles and Monkey Shoulder do not have any of the traditional constraints of many of their single malt counterparts. This sponsorship will create more awareness for The Six Isles, not only in Scotland but hopefully further afield."

Malt Project

Staying with matters island and coastal, the latest in The Malt Project's series of DVD geographical tours of Scotland's distilleries has just been released and is titled The Coastal and Island Distilleries. Disk one of the two-disk set features interviews with whisky writers Martine Nouet, Gavin D Smith and Dominic Roscrow, plus visits to Old Pulteney distillery in Caithness, Highland Park and Scapa on Orkney, and Oban on the west coast. An additional treat is a tour of John and Frances Clotworthy's boutique distilling operation at Glenchork Lodge Hotel in the remote West Highlands.

Disk two sees Arizona-based Malt Project supremo Jack Oswald and his crew spending time at Tobermory distillery on Mull, Arran distillery, Springbank and Glen Scotia in Campbeltown and at Kilchoman and Bruichladdich on Islay. Islay is already the subject of volumes one and two in the series, but Kilchoman commenced production after those initial DVDs were filmed and the visit to Bruichladdich on this latest volume allowed Master Distiller Jim McEwan the chance to outline plans for the new Port Charlotte distillery, being created in one of the warehouses of the former Lochindaal distillery. A must for all whisky fans, The Coastal and Island Distilleries DVD is available from specialist outlets and relevant distillery visitor centres, or directly from

And Finally...

   1968 Bowmore at £40 a bottle? Sounds like the bargain of the century. But, as ever, there is a catch. The 1968 Bowmore in question is actually a beer, which makes it less of a bargain, especially as each bottle is only 330 ml in capacity. Paradox 1968 Islay Cask is brewed in Scotland's north-east fishing port of Peterhead by the innovative micro-brewery BrewDog, who have matured it for 12 months in vintage Bowmore barrels. Previous releases of this imperial stout have been matured in ex-Caol Ila, Invergordon grain and various Speyside single malt casks. To mark the brewery's first anniversary, just 200 bottles of this 10%abv Paradox have been released, each with an individually silk-screened label. Paradox is an excellent stout, and if you want to spend £40 on a bottle of Paradox rather than on a bottle of Bowmore 15-year-old Darkest then visit

 home    about    forum    tasted    features    whisky A-Z    directory    books    links    sign-up    beer    wine