gavin smith

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Whisky News, July 2007

India to do its Duty?

According to Scotch whisky industry insiders, the Indian government is poised to cut import duties on spirits in the near future. Currently, all imported spirits are subject to a levy of between 25 and 550 per cent, but if new legislation is put in place to placate the World Trade Organisation (WTO), India could be the most exciting and potentially lucrative market for Bourbon, Scotch and Irish whisk(e)y ever seen. The Indian situation is currently the subject of a WTO 'disputes panel,' as a result of formal complaints from spirits producers worldwide. One key ally in bringing about a cut in Indian duty levels is Vijay Mallya (right), head of the UB Group, which recently purchased Whyte & Mackay Ltd for £595 million. Mallya is keen to see Dalmore and Isle of Jura single malts, plus Whyte & Mackay's range of aged blends, on widespread sale in his native country. Despite the extremely high tariffs currently in place, India already imports significantly more Scotch whisky than other key 'emerging markets' such as China and Russia, so the potential, given a level playing field, is clearly enormous.

STOP PRESS: The Scotch Whisky Association announced on 4th July that 'Indian consumers can look forward to a greater choice of Scotch Whisky brands following the announcement by the Government of India that it will abolish the discriminatory Additional Duty levied on Scotch Whisky and other imported spirit drinks. Welcoming the announcement, Gavin Hewitt, the SWA Chief Executive, said “Abolition of the discriminatory Additional Duty is a significant step towards fair competition in an important emerging market for Scotch Whisky. The SWA has long campaigned for reform as the duty has unfairly restricted market access in contravention of WTO rules. “Reform will not transform the Scotch whisky market in India overnight - a Basic Customs Duty of 150% will continue to apply - but it opens up new possibilities for Scottish distillers to compete with domestic producers on a level playing field for the first time. This is also good news for Indian consumers, who can look forward to a greater choice of internationally renowned Scotch whisky brands.”'

Chinese at Glenfiddich

   The Glenfiddich distillery in the Speyside malt whisky 'capital' of Dufftown has appointed its first Chinese-speaking seasonal guide, as a result of a 37.5 per cent rise in visitor numbers from China during 2006. 20-year-old Hong Kong-born Ines Hiu Ting Shek is a management studies student at Aberdeen University, and speaks five languages, including Cantonese and Mandarin. According to Glenfiddich spokesman Elizabeth Lafferty, “We have recruited over 30 guides to help us out over the busy summer months, and between them they speak 10 different languages. Ines, however, is our most talented linguistically, able to speak Cantonese, Mandarin, English, French and Dutch." Increased Chinese 'whisky tourism' comes on the back of a huge growth in Scotch whisky sales in China, with exports reaching
£58.2 million last year, an increase of 27 per cent on the 2005 figure. The Chinese government has also invited the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) to submit an application to become the country's first 'geographical indication.' This will make Scotch whisky the only legally protected Chinese import and should help cut down on the significant number of 'bootleg' Scotch whiskies on sale. Last year more than 50 whiskies of questionable origin were investigated by Chinese authorities and the SWA, including one bottling of labelled as "Glen Highland Green Fine Single Pure Highland Malt Whisky."

Paying the Price

One result of the dramatic rise in Scotch whisky sales to China and the likelihood of an upcoming Indian bonanza, is the near certainty that prices will rise for UK consumers. Increases of around ten per cent are predicted for the coming months. Reflecting the situation across the board, Ken Grier, head of malts for the Edrington Group says “Demand is such that we simply do not have the supply to meet it. Prices will have to go up, and we will see that this year. Everyone is talking about China, but they forget that there are a host of other markets that are growing as well.”

Cyprus Whisky Flying High

   Larnaca airport in Cyprus is currently undergoing major refurbishment, and a new addition to its range of retail outlets is the specialist whisky store 'Uisge Beatha,' which translates from the Gaelic as 'water of life.' Uisge Beatha was developed by the airport's new management company, CTC-ARI Airports, and there are plans to roll out the concept within duty-free stores at airports in several other countries. The Larnaca store currently offers 61 Scottish
single malts, with a number of Irish malts also due on the shelves very soon. A trained 'shopping advisor' is on hand to offer customer guidance and impromptu tastings, and the outlet's range is to be expanded in due course with both malt and blended whiskies from other countries, notably the USA. Uisge Beatha is keen to offer whisky at very competitive prices. "On some brands we have at least a pound's difference from outside market prices, but in the case of others we have resorted to special deals by incorporating taxes or other costs in order to make our shop attractive for new customers," explains Gerry Crawford, General Manager, CTC-ARI Airports. "My objective is to completely demystify the sector for our consumers," he says, adding that "We will be initially specialising in distillery bottled editions as I think they are a lot more interesting and collectible for the consumer."

Tayburn to Make his Mark

In the scramble to discover a Scottish island that still lacks a whisky distillery, entrepreneur Mark Tayburn has earmarked a site on Lewis for the country's latest boutique distilling project. Lewis has not boasted a legal distillery for more than 200 years, though the Outer Hebridean island has played host to more than its fair share of illicit operations. Tayburn's proposed site is at Carnish, Uig, close to the Red River and near the Atlantic coast, more an hour's drive from the island capital of Stornoway. A plan to convert a former salmon farming hatchery into the new distillery is to go before Western Isles planning committee next month, and it is hoped that local crofters will grow
barley which can be malted for use in the plant. As now seems de rigueur, this is to be an environmentally friendly 'green whisky' project, with the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the distillery's gas boiler being replaced by the oxygen released from the locally-grown barley.

Whisky Branded

   The press release which accompanied Stuart Delves' new book Great Brand Stories: Scotch Whisky caused concern when it proclaimed that “In this book Stuart Delves looks at Scotch as an uber-brand…” It goes on to mention “…brand essence…” and …”positioning statements.” After all, there is only so much 'marketing-speak' that most of us can take before switching off and pouring a dram of the product itself. However, Delves' book turns out to be a most pleasant surprise. It is quirky, pleasingly personal and is clearly written by a man who can write well. Delves is a 'creative copywriter' who has numbered many leading Scottish distillers among his clients, and he has an obvious passion for whisky and its heritage, not seeing it as just another commodity to shift off the shelves and through the optics. In Great Brand Stories Delves explores the history
of Scotch whisky and its development into one of the world's greatest and most globally-recognised drinks. Most importantly, he explores with a sense of poetry and a keen eye for humour. Cyan Books, £8.99, (buy at Amazon - 25%)

All Change at Talisker

Diageo has announced the appointment of a new manager for Talisker distillery on the Isle of Skye. Willie MacDougall will take over later this summer from Charlie Smith, who is retiring after a long and distinguished career in the whisky industry, including spells working as manager at Dufftown, Cardhu and Glenkinchie, before spending the last three years at Talisker. A native of Aberfeldy, Willie MacDougall comes from a family with a long association with the whisky industry. Much of his youth was spent in Speyside, and his first job was at Cardhu in 1983. After working at several other distilleries to expand his experience, he was appointed site operations manager at Oban in 2000. He spent six years at the west coast distillery, then, in 2006, after a brief spell outside the company, moved to Blair Athol in Pitlochry. MacDougall says “It's great to be moving back to the west coast anyway, but Skye will be magic. Talisker, of course, is one of the most successful single malts in the world, even though - or maybe because - the distillery's output is deliberately a good deal lower than some other top-selling malts. It's a distillery with massive heritage and an amazing future, with fans all over the world. It will be very exciting to be part of all that. And if there's any spare time, I look forward to improving my piping skills with the help of Skye's famous piping teachers.”

And Finally...

   Staying with Talisker, Scottish singer K T Tunstall has taken delivery of a guitar made entirely from wood permeated with her favourite malt whisky, which happens to be the Isle of Skye spirit. The custom-made guitar was presented to Tunstall on 23rd June, when she and her band performed on the Talisker Stage at The Outsider, a new three-day festival held at Rothiemurchus in the Cairngorms National Park. KT Tunstall fan Charlie Smith made the presentation. The guitar was hand-crafted by Roger Bucknall and his team in the Cumbrian workshops of Fylde Guitars, makers of guitars for many other leading musicians and bands. Tunstall's instrument was created from
timbers recovered from Talisker distillery. The soundboard is Oregon Pine cut from washback staves salvaged during refurbishment, and the back and sides were fashioned from oak whisky casks. Most other components of the guitar are made from a mixture of the same timbers. The wood was made available by Talisker's owners Diageo, who arranged for the guitar to be created as a gift for Tunstall as she prepares for a major US tour and the launch of her second album. Roger Bucknall declares himself thrilled at being asked to make the guitar, saying "It's wonderful to put these things together - music, wood and whisky, three of life's passions." On making the presentation, Charlie Smith said to Tunstall "We hope that wherever your tours take you across the world, having a little piece of authentic Talisker will always make you feel at home and keep your spirits up." What next? A Keith Richards bass, soaked in Jack Daniels?

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