gavin smith

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Whisky News, July 2008

by Gavin D Smith

Glenmorangie on the move

glenmorangie-original (6K)
   In a move which has taken many people by surprise, Glenmorangie Ltd announced on 1st July that it is to put its Glen Moray distillery in Elgin on the market, sell its Broxburn headquarters and blending/bottling operation to Diageo, and exit the blended whisky market entirely. At the same time, some £20 million is to be spent on increasing warehousing capacity at Glenmorangie distillery at Tain and Ardbeg on Islay, while visitor facilities are to be enhanced at both sites. A further £10 million will be invested in developing additional production capacity at Glenmorangie. Glenmorangie Ltd intends to relocate its headquarters from Broxburn in West Lothian to nearby Edinburgh, with bottling continuing at Broxburn for two years before the operation moves to a new £15 million plant at an unspecified location in the Lothians. While Glenmorangie and Ardbeg single malts enjoy high status and strong sales, Glen Moray has become something of a Cinderella malt for the company, with most of the distillery's output going into bends such as Highland Queen and an array of supermarket own-label brands. It is no secret that since the French luxury goods group LVMH too over the company in 2004 there has been concern at the highest level about the wisdom of running an 'own label' business on one hand while selling prestige brands on the other, and the latest announcement spells a radical departure from the present structure of operations. Whisky-pages will report on this story in greater detail as the overall implications become clearer and as potential bidders for Glen Moray line up to do battle.

Dram Attractive

Following last month's positive news about record-breaking Scotch whisky exports comes a report that an increased number of people are visiting distilleries. According to ScotlandWhisky, the national whisky tourism initiative, 1,233,696 visitors spent time in the country's distilleries during 2007. This represents a 2.6 per cent rise over the last three years. Visitors also made an increasingly important contribution to the economy, with more than £22.4 million spent at whisky visitor attractions across Scotland, representing a 17.8% increase over the same period. According to ScotlandWhisky's Chris Conway, "These figures are a testament to Scotch whisky's importance to Scotland's
tourism experience. Scotch whisky is recognised worldwide, but can only be produced in Scotland. Using Scotch to encourage tourists to come and explore Scotland is a real advantage to the country, bringing visitors and economic benefits to many communities from Islay to Speyside." The figures show that the average spend per visitor at a distillery is £18.70, which is over three times the national average of £6.07. Conway makes the point that this demonstrates the disproportionately highly beneficial impact on the economy that Scotland's fifty distillery visitor centres and whisky-themed attractions create.

Whisky Month

   On the subject of 'whisky tourism,' the Scottish Government has recently announced that whisky will play a central role in next year's Homecoming Scotland celebrations. According to a Homecoming Scotland press release, "2009 marks the anniversary of the birth of Scotland's national poet (and lover of whisky!), Robert Burns and to mark the year, over 100 events on four key themes (Robert Burns, Whisky, Golf, Great Scottish Minds and innovations
and Scottish ancestry) have been developed. "May is a great time for whisky lovers to visit Scotland as it is declared Whisky Month, giving visitors to Scotland a unrivalled opportunity to explore the whisky regions of Scotland: the Lowlands, the Highlands (including Speyside and the islands), Campbeltown and the island of Islay, as well as get behind the scenes to experience the creation of this iconic drink. Including events as diverse as unique whisky tastings to festivals and three-day whisky courses, the month long programme will conclude with Feis lle, Islay's annual Malt and Music Festival. "As part of this month, the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival celebrates with a series of distillery open door days, smugglers' trails, whisky/food matching dining opportunities and whisky lovers' workshops. There's never been a better time to follow the way-marked Malt Whisky Trail around the region which produces some of the most famous malts in the world." Later in the year, whisky lovers can look forward to the inaugural Isle of Barra Whisky Galore Festival, which commemorates the 60th anniversary of the release of the Whisky Galore film, while the period October 30th to November 6th has been designated Whisky Week, with a countrywide range of gala whisky dinners being held, in addition to the annual Whisky Live event in Glasgow. For further information visit

Annan Anon?

News reaches whisky-pages from distilling guru Jim Swan that a revival of the former Annandale distillery in south-west Scotland may be in the offing. According to Swan, who has been involved as a consultant in many recent start-up projects, including Daftmill and Kilchoman, Dumfries-shire businessman David Thomson has acquired the distillery site, and has asked Swan to investigate the feasibility of restoring the distillery to production. Annandale is located a mile north of the town of Annan, close to the Scottish border, and operated from 1830 until 1921. It was owned by John Walker & Sons Ltd from 1886/87, and much of the red sandstone distillery structure remains intact, including the kiln and maltings. Thomson is thought to have spent around £1 million purchasing the site, and is willing to invest a further £3 million to achieve his dream of
making Annandale whisky once more. According to Jim Swan, Annandale single malt was significantly peated, due to the presence of local peat bogs. Meanwhile, we have also heard rumours of a possible revival - of sorts - for Rosebank, the finest Lowland single malt, in the opinion of many respected connoisseurs. All the production equipment from the Falkirk distillery is said to have been purchased by a developer, who intends to install it in a new distillery near Laurieston, close to Falkirk. Planning consent has been sought for the project by The Falkirk Distillery Company, and it features distillery buildings, four bonded warehouses, a shop, restaurant and visitor centre, plus six retail units. Rest assured that when we have more information on either of these ventures, you will be the first to know!

Whisky Heaven

   On the other side of the Atlantic, Heaven Hill Distilleries has reopened its expanded and upgraded Bernheim distillery in Louisville, Kentucky. Heaven Hill is the USA's largest producer of distilled spirits to remain in family ownership, and Bernheim is the last family-controlled distillery in Kentucky. It was formerly owned by Diageo, but was acquired by Heaven Hill after a fire totally destroyed the Heaven Hill distillery near Bardstown in November 1996. The technologically advanced Bernheim distillery dates from 1992, and with increasing demand for
Bourbon both in the USA and in international markets, the distillery's capacity has been increased by 40 per cent , ultimately creating 15 new jobs. Heaven Hill president Max Shapira says "We are both proud and excited to be completing this major expansion to our Bernheim Distillery facility in Louisville. This investment in the future of our company is true evidence of our confidence in the economic vitality of the community, and of our confidence in our industry, our brands and our business." Heaven Hill produces a wide range of branded Bourbons, and is also a major supplier of 'own label' whiskey to other customers. The company's key brands include Elijah Craig and Evan Williams, and it specialises in older, higher proof Bourbons of traditional character, as well as a range of rye and corn whiskeys.

Scot of India

India continues to make whisky news, with the United Breweries Group subsidiary United Spirits announcing that it is to start distilling a locally-produced, low-cost alternative to its Whyte & Mackay blended Scotch brand later this year. United Spirits Ltd acquired Glasgow-based Whyte & Mackay for £595 million last May and subsequently launched its Dalmore and Jura single malts, plus the White & Mackay blends, into the Indian market. Details of the new venture remain vague at present, but Shefali Kotnala, marketing manager for United Spirits Ltd, says “When launched in India later this year the locally-made whisky will be
priced much lower than the imported brands, but will not have an age statement on it like the Scotch whiskies. We hope to capture new whisky drinkers by offering them a locally-manufactured variant, which will be at least 60 per cent cheaper but taste very similar, and expect them to subsequently step up to the premium brands." Meanwhile, the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) suffered a rare defeat in its campaign to prevent overseas distillers from inferring a Scottish connection with their own products. After a 20-year-long wrangle over whether the name 'Peter Scot' suggested a spurious link with Scotch whisky, the Indian Supreme Court ruled against the SWA Peter Scot is an extremely popular whisky on the Indian subcontinent, and has been distilled by Khoday India, one of the country's largest spirits producers, since 1968. The trademark was registered in 1974, and the Supreme Court ruled that the SWA had no case as it only made its complaint against the brand 13 years later.

Lomond Lowdown

   Back in Scotland, the SWA faces another problem, as Loch Lomond Distillers, based in Alexandria, near Glasgow, is challenging the validity of the widely accepted five new proposed classifications of 'Scotch whisky.' Loch Lomond distillery currently operates two pot stills and four column stills, and is producing some single malt whisky, distilled entirely from malted barley, in column stills. The distillers claim that this method involves a considerable saving in energy usage, and wish to market the whisky as a single malt, but the proposed definitions will not allow them to do
so, as they include a clause which states malt whisky must be distilled in the 'traditional' manner. Loch Lomond is suggesting the introduction of a sixth category to cover single malt whisky produced in a column still. For the SWA, 'traditional' means in pot stills, and Campbell Evans, director of Government affairs, says "The further category being floated does not reflect traditional Scotch whisky distillation and practice. The product in question is in any event already covered by the term 'Single Grain Scotch Whisky' outlined in the draft Regulations." Loch Lomond Distillers are one of the few producing companies not to be members of the SWA, and Loch Lomond distillery manager John Peterson says “If our industry can't encourage innovation I find it sad. The reason we are doing it is to make the process better, more efficient and the energy savings are considerable, but we just get slapped down. I don't think it's right. The SWA has insisted that it is classed as grain whisky, but it is made from 100 per cent Scottish malt, produced and matured in Scotland and tastes like malt whisky.” And just when everybody seemed to be getting along so nicely…

Lifting the Lid on the Laddie

If Loch Lomond Distillers can be placed in the category of 'mavericks,' then the term was surely invented for Mark Reynier and his Bruichladdich team, and Mark and co feature in a new book which tells the story of the revival of Bruichladdich. In Whisky Dream: Waking a Giant, television producer and freelance journalist Stuart Rivens explores the purchase of the Islay distillery by Reynier and his wine merchant business partner Simon Coughlin, and Bruichladdich's subsequent restoration to rude health. As Rivens says, "There is
a touch of the Ealing comedies about the story of the rebirth of Bruichladdich. Mark and Simon had this amazing dream and all the talent and drive to achieve it, but at practically every turn they were coming up against problems ranging from the mundane - bank loans, and just getting whisky off the island - to the bizarre, like their new copper stills being mistaken for weapons of mass destruction by the CIA when Gulf War Two broke out." With dedicated Ardbeg and Laphroaig volumes being published in the last few months, it was surely time for the colourful Bruichladdich tale to be told, and Rivens does an entertaining job with marvellous subject matter.

And Finally...

   The following is taken from American Distiller #115:
'AN OAK STICK COMES WITH THE BOTTLE. With your bottle of 'Shine' comes a stick of oak, your very own mini stave. Place it in the bottle and the shine ages while sitting on the shelf.' Further investigation reveals that the 'shine' in question is called Clear Madness, produced in Gonzales, California by Kentucky-born Charles Bowman and Craig Pakish. "Clear Madness is quality moonshine with smooth flavors suggesting uncomplicated hints of sweet corn on the palate. This authentic Appalachian moonshine recipe is made from American white corn and pure cane sugar," declare its creators. "Why shouldn't you be the one to have the fun of flavoring and sampling the spirits until it is flavored to your satisfaction?" It almost makes you wish it was produced in Scotland, just to see the looks on the faces of those poor, overworked folk at the Scotch Whisky Association!

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