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Whisky News, August 2007

Taxing Times

   Just when it seemed as though the Indian authorities had given the world's spirits producers something close to a level playing field on which to trade, comes the announcement that the state government of Maharashtra, which includes Mumbai, has imposed a 200 per cent tax on imported spirits. Although national import duty is to be cut substantially, each of India's 28 states has the power to levy its own taxes, and others are sure to follow the example of Maharashtra. Mumbai is the largest city in India and, along with Delhi, accounts for some 70 per cent of the country's spirits market. Locally-produced spirits are already subjected to a 200 per cent levy, so the government officials in Maharashtra argue that their new move only restores parity. However, imported spirits are taxed at point of entry on the total value of their product, including marketing and shipping costs. Local producers, on the other hand, are only taxed on the basic costs of making a bottle of spirit. The
'bootleggers' who are already responsible for the untaxed supply of an estimated 90 per cent of India's spirits seem likely to continue doing brisk business. Unless, of course, the World Trade Organisation's 'disputes panel,' which already has India under the microscope, decides to take action. Diageo has enlisted the services of consultants KPMG to fight its corner, and a letter of complaint from the Scotch Whisky Association and the US trade body Discus has been dispatched to bolster their case.

Bruichladdich Comes of Age

This month sees a new addition to the Bruichladdich core range in the shape of an 18-year-old expression of the prolific Islay malt. After spending 18 years in American oak casks, the whisky was transferred to French oak casks for several months of what Bruichladdich's CEO Mark Reynier describes as 'additional cask evolution,' a process known in lesser circles as 'finishing!' According to Reynier, "The casks chosen come from Austrian maverick Willi Opitz, the engaging, ever so slightly mad, wine producer. It took four
years to persuade him. Opitz's irreverence - he produces a sparkling wine called Fizzy Willy - appeals to me. As does his huge vitality and enthusiasm - obsession even - to challenge the norm." One such idea which even changed Austrian wine law, was to create über-sweet wines by drying harvested grapes on straw mats, creating a Vin de Paille or 'straw wine.' The Neusiedlersee, a vast lake on the Hungarian frontier, has a rare microclimate ideal for rare 'noble rot' to form on grapes, creating delicious nutty, sweet, raisiny flavours. That sweetness is then cranked up by six months' concentration on straw mats, resulting in a trockenbeerenauslese sweet wine - with a rusty, brick red colour - which ultimately undergoes cask aging. "Aficionados hooked on Sherry casks will be blown away," declares Reynier. "There are similar traits, but more complexity, finesse and fruit, thanks to the finer oak and totally unique 'straw wine'. "It's turbo-charged golden honey, dark raisin/toffee richness, pomegranate, cooked pear/plum fruit, with hints of cinnamon: viscous mouth feel and a long, smooth finish." Whisky-pages will bring you our assessment of this latest Bruichladdich bottling once samples are available.

Glengoyne Goes Down Under

   Bruichladdich may be using Austrian casks, but Glengoyne distillery, north of Glasgow, has gone further afield for its latest wine-influenced wood, and has just filled 20 Australian Shiraz casks with 16-year-old whisky. The casks, previously used for an award-winning Shiraz from Australia's Hunter Valley, have come courtesy of Glenguin Winery. The owner of the winery, Robin Tedder, is the third Baron of Glenguin, and until 1908 what is now Glengoyne distillery was known as 'Glenguin.' The new Shiraz finish has been undertaken to celebrate the forthcoming centenary of the adoption of the current name, and provided maturation proceeds to plan, the spirit will be released later this year as a limited edition of 'Glengoyne-Glenguin Shiraz Cask Finish.' 'Master of Wine' Robin Tedder is seen as a world authority on the Shiraz (Syrah) grape, and is expected to spend time at the Glengoyne distillery this autumn while in the UK promoting his wines. During his visit Robin will use his expert palate to help decide on the timing for the final bottling of the new expression.

Mair the Merrier

Congratulations to David Mair on his recent appointment as global ambassador for The Balvenie. A native of Dufftown, Mair has worked for William Grant & Sons Ltd for more than 20 years, and was closely involved in the development of the Balvenie Distillery Visitor Centre and associated tour. His new role will see him visit Canada, Portugal, Russia and Sweden in an attempt to boost sales of The Balvenie outside its current key markets of the UK, France and the USA. Taiwan, India and China are other targets for Mair as he piles
up the air miles during the months ahead. He says, "Before The Balvenie distillery was open to the public it was part of my role to show special visitors around and their reaction has always been extraordinary. It is a very special distillery that makes a very special whisky, so when I saw the role for global ambassador it was irresistible."

More Macallan

   Staying in the heart of Speyside, expansion is on the cards at The Macallan distillery, as the Easter Elchies single malt notched up a new sales record of more than 500,000 cases in the year ending 31 March. Not only is The Macallan performing extremely well, but the
Edrington Group's Famous Grouse blend exceeded sales of three million cases during 2006/07. According to Edrington's Chief Executive Ian Curle, "Due to the strong performance of our brands and our confidence in their long-term prospects, we plan to invest further in increased distillation and warehousing at The Macallan estate on Speyside. The investment will take place over the next few years. "Through development of the premium ranges, single-minded focus on quality, and the success of the new Fine Oak range, The Macallan is now the number two single malt Scotch whisky in the world by value." Launched in 2004, Fine Oak is already ranked number 11 in the list of the world's best-selling single malts, accounting for 40 per cent of all UK Macallan sales. The Macallan Fine Oak landed 'double gold' and 'gold' awards at the San Francisco World Spirits Awards earlier this year. Plans for the Macallan site include the construction of six new warehouses and the re-commissioning of a 1960s stillhouse complex, last used in the early 1990s. It consists of a mash house, tun room and stillhouse, complete with two wash and four spirit stills. Total capacity will rise from six million to eight million litres per annum when this facility is in use.

Nursing Your Dram

Scotland's northernmost mainland distillery, Pulteney in Wick, is at the centre of an ambitious scheme to use excess energy generated during whisky-making to heat buildings in the Caithness town. Some £5 million is being invested in the venture, and one of the sites due to be heated via the distillery in the next few months is Caithness General Hospital. When the project is completed it will also reduce the cost of central heating and water in some 500 local authority houses and other premises. The scheme is operated by Caithness Heat and Power (CHaP), a non-profit-making partnership between Pulteney distillery, Highland Council and the local
community Pulteneytown People's Project. Currently, excess heat from the distillery and a back-up of light fuel provide the energy, but the power source is due to be switched to an environmentally-friendly, wood-burning plant later this year. 30,000 tonnes of wood chip per annum will ultimately be used, and the timber is to be sourced from local forests. The wood chip will be air-dried before being transferred to a 'gasifier,' where it will be heated to produce a gas which is cooled and cleaned before being fed into a generator to make electricity. CHaP chairman Councillor Graeme Smith explains that last year the Pulteney Distillery used 750,000 litres of oil, although with increased production that figure could go up to one million litres. Around 800,000 litres of fuel is used at Caithness General Hospital, so almost two million litres of fuel could be saved between the distillery and the hospital by using the new system, cutting their carbon fossil-fuel footprint by 15,000 tons a year.

And Finally…

   With the fledgling St George's distillery in East Anglia set to open to visitors later this month (see upcoming whisky-pages feature), the dispute about whether the English have the right, or the ability, to make whisky gathers pace. John Kaylor is chairman of the Perthshire branch of the Tartan Army (I didn't realise football support was so formalised) and he has no doubts. “No Scots would ever dream of buying it,” he declares. “It's flattering that the English want to copy us, but what next? Morris dancers wearing kilts?”

Enough to put you off your dram altogether, no matter where it was distilled…


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