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Whisky News, September 2007

Before the monthly roundup of whisky news stories, this month is dominated by the death of whisky writer Michael Jackson. See Gavin Smith's tribute to Michael Jackson.

Image Conscious

This month a Scotch whisky industry working party is to meet in Scotland to investigate the questions of image and innovation in Scotch whisky. A group of no more than 11 individuals, representing a range of
disciplines and viewpoints, will 'brainstorm' issues relating to the image of Scotch whisky, especially blends, and the opportunities and constraints on innovation. The group will issue a short report as a working paper to be circulated round the industry, and the findings will then be presented at The World Whisky Conference 2008 (15-16 April 2008), with a revised set of conclusions being published following the conference. It is hoped that these will then be taken back by delegates to their own businesses and debated more widely within the industry. Director of the World Whiskies Conference Ian Buxton notes that “Feedback from last April's conference clearly showed our delegates wanted longer to debate these critical issues. With the unique working party we hope to fulfil that need, tabling a report to the World Whiskies Conference 2008 for further and deeper consideration. “The Working Party extends the reach of the conference and further establishes it as the global whisky summit. Senior industry figures are going to lead a debate which will generate a positive discussion on Scotch's future. I welcome further offers to participate in this exciting industry-wide initiative.”

Those already signed up to participate in the working party include Ian Buxton, Ken Robertson of Diageo, Neil Boyd, formerly of John Dewar & Sons, Alan Gray of Sutherlands, Charles Allen of Diageo, Chris Brook-Carter of industry website 'just-drinks' and Steven Sturgeon of William Grant & Sons. In an interview with 'just-drinks,' Ken Robertson declared “There are potential issues with the image of standard Scotch and perhaps the wider image of Scotch and I felt that in a time when the industry was optimistic about its future, it was a good opportunity to see if image is a problem. This working party could shed some light on this, and if there are issues we can take steps to rectify them. It does not seem to be inhibiting growth at the moment, but it's something worth looking at.”

Glenmorangie Style

   Scotland's best-selling single malt whisky Glenmorangie has unveiled a new 'brand identity,' which embraces a redesigned bottle and packaging, plus a 'signet' emblem and new products. The changes are supported by a major marketing campaign, which will include initiatives in advertising, visual merchandising and a stronger web presence. The Glenmorangie Company chief executive Paul Neep says “We believe the stylish, contemporary look will appeal to a much wider audience at a time when more and more people are opening their eyes to the world of malt whisky. "This is
a great time for us to be investing in Glenmorangie, an iconic Scottish brand. Glenmorangie is already seen as the very best in single malt Scotch whisky and we are confident these changes will further enhance the brand's status across the world. This is great news for the Scotch whisky industry." Glenmorangie Original - the flagship 10-year-old expression of the single malt - will now include a significant proportion of Glenmorangie which has been matured in specially made, air-dried/slow growth oak casks, which are said to accentuate the softness and sweetness of the complex flavours of the spirit. Of most interest to whisky drinkers, however, will be the new 'Glenmorangie Extra Matured' expressions, which will replace the existing Wood Finish Range. 'Extra Matured' will consist of three expressions of Glenmorangie that, following an initial maturation of at least ten years in ex-Bourbon casks, are then extra matured for an additional period in casks that previously held Port, Sherry or Sauternes wine. These expressions are bottled at 46% ABV and are not chill-filtered.

According to the distiller "The Gaelic language of Scotland has inspired the choice of names for Glenmorangie's new range - Glenmorangie Lasanta, Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban and Glenmorangie Nectar D'Òr." Glenmorangie Lasanta has been finished in Spanish Oloroso Sherry casks, and 'lasanta' means 'warmth' and 'passion' in Gaelic. Quinta Ruban has spent a period of time in Port pipes, and ruban is the Gaelic for 'ruby,' which describes the colour of this expression. Nectar D'Òr has had a secondary maturation period in French Sauternes wine barriques, and the French and Gaelic word 'Or' is used to reflect the deep, golden colour of this whisky. Dr Bill Lumsden, Glenmorangie's head of distilling and whisky creation, says "The Glenmorangie brand has a long-standing reputation as a leading pioneer in whisky maturation. The quality of our whisky is at the very heart of everything we do. We continually endeavour to provide the most delicious single malt Scotch whisky and our range delivers expressions that offer an extraordinary variety of tastes, textures and aromas." The new Glenmorangie bottlings will begin to appear in stores later this month.

Black Grouse

Product development is also the order of the day at The Edrington Group, where a more peaty extension of the Famous Grouse family is due to hit a number of international markets in the near future, following a successful Swedish launch in April. The Black Grouse will go on sale in Germany and The Netherlands this month, and will then appear across the Nordic and Baltic regions along with South Africa in October. Other European markets will follow in the coming months. Gerry O'Donnell, director of The Famous Grouse, says “We're always aiming to bring more innovation to the marketplace through additional members of the family so this is a welcome edition to The Famous Grouse range. We are seeing a trend towards more challenging whiskies and flavours and we feel The Black Grouse delivers this on all levels. It will give drinkers keen to embrace a stronger peated whisky the opportunity to try this from a trusted premium brand." See 'Recent Releases' later this month for our sampling notes on this new expression.

Dewar's Matures

   Following on from Edrington's announcement of plans to expand its Macallan operation (see August's Whisky News), Dewar's is the latest Scotch whisky distiller to declare its intention to spend a significant sum of money on development. Dewar's belongs to the Bermuda-based Bacardi company, and owns five Scottish distilleries, including its showpiece Aberfeldy plant in Perthshire. Overall, output will be trebled, while an unspecified 100-acre site in Central Scotland is to be the location of a new maturation and blending facility. The firm is also to carry out improvements to its Glasgow site, where new warehouses and a blend centre will be constructed, while new bottling lines and packaging equipment will also be installed. In total, Dewar's is to invest in excess of £120 million in its Scottish operations.

Tamnavulin Returns

While so many whisky producers have been busy announcing development and expansion schemes, Whyte & Mackay has quietly got on with the business of re-commissioning its silent Tamnavulin plant, situated in the picturesque heart of Speyside. Constructed in 1966 for Invergordon Distillers Ltd, Tamnavulin came into the possession of Whyte & Mackay when Invergordon Distillers was acquired in 1993. The distillery was mothballed in May 1995, though some 2,000 casks were subsequently filled during a six week period of distillation in 2000. With three pairs of stills and a capacity of four million litres per annum, Tamnavulin is a comparatively large facility, and is the biggest malt distillery owned by Whyte & Mackay. Overseeing operations at Tamnavulin is Dave Doig, also manager at Whyte & Mackay's Fettercairn distillery. “Everyone is requiring spirit, and there is an overall shortage,” he declares. “We've tried to extend the output from our Dalmore, Fettercairn and Jura distilleries, with seven-day working and so on, but
that gives us an extra one million litres per annum at the most, whereas Tamnavulin will give us four times that. "We're also short of Tamnavulin specifically. The distillery never worked that hard, Invergordon never did huge productions at any of its distilleries. Whyte & Mackay has actually looked at reopening it on four different occasions in the past, and the distillery was also nearly sold two or three times while it was closed." Doig hopes to distil one million litres of spirit at Tamnavulin before the end of the year, with the distillery working a five day week, though 2008 will see it operating on a 24/7 basis.

Festival Fever

   This is a busy month for whisky events, starting with the Kentucky Bourbon Festival, staged from 11 to 16th September in Bardstown. As the Festival organisers put it, “Since 1776, the people of Bardstown, Kentucky have been making Bourbon. Their dedication to the fine art of distilling eventually gave Bardstown the title of Bourbon Capital of the World. Come celebrate this passion and history at The Kentucky Bourbon Festival. The Kentucky Bourbon Festival gives you a weekend full of smooth Bourbon, delicious food, and great entertainment, with a healthy dose of Kentucky hospitality thrown in for good measure. From black tie galas to historical tours, there is something for all ages and interests. It's a wonderful five-day event full of activities for the whole family.” Meanwhile, the US Senate has officially declared September 'National Bourbon Heritage Month.' “At a time when consumer preferences have led to a renaissance for premium bourbons, this is great news,” says Distilled Spirits Council Senior Vice
President Frank Coleman. "America's distilling heritage is intertwined with the history of the nation." Bourbon business is currently booming in the United States, and since 2003, what are termed 'high-end' bourbons have seen revenue grow from $450 million to over $500 million in the United States. Indeed, high-end bourbon sales accounted for eight percent of total US spirits growth in 2006. For more details of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival see In Scotland, the Festival fun continues on Islay from 14 to 16 September, when Burn Stewart's Black Bottle blended whisky brand sponsors the Islay Jazz Festival. The event showcases Scottish jazz and presents top class international musicians such as Ken Peplowski, Anders Bergcrantz, Tommy Smith and The Scottish Jazz All Stars. The promoters note that 'special Islay experiences' on offer will include the opportunity to:
  • drive down a one-track road along the Sound of Islay, watching golden eagles soaring overhead, arrive at Bunnahabhain Distillery, tour the distillery, sample some Black Bottle whisky and then hear the Kezmer inspired jazz of Moishe's Bagel.
  • go to Portnahaven, see the seals basking on the rocks, listen to American saxophone legend Ken Peplowski and sample the home-baking of the Portnahaven Women's Guild.
  • sit in front of a glass walled vista across the sea to Ireland and listen to the rippling harp of Catriona Mckay playing with Phil Alexander.
  • have a bird-watching walk in one of the UK's top bird-watching centres - as featured on the BBC's recent series 'Spring Watch' - then have lunch listening to the Chris Greive Quintet.
  • dance the night away as the Ramsay Hall is converted into a late night funk club with hip-hop beats from Live Sciences.
Further information at

Back on the mainland, Dufftown plays host to the Autumn Speyside Whisky Festival from 28 September to 1 October. The Festival will embrace a wide range of exclusive, behind-the-scenes distillery visits, an extensive whisky auction and whisky pairing events, including whisky and breakfast muffins and whisky and cigars, hosted by new Dufftown Whisky Shop manager Sandy Kenneway. BBC Radio Scotland broadcaster and author Tom Morton will be one of the guest participants at the Festival, along with musician Robin Laing and Gavin D Smith, who will seek to match a range of whiskies with Scottish beers. See for more details.

And Finally...

The family-owned distiller, blender and bottler Ian Macleod Distillers Ltd has secured a product placement deal with ITV 'soap' Emmerdale which will see a range of the Broxburn firm's whiskies and other spirits prominently displayed during the show's six weekly episodes. Iain Weir, Marketing Director for Ian Macleod says “We are absolutely delighted with this opportunity. Emmerdale has become a very popular institution in the UK, and we couldn't be happier that our products will be reaching a daily audience of over 10 million viewers!” The Woolpack Pub, the venue for many of the soap's key storylines, will be stocking Langs, Glengoyne, Isle of Skye, Smokehead, Watson's Trawler Rum, The Six Isles and London Hill Gin from the end of this month.
The brands may also be seen in a variety of other setting in the soap including Viv Hope's Village Shop and many of the characters' homes. What Emmerdale regulars want to know, however, is whether we will be seeing Eli Dingle swigging Dutch courage from a bottle of Glengoyne Limited Edition Scottish Oak Wood Finish before setting off with his shotgun to raid another bookmaker's shop in Hotten. Probably not, as that would hardly constitute the sort of 'responsible drinking' distillers are so keen to promote these days.

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