gavin smith

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

    stories news


Whisky News, October 2008

Walker wins Glendronach

The BenRiach Distillery Company Ltd, headed by Billy Walker, has emerged as the new owner of Glenronach distillery at Forgue, near Huntly. Walker has more than 30 years of experience in the Scotch whisky industry, and was formerly Operations Director for Burn Stewart Distillers Ltd. In 2004 he was one of the partners in a venture to acquire BenRiach distillery from Chivas Brothers, along with South African entrepreneurs Geoff Bell and Wayne Kieswetter. Glendronach has also been purchased from Chivas Brothers, and the deal, funded by Clydesdale Bank, has cost BenRiach £15 million. Glendronach distillery was established in 1826 and currently has the capacity to produce 1.4 million litres of spirit per year. It became part of the Chivas' portfolio following that company's purchase of Allied Domecq assets in 2005. "We hope our acquisition of Glendronach will intrigue, surprise and delight whisky connoisseurs around the world," says Billy Walker. "BenRiach is going for growth and the purchase of Glendronach was too good an opportunity to miss. The distillery has a long and distinguished history and is an excellent fit with the existing BenRiach portfolio. "Glendronach is a bit of a sleeping giant and was not part of Chivas's expansion plans for
the future. But we have great plans for it in our markets in the UK, Germany, USA, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, Russia, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, France, Canada, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and China, amongst others. “We're looking forward to breathing new life into the distillery and giving it the attention and commitment it deserves. Forty years ago it would have been one of the top five single malts. We will reinvent the brand with an extended range and more high-value products. Together, BenRiach and Glendronach represent single malt Scotch whisky at its finest.”

All French to Us

   On the subject of Speyside distillery acquisitions, Glenmorangie has announced that it has sold its Glen Moray distillery and single malt whisky brand to the independent French spirits company La Martiniquaise. With Glenmorangie's parent company being the Paris-headquartered LVMH Group, this means that the Elgin distillery will effectively remain in French hands. Glenmorangie's chief executive Paul Neep says "We believe that La Martiniquaise will provide an excellent 'home' for the distillery,
the brand and its employees and they will continue to develop and expand the Glen Moray brand." La Martiniquaise was established in 1934, and is responsible for Glen Turner, the leading malt whisky in the French market, and the Label 5 blend. A number of blended malt Glen Turner expressions of varying ages are available, as well as Glen Turner 12-year-old single malt, which is sourced from an undisclosed Highland distillery. Since 2004, La Martiniquaise has blended and bottled its whiskies in a purpose-built plant at Starlaw Business Park in Livingston, West Lothian, rather than import spirit from Scotland in bulk, and the company has also been granted planning permission for a combined malt and grain distilling facility within its Livingston site. Glen Turner seems certain to fall foul of forthcoming Scotch whisky industry regulations intended to prevent companies passing off unspecified single malts as though they were the product of a named distillery - in this case the non-existent Glen Turner distillery. It seems likely, therefore, that we will soon see the creation of a real Glen Turner distillery at Livingston, regardless of La Martiniquaise's intentions towards the Glen Moray single malt brand. Watch this space, as they say…

Spirit of the West

Whisky-related activities are at the core of Homecoming Scotland 2009, and a new event as part of the celebrations was recently announced. 'Spirit of the West' is a celebration of all that the West Coast of Scotland has to offer and is organised by the team behind The Whisky Coast - Scotland's west coast whisky trail. According to a 'Whisky Coast' spokesman, "The rugged coastlines along the Whisky Coast trail are dramatic,
mysterious and magical - and this event will showcase the very fabric of that coastline. Spirit of the West is a weekend-long celebration of the culture and heritage that dominates the West Coast of Scotland, with whisky being the major theme for this event. As the event will be held at Inveraray Castle, Spirit of the West will also focus on the themes of Scottish ancestry and heritage, featuring battle re-enactments, storytelling and educational information points. "A superb range of Scottish produce, including Highland beef, lamb, venison and world famous west coast seafood, will be available in abundance. Local food and craft producers including suppliers of cheese, chocolates, beer and biscuits as well as perfumes, candles and soaps - all made on the west coast will be there! There will be cookery demonstrations with the opportunity to sample superb cuisine, presented by some of the top chefs from the first class hotels and restaurants affiliated to The Whisky Coast. “Visitors can enjoy a round of mini golf; take their seats for our fabulous catwalk shows - a fashion showcase of all the west coast clan tartans; chill out with a dram whilst listening to one of the many traditional Scottish music jamming sessions and learn about their ancestors and how to trace their family tree. There will be dance and dram(a) too! Take a theatrical walk with the walking theatre company and learn more about The Whisky Way!” Crucially, for whisky lovers, a whisky marquee will present demonstrations, nosings, tastings and master classes relating to the 16 distilleries that participate in The Whisky Coast promotions. Spirit of the West takes place between Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th May 2009 (11am - 6pm each day), with a ceilidh on Saturday 16th from 7pm until midnight. Further details can be found by visiting

Winning Formula

   Sales of the world's best-selling Scotch whisky, Johnnie Walker, have topped the £1 billion a year mark for the first time. The Diageo brand has long enjoyed great popularity in the USA, but it has also seen increased growth in China, Russia and Latin America in recent years, along with an 11 per cent rise in Britain and mainland Europe during the year to the end of June. Diageo is bucking the economic trends, with a 9 per cent rise in underlying operating profits to £2.3 billion during the same period, when overall net sales increased to above £8 million. Speaking of the Johnnie Walker milestone, Diageo's Chief Executive Paul Walsh declared "It's a momentous achievement. We know it is the first premium drinks brand to reach this target. It has been helped by growth in emerging markets like South Africa and Asia. Johnnie Walker's Formula One sponsorship has also helped."

Regal Results

Not to be outdone by Diageo, drinks industry number two Pernod Ricard is celebrating a record year for sales of its Chivas Regal premium blend, produced by subsidiary Chivas Brothers. During the year to 30th June, 4.5 million nine-litre cases of Chivas Regal were sold, representing an increase of 10 per cent over the same period in 2006/07. The company's Ballantine's blend also showed
strong growth, with sales of 6.4 million cases in 2007/08, and Ballantine's is now securely positioned as the world's second best-selling blend after Diageo's Johnnie Walker range. Meanwhile, with regard to malts, The Glenlivet achieved sales of 600,000 cases in 2007/08, with double digit growth in markets such as Taiwan, South Africa, Germany and France helping to justify a major programme of expansion at the iconic distillery.

Buxrud's Book

   Swedish whisky buff Ulf Buxrud has followed up his award-winning book Rare Malts with the first comprehensive volume devoted to Japanese whisky. Regular visitors to 'whisky-pages' will know the respect we have for offerings from Japanese distilleries, and with characteristic thoroughness, Buxrud has given us an indispensible companion to help enrich our explorations of Japan's whiskies. After outlining the historical development of whisky making in Japan, Buxrud profiles eleven Japanese distilleries, with rare technical information and comprehensive tasting notes on the whiskies produced, and the author also provides information on travelling to and visiting the distilleries, along with data on Japanese bar culture and where to buy Japanese whiskies. There is not much scope to produce a
truly groundbreaking whisky book these days, as most aspects of the subject have now been covered, and too often the result is authors picking over the same old carcases and failing to find much fresh meat. But in this instance, Ulf Buxrud has succeeded in finding an entirely new beast to carve, and he wields his knife with aplomb. A must for anyone prepared to explore beyond the confines of their regular tipples. £30.00, available at and from selected bookshops.

And Finally…

Ever had a dream where you were digging in your garden and suddenly discovered a hidden cache of Whisky Galore-style hooch? Perhaps it's just us at 'whisky-pages' - we have been working very hard recently… Well, for one lucky gardener the dream has come true. Retired physics teacher George Glasgow (right, photo courtesy of the Scottish Sun) was digging foundations for a new shed in his garden at Plockton in Wester Ross recently when he came upon two demijohns, an earthenware jar and two bottles. Further investigation found them to contain whisky, though one of the demijohns had a disintegrated cork and the earthenware container no cork at all, rendering the contents badly contaminated. However, the second demijohn was
fitted with a plastic cork, and George hopes that it might yield up a drinkable dram or two. One of the two bottles was also intact. The provenance of the whisky stems from a meeting between George's mother, who was born in the Plockton Hotel in 1913, and young exciseman Harry Glasgow, who was posted to Plockton in 1937. The couple subsequently married and moved away from the village, best known as the setting for the TV series Hamish Macbeth, but they returned in 1952, when Harry's excise duties encompassed part of the west coast and Western Isles, where he was responsible for seeking out illicit stills. According to his son, George, “Dad always told us there was whisky buried in the garden, but we thought it was just a wheeze to get us to dig the garden for him! I am thinking perhaps my dad buried it for his retirement then forgot where it was.” George believes the whisky was probably given to his father by some of the distilleries where he worked as an excise officer, and the matured colour of the spirit would certainly suggest it was not the product of an illicit still. “I will get someone who knows more about whisky to test it,” says George, “and if it's drinkable we will filter it and have a drink in memory of my father.”

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